I honed my squash cooking techniques years ago when I first started planning events for a living. I had two wonderful clients planning a big, beautiful outdoor wedding for their daughter on their sprawling, picturesque property. The father of the bride had an elaborate garden, raised, tiered beds all surrounded by a critter-proof cage. Every time I came out to meet with my clients, the FOB sent me home with huge sacks of squash and zucchini from his garden. I am not much of a gardener, but I do understand that well-tended squashes can produce like gangbusters in our climate and those who grow them are often looking for excuses to get rid of the bounty. I’ll admit, at the time I found all this a bit of a burden. I am not talking about one or two little squash. I am talking about large paper grocery sacks overflowing with large zucchini and several varieties of yellow squash. He was so sweet, and this was a big event to me, that I felt obligated to make use all that produce (I passed as much as I could off on my own family). Basically, I am too polite to accept the gift, then not cook with it. I took them a few loaves of zucchini bread, but by the look on the Mother of the Bride’s face, I could tell she’d her fill of that as well. So that summer, between weddings and parties, it was all squash, all the time.
My favorite way to eat yellow squash has always been in a good, old-fashioned creamy casserole. This is one of those dishes that people prefer “their way.” You know, “I make my squash casserole with…” But here is my version. I’ve added lots of fresh thyme, which grows beautifully in my small garden, mild Monterrey jack cheese and tangy sour cream. The buttery cracker topping is an oldy but a goody.
Summer Squash Casserole
2 pounds yellow summer crookneck squash
1 sweet yellow onion, preferably Vidalia
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces Monterrey jack cheese, grated
1 cup (8-ounce container) sour cream
1 bunch fresh thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
45 buttery round crackers, like Ritz, to make 2 cups crumbs
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
Wash and dry the squash and slice into rounds about ¼ inch thick. You can use a mandoline, or the slicing disk on a food processor (then you can switch disks to grate the cheese). Place the squash slices in a large sauté pan and add ¾ cup salted water. Cook the squash, covered, over medium-high heat until the squash is just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the squash in the colander, shaking gently several times to remove as much water as possible.
Dice the onion. Wipe out the sauté pan, then melt the butter with olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook slowly until soft and translucent, stirring frequently. You want the onions to be glassy and soft, but not browned. Transfer the drained squash to a large bowl and add the cooked onion, stirring gently to combine. Leave to cool.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 2 quart baking dish with nonstick spray.
Strip the thyme leaves from the stems and finely chop. In a small bowl, beat the eggs, add the sour cream and thyme leaves and stir until smooth. Season with salt and a liberal amount of pepper.
Drain any accumulated liquid from the squash and onions in the bowl and gently stir in ½ of the grated cheese. Stir in the sour cream mixture to coat the squash. Taste to see if you need anymore salt. Scrape the squash into the prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over the squash.
Place the crackers in a ziptop bag and crush very fine using a rolling pin or the heel of your hand. Mix the crumbs, chopped parsley and melted butter in a small bowl and stir to combine. Sprinkle the crumbs over the squash and spread out to evenly cover.
Cover the casserole loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes, until it is golden brown, puffed and bubbling at the edges. Remove the foil in the last 10 minutes of baking to brown the crumbs. Serve immediately.
The unbaked casserole will keep covered in the fridge for up to a day.
Serves 6 – 8