Squash Casserole

Posted in John's Current Blog on May 27, 2024

This is a repeat of an early blog, from July 2007. This squash casserole is so simply perfect that it bears repeating:

Washington DC; July 2027:

I got involved in a community garden here in DC. My neighborhood, traditionally African American and Hispanic, is rapidly being gentrified, but I wanted to grow some traditional old southern favorites like okra and cowpeas with my neighbors while introducing them to other heirloom varieties such as the lovely French summer squash, ronde de Nice, and delicious tomato varieties such as Costoluto Genovese and Aunt Ruby’s German Green.

We had our share of diseases and pests while gardening in the lowcountry, but inner city gardening here presents its own set of distinct problems, including squirrels and their nocturnal cousins that get to our harvest before we do! Nevertheless, I’ve enjoyed radishes, beets, chard, collards, summer squash, okra, tomatoes, and peppers and beans of several varieties, even if we have lost all the cucumbers to some four-legged pests! The photo above is of recently harvested vegetables from our plot.

Summer squash is one of those vegetables that deserves to be featured in the simplest dishes. I usually choose the smallest ones I can find and simply steam them with onions, then dress them with a hint of butter, salt, and pepper. But Mikel, my husband, swore to me that his mother’s squash casserole is like no other, and that he wished I could make it. I told him that I would call her and ask her for the recipe, but he warned, “She won’t tell you everything.”

But Dixie (yes, that’s her name) and I have a mutual admiration society going, so I gave her a call and asked, but before doing so I read through a good dozen or so southern cookbooks, looking through the recipes to see what to expect. Invariably, they included lots of dairy: milk, eggs, and cheese. Even the updated and lightened version with mint that appears in my lowcountry cookbook has an egg and 2/3 cup of milk to a pound of squash. Mikel swore to me that Dixie’s didn’t.

I made the casserole last night and, I must say, it’s a winner. Here’s the recipe, pretty much the way she told it to me:

Wash 2 pounds of just-picked, tender young summer squash. (Crookneck is the southern standard, and possibly the most flavorful, though I’m partial to the buttery texture of small ronde de Nice.) Cut them up into ½” slices and put them in a stockpot with the water that clings to them and one Vidalia onion, chopped. Cover and steam over medium high heat until they are just tender, but still al dente. Carefully stir them around if you must or add a touch of water if necessary, but the less you add, the more you’ll taste the subtle flavors of the squash. Jeanne Voltz and Caroline Stuart, writing in The Florida Cookbook (Knopf, 1993), advise, “Use as little water as you dare, none if you can keep the heat low and stir the squash every minute or two, or ½” of water if you have other things on your mind.” Drain the squash and onions and stir in about a tablespoon or two of butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Dump the contents into an 8″ baking dish, preferably glass or ceramic.

While you are steaming the squash, melt another 6 tablespoons or so of butter in a skillet over medium heat and add one of those inner packages of saltines from the big box, crushed. Stir the mixture around until it begins to brown, then remove from the heat. Spread the buttered saltine mixture on the top of the casserole and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until warmed through (the juices will bubble) and the top is evenly browned, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately. We had it with fried chicken and a freshly picked arugula and tomato salad.

I’m not much of a leftovers kind of a guy, but this simple squash casserole, with its stick of  butter, was delicious reheated a couple of days later as well!

Here’s a photo of an emergent ronde de Nice squash from our plot in the local community garden.


P.S. 2024: I am rerunning this exactly as it appeared 17 years ago, though I changed the word “partner” to “husband.” (We’ve been together 31 years.) I’m also adding a photo of the local squash and Vidalia onion I used last night when I made the dish again. Unfortunately, I once again forgot to take photos of the finished dish, which we had with fried chicken, rice and gravy, and collard greens with chow chow. The meal followed a Caprese salad and was followed by homemade peach ice cream and meringues, as well as Banana Bourbon Raisin ice cream. And blondies that my guests brought. I could barely get up from the table.

Fresh local crookneck squash and a Vidalia onion.


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