Sometimes life gives you lemons. Sometimes life gives you a behemoth summer squash on your doorstep.
Common wisdom holds that zucchini, yellow squash, and variants therein aren’t really good for much when they get this big. And to be fair, overblown summer squash are a little difficult to love. Spongy and squeaky when you cut into them and lacking the near-seedless-ness that makes smaller, sweeter squash so amenable, most people—Nigel Slater included—advise scooping out the innards and stuffing them. Poor, big ol’ summer squash: relegated to the role of an edible casserole dish.
I set out to use the squash in a non-stuffed way that still made it interesting and good. Typically I make this herbed squash gratin with smaller zucchini, but thinly slicing the larger squash worked perfectly, and the dish cooks long enough that there’s no need to remove the starting-to-be-tough skin. Salting and draining the water from the squash is definitely required no matter the size of squash you employ for this recipe—if you skip that part, your gratin will be swimming in zucchini water that tastes like bad vegetable broth.
We eat this for a light summer dinner or as a side for a heartier affair. While I’ve adapted this recipe from several outlets that bill it for summer squash only, I think it lends itself perfectly for winter squash, too. The recipe below is presented as a “template recipe”: guidance on how to make this no matter what you have around, no matter the time of year. This is a key to seasonal cooking, I think, and I hope to start collecting more of these types of recipes here.
Herbed squash gratin
- For the herb sauce—
- 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped mixed green seasonal herbs: parsley, mint, basil, marjoram are all good spring/summer choices; or oregano, rosemary, sage for fall/winter
- ¾ cup olive oil (or oil of choice)
- 1 small clove garlic
- Several tablespoons vinegar of choice (I like sherry vinegar here) or fresh lemon juice
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the squash—
- 2 pounds squash
- 1 ½ cups fresh coarse bread crumbs (Panko works too)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¾ cups thinly sliced onion
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- A few pinches chile flakes, if desired
- 1 cup grated hard salty cheese, such as Parmigiano or Gruyere or Cheddar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Make the herb sauce. In a food processor or mortar and pestle, coarsely pulverize the herbs. Pound the garlic and add it to the mixture. Stir in olive oil, vinegar/lemon juice, and a pinch of black pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust.
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. If using summer squash, slice into 1/8-inch thick slices. Toss the slices in a bowl with a few hefty pinches of kosher salt. If using winter squash, halve, peel, seed, and then slice into 1/8 inch slices. Season lightly with salt.
- Melt the butter in a skillet until foams up, subsides, and begins to brown. Toss the breadcrumbs in a bowl with the butter.
- Discard any accumulated liquid in the bottom of the bowl with the squash in it. To the squash, add the onions, minced garlic, chile (if using), ½ cup herb sauce, and and some pepper. Toss, and add the cheese and half the breadcrumbs. Toss again and taste for seasoning (the raw garlic will be strong at this point, but will mellow in cooking).
- Place mixture in a 9-inch casserole dish or in a skillet. Top with remaining breadcrumbs. Bake for 35-40 minutes for summer squash and up to an hour for winter squash, until the squash is tender and the top is dark golden