Search This Blog

Saturday, July 13, 2013


I was 14 years old before I knew that squash was a vegetable. A vegetable. Singular.  Living with my grandparents on their Western Kentucky farm should have taught me a thing or two about vegetables. They had a huge garden located footsteps from the back door of their farmhouse. Dotted with apple trees and cherry trees, the garden was enclosed by a prickly barbed wire fence covered with tangled grape vines. I was given a very small portion of the garden to grow foot long cucumbers and gigantic melons for fun. My secret garden. On most days, between swimming in the nearby lake or fishing in the murky algae-covered pond, I had my share of real not-so-fun garden chores. While doing those chores, I must have seen yellow squash and zucchini winding throughout the dusty pathways. Yet, somehow, they never quite enjoyed the happy journey from farm to table as anything I recognized.

Pots of squash. As a transplanted newbie farm boy, I always thought that my grandmother's supper squash was a combination of mashed  garden vegetables. Heavily peppered unrecognizable squashed vegetables. Squash. At the time, it made sense to me.

Marge changed the game. Marge had a somewhat lighter approach to squash, opting to grill or saute it during the hot summer months. During the off season, holidays meals, or feast-days, she'd pull out the big guns and whip cream cheese with cooked yellow squash. It became my dish. My holiday/feast-day signature side dish. I adored it. While it's still my favorite way to eat squash, the preparation is a bit heavy handed for tender thin-skinned summer squash.

Layered Vegetable Casserole.

Whether called  a tian, tiella, gratin, or a Keller inspired confit byaldi, it was basically a simple vegetable casserole.

The Base.

To give the vegetables something to stew over, I sauteed 1 large sliced purple onion, 1 sliced red bell pepper, and 1/2 sliced green bell pepper in olive oil. After tossing a few fresh garden thyme sprigs over the vegetables, I cranked the heat to medium high, covered the pot, and let them rip.  When the onions and peppers collapsed from the steamy heat, I uncovered the pot and added crushed garlic before deglazing the pan with 1/4 cup white wine. When the wine reduced, I added 1/2 cup pureed fresh tomatoes and 1/4 white wine vinegar.

Market Vegetables.
While the casserole base simmered, I dispatched most of the vegetables quite easily with my mandolin. After
slicing Madison County yellow squash and zucchini into 1/16 inch discs, I set them aside. Because the McMaine Farm Japanese eggplants and Best Family Farm tomatoes were incredibly tender, I used a very thin serrated bread knife to slice them into uniform 1/16 inch rounds.

Ok, the assembly was a bit persnickety.  After spreading the concentrated tomato/onion/garlic/pepper puree
onto the bottom of an oven proof dish, I overlapped the sliced eggplants, zucchini, yellow squash, and tomatoes around the outer edge and worked my way into the center of the dish. I drizzled olive oil over the top, seasoned it with kosher salt and cracked black pepper, sealed the casserole with aluminum foil, and slid it into low 275 degree oven to bake fora ridiculous 1 1/2 hours, removing the foil during the final 30 minutes.

The long cook time along with the low oven temperature gently allowed the vegetables to steam/bake and melt into each other. While the flavor profile was distinctly ratatouille-ish, the addition of white wine vinegar to the underlying sweet caramelized tomato puree created an agrodulce brightness reminiscent of an Italian caponata.


No comments: