SOS*

10 Jul

The dog days of summer are upon us.

Bay Ridge Sunset

Sirius and the sun are rising in conjunction.

It’s too hot to run, too hot to sleep, too hot to do anything, really, but go to work and bask in the free air conditioning.

The arrival of the dog days when I was a kid meant that my mom’s garden was about to go bonkers. The tomatoes, which for so long had hung on their plants looking hard and acidly green, would suddenly soften, swell and turn luridly, enticingly bright.

The arrival of the dog days signaled endless weeks of tomato sandwiches and tomato salads, tomato snacks and long, hot hours standing over vats of bubbling tomato sauce for putting up in our un-air conditioned kitchen.

Caprese

I’ve got a “thing” for tomatoes (some would call it an obsession), so I looked forward to this. What I didn’t look forward to, however, was the other relentless, unavoidable companion of Sirius.

Squash.

Verrazano Narrows Bridge

I hated squash. I hated their moist, uninspiring, spongy texture when raw, their slick, flavorless, flacid texture when cooked.

But all that’s changed. I now look forward to the Squash Days of Summer.

First the flowers arrive.

Then the tiny baby zukes and squashes arrive. Long and stripey, short and round, banded and UFO-shaped the babies can be used anywhichway one pleases.

Finally, the big honkers come onto the stage. You know, the zucchinis so large they need their own carseat? This was the time of year when my mom would begin to panic. We’d load up my Red Flyer wagon with squashes and then I would set off on a forced march around the neighborhood. I’d stop at each house imploring people to take some zucchini so I could go home and my mom would stop panicking.

I’d bring them into school to give away to the teachers and staff. She’d send them into work with my father.

She’d put them in baskets at the end of the road with a sign saying, “Free!” in the hopes that some day-tripping yuppies would see them and take them back to New York City with them. When I went away to college, she would send me boxes of them, despite the fact that I didn’t even have a kitchen.

All these efforts, and yet, it barely made a dent. We still ate them for dinner almost every night.

Stuffed Squashes

It’s taken years for me to come back around to squashes, but I’ve now gotten to a place where I can again appreciate that squash are a culinarily gregarious sort. They love to get pickled; live for grilling; will give their flowers to a bunch of carrots and truly appreciate a long bath in a pan of hot oil.

They also love to get stuffed and grated.

Queso Oaxaqueno

A few weekends ago the Boy decided we were going to explore the world of Mexican cheeses. When I stopped for a puffy taco he ducked his head inside the bodega and was entranced by their display of queso. He wanted to know more, to dig deeper, to fully get to know the soul of Cotija, to unravel the mystery of Oaxaqueno. And so I relented. I’m too smart to stand between a man and his cheese “thing.”

He bought the cheeses, but then it was up to me to figure out how to use them. My first thought was to buy some squash blossoms and to use the cheeses to stuff them, and then to fry them. I’ve always found this method to be very intimidating however, so I turned to the grande dame of Mexican cooking, Diana Kennedy, and she didn’t disappoint. I settled on her recipe for Calabacitas Rellenas de Flor or squash stuffed with their blossoms. There was just one problem, I had only bought 6 blossoms and her recipe called for one pound. Who can afford an entire pound of blossoms?

So I bent and adapted her recipe to use as many squashes as possible, creating a squash and blossom salmagundi to fill yet more squashes. I used baby summer squash and zucchini, but you certainly could use the full sized monsters for this recipe as well. Just expand the ratio of ingredients and parboil the squash before baking. This is a truly delicious dish with just the faintest whiff of Mexico. I cannot wait to make it again.

Stuffed Squashes

But that wasn’t enough. We had to take the squash/queso exploration further.

We picked up some bigger squash at our new neighborhood Greenmarket. I had no concrete plans for them, and while poking around in some boxes that I still haven’t unpacked (yes, it’s been 7 months since we moved in) I found a recipe the Boy had printed out in the hopes that he could convince me to overcome my hatred of vegetable pancakes.

I decided it looked simple enough, and since you can eat squash raw it avoided my biggest complaint with potato pancakes (seriously, is there nothing more disgusting than biting into a golden crusty latke only to find the inside raw and crunchy? The thought of it makes my skin crawl).

Stupid Pancakes

Some leftover Independence Day corn went into the mix, as did a few baby carrots. The mixture was so colorful and delicious we decided to save half of it (sans eggs) to toss with pasta later in the week, which turned out to be, in my humble opinion, the best use for this recipe.

The “pancakes” came out so badly. There was nothing “pan” nor “cake” about them. It was more of a hash (which I suppose is apt as that’s what I made of this recipe). While I am happy to say the pasta was delicious, I maintain that there is simply no reason in the world to ruin your wonderful seasonal vegetables by sending them to an ignominious death by pancake. It’s just wrong. (But then again, we just ate the leftover “pancakes” for dinner and they were incredibly delicious, so, I may be wrong on this one).

Squash Pasta

So, if like my mom, you’re about to hit the Curcurbita panic button, don’t. Just breathe, and then pickle, grate, grill, stuff and braise your squash blues away. There’s only a month or so of the Dog (and Squash) Days of Summer left. Lap them up.

*Summer Of Squash? Squash Overload Syndrome? Sticky Overcast Summer?

Head below the jump for the recipes for Squash Stuffed Squash, Squash Pancakes and Squash Pasta.

Squash Stuffed Squash

prep time: 30 minutes ~ cooking time: 1 hour

  • 9 Baby Squash, 3 finely diced, 6 halved and seeded
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 Shallots, finely minced
  • 1 head Green Garlic, finely minced
  • 1 Jalapeno, finely minced
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 6 Squash Blossoms, cleaned and sliced
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • Cayenne Pepper, to taste
  • Mexican Oregano, to taste
  • Cotija Cheese
  • Oaxaqueno Cheese

Heat a glug of olive oil in a large, low sautée pan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and allow to sweat slowly until just becoming translucent.

Add the jalapeno and diced squash. Turn the heat up to medium, season with salt and pepper and allow to cook until the squash begin to soften.

Add the squash blossoms and allow to cook a few minutes more until the blossoms have melted into the mixture.

Add the lemon juice, cayenne pepper and Mexican oregano. Cook a few minutes until the mixture is nice and moist and a little bit sticky.

Add a handful or two of cotija cheese until the filling resembles a nice stuffing. Turn off the heat on the stove and turn the oven on to 375°F.

Line the halved and seeded squashes into an oven proof casserole dish. Using a teaspoon fill each squash generously with the filling. Cut the Oaxaqueno into 18 pieces that will each cover one squash. Place one piece on top of each filled squash. Cover the casserole in foil and place in the oven. Allow to bake 15-20 minutes. Pull the casserole out, carefully remove the foil and turn the oven up to broil. Place the casserole under the broiler and allow to cook a few minutes until the cheese is bubbling and browned.

To serve: Give each person a few squash, garnish with crema, homemade salsa, some beans and rice. Enjoy!

Squash Pancakes

prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time: 40 minutes

Cook’s Note: At first I hated this recipe. The pancakes never turned into pancakes, but, after just eating the leftovers for dinner I now love this dish. It is my humble opinion that this would be best made almost as a casserole the first time, and any subsequent leftovers reheated into a mush that the Boy so eloquently described as “delicious grownup baby food.”

  • 2 lbs Squash, grated
  • 8 Baby Carrots or 4 regular carrots, grated
  • 3 cooked ears of Corn, kernels removed
  • 1 Onion, grated
  • Thyme, to taste
  • 1/2 cup Panko Breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup Cotija Cheese
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 3 Eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1-4 tbsps Olive Oil or Butter, or a combination of both

Combine the grated ingredients in a bowl with the thyme, breadcrumbs and cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Put half the mixture into a tupperware container and place in the fridge for a work night’s dinner of Squash Pasta.

Add the 3 eggs and mix. If the mixture is too loose add more breadcrumbs or cheese. Heat the fat in a skillet and when hot drop the pancake mixture into the pan. Allow to cook 5-8 minutes then, try to flip them without falling apart (this is nearly impossible, so just grin and bear it). Allow the pancakes to cook a further 5-8 minutes. When golden brown and crispy (maybe) remove to a plate and cook the rest of the pancakes. These can be served hot or at room temperature.

To serve: Portion out the pancakes and top each one with one or two lightly fried eggs. Enjoy!

Squash Pasta

prep time: virtually none ~ cooking time: 10 minutes

Cook the linguini according to package directions to a nice al dente texture. Drain, do not rinse. Return the pasta to the pot and toss with the Squash Pancake mixture. To serve: Portion out the pasta, squirt with a little fresh lemon and season with lots of freshly ground pepper. Enjoy!

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17 Responses to “SOS*”

  1. Amanda July 10, 2007 at 9:23 am #

    I’m kind of the opposite of you – I always LOVED summer squash as a kid, and now it’s getting boring, but my hubby is going from hating to liking as well. I was reading Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries (heart heart heart) last night, and apparently the British term for zucchini is “courgette”. It’s a bit grand a term, isn’t it?

    The hash/pancakes look awesome, despite what you say. I refuse to believe they were less than awesome. Did you put queso blanco in there?? Do tell. I may have to try my own version of it, despite your warnings. I can’t believe that if can’t be tinkered with to be mind-blowing. MIND-BLOWING, Ann!!

    True or false: I’m in a cooking mood today. Or loopy, at the very least.

  2. Jennifer Hess July 10, 2007 at 10:48 am #

    7 months? We’ve been in our place nearly 3 years and still have boxes we haven’t unpacked!

    I love squash in any shape or form. And I am totally going to try your Diana Kennedy-style stuffed squash – they are making my mouth water!

  3. Terry B July 10, 2007 at 11:32 am #

    What a great post, Ann! I just came across a recipe for Ratatouille Niçoise that uses courgettes—also the French term for zucchini—instead of eggplant.

    Your wonderful story about your forced march around the neighborhood with a wagonload of zucchini reminded me of my grandmother sending me down to the neighborhood shopping district to enter a sweepstakes to win a Thanksgiving turkey. Each store had an entry box, and they all kept them in the back to force people to walk through the entire store and see stuff they couldn’t live without. After getting the evil eye from the third or fourth retailer who clearly didn’t want non-shopping me in his or her establishment, I threw the remaining 20 or so entry forms down the sewer and went and hung out at the hobby shop.

  4. izzy's mama July 10, 2007 at 12:04 pm #

    As I was perusing this post, izzy looked up at the picture of zucchini and said, “Yummmmmmmmm, zucchini!” I guess he is a zucchini lover so far but we are not blessed with too many.

    I sure am glad that we are in Paris now instead of suffering in our barely air-conditioned abode. (Although the weather in Paris is truly awful, rainy and in the 50’s..bleah) We have the window variety and they are not installed and even when they are, we rarely turn them on.

    If you need zucchini blossoms, check out that Eat blog..Rebecca throws hers out!!!

  5. Julie July 10, 2007 at 1:59 pm #

    This really, really hot weather may not be my favorite but squash and tomatoes seem to love it.

    I like your idea of a Mexican take rather than an Italian take on squash blossoms. However, not only would I not be able to afford a pound of squash blossoms, but I can’t imagine stuffing that many. Spooning filling into a squash blossom gets tiring quickly.

  6. Luisa July 10, 2007 at 3:47 pm #

    I think Deb tried those vegetable pancakes with bad results (Deb, didn’t you?). Hrmph, Mister Minimalism…

  7. ann July 10, 2007 at 8:15 pm #

    Amanda — I heart heart heart Nigel too, and you’ve just reminded me I haven’t tucked into that book in some time. No time like the present!

    Jennifer — Thank you for that! You’ve just lifted at least a small nubbin of guilt off of my heavily burdened shoulders!

    TerryB — That is an awesome story! I read it at work and it really gave me a much needed chuckle. Thank you so much!

    Izzy’s Mama (and Izzy!) — HIIIII! Thank you so much for checking in while you’re in gay Paris! It’s so funny… I was actually thinking about you guys as I was walking to get lunch at City Bakery. I was like, I should keep my ears peeled for someone named Izzy, but then I remembered you were in France, but you know what? I ran into Luisa instead! How funny’s that!

    Julie — My thoughts exactly! Now you know why I chose to stuff the squashes instead!

    Luisa — Nice to run into you today! The Boy and I ate the leftover pancakes just now for dinner and they were delicious, so maybe I’ll only send a har(no umph) to Mr. Bittman on this one.

  8. Lydia July 10, 2007 at 9:25 pm #

    I love zucchini but not yellow summer squash. Don’t know why. Diana Kennedy never lets me down — her recipes and love of Mexican food are truly inspiring.

  9. izzy's mama July 11, 2007 at 12:06 am #

    I am so thankful to have my computer in Paris, it is the only entertainment late at night or early mornings when I can’t sleep. I get to blog and check on others.

    Next time your are at City Baker, if you keep your ear’s peeled for someone named Izzy, you won’t hear anything..that is only his nickname for this blog! Although some people do like to call him that.

  10. Susan in Italy July 11, 2007 at 6:35 am #

    This is so useful! Having too many summer squash is a problem for everybody and now you’ve shown us how to deal. Thanks.

  11. Mary July 11, 2007 at 7:42 am #

    I am a squash lover by nature and love the idea of turning them into a vegetable pancake. Maybe they needed a little less squash or a little more of the other ingredients? I made corn fritters not too long ago and am thinking that a little grated zucchini would also make good fritters. Stay cool.

  12. Ari (Baking and Books) July 11, 2007 at 1:21 pm #

    Never stand between a man and his cheese, aint that the truth! Your stuffed squash canoes look delicious – reminds me of a zucchini dish I haven’t made in ages, but should revive sometime soon!

  13. wellunderstood July 11, 2007 at 1:52 pm #

    all your recipes look amazing, but that picture of the layered caprese salad really did me in this afternoon! i’ve yet to have a good tomato this summer. hopefully my wait won’t be long . . .

  14. ann July 11, 2007 at 7:29 pm #

    Lydia — That’s incredibly strange! If pushed to chose, I think I’d go with summer squash over zukes… then again, that would be perfect, we’d never fight!

    Izzy’s Mama — That is like, duuuuuuh… I totally knew it was most likely a nome de plume and yet, sometimes when it’s really hot out, my brain don’t work too good! Your Parisian adventures are so inspiring! I need to go there.

    Susan — Cool! Maybe next year you can nominate me for a Pulitzer in Service Journalism perhaps? ;-)

    Mary — Yeah, I think you’re right. I’ve decided I am willing to give them another go!

    Ari (B&B) — CANOES! That’s what they look like! How silly is it that I couldn’t get that out. oy vey. I’d love to hear about your zucchini dish.

    Wellunderstood — Thanks! I’m so glad the caprese is inspiring. It sure was delicious! It’s the only dish I photographed from our Independence Day dinner. The rest was so good I couldn’t get my guests to not dig straight in. We just had a Panzanella for dinner that would be another great first-tomatoes-of-the-year application as well.

  15. Rose July 12, 2007 at 11:37 am #

    I really enjoyed your writing Ann. I could even picture in my mind your mother trying to get rid of the zucchini. My mother had this same panic attack when my father’s friend would bring us baskets and baskets of apricots. We tried evrything from, jam, tart, cakes, compotes, salads and even gratin just to try… bad idea. But our neighbors were always happy to receive some apricots.
    Great ideas you have for the use of zucchini. Thanks.

  16. Christina July 12, 2007 at 2:54 pm #

    Zucchini is something I didn’t put in my little garden. It was a tough call–with such little space, I had to decide what were the non-negotiables, and I guess zucchini is a negotiable in my book. But someday I’ll have enough space to suffer a zucchini overload, and when I do, I’ll happily remember this post as a font of ideas. In the meantime, I’ll pick up just enough zucchini and blossoms at the farmers’ market to make the “Squash Stuffed Squash.” Oh yum!

  17. ann July 13, 2007 at 7:06 am #

    Rose — Apricot gratin? Wow! that is panic mode!

    Christina — I think your tomato glut is far more lust-worthy. I only I lived on the West Coast and could relieve you of some of your gorgeous Black Krims!

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