The dog days of summer are upon us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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!
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!
prep time: virtually none ~ cooking time: 10 minutes
- 1/2 recipe Squash Pancake mixture, sans eggs
- 1/2 lb Deboles Jerusalem Artichoke Linguini
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!