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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.

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