Summer Squash Gratin
We love having people over for dinner. But I resist the term “dinner party” as it can imply something formal. Coming to our house? Skip the kitten heels and new blouse. In fact, we often encourage loungewear. Our guests know: come casual, come hungry, and come expecting you might be put to work.
After relaxing over drinks and apps, there’s nothing I enjoy more than barking orders over the din of a crowded kitchen. Just kidding about the orders, although hearing a collective “yes chef” would be fun.
Folks are encouraged to keep drinking while being voluntold to perform simple tasks like stirring, carving, pouring, plating, whatever. The point is I’ll never be the cook who keeps everyone seated while presenting fancy platters and singing “Ta-da!”
The key to successful entertaining is for hosts to have fun. If we’re having fun, it’s contagious. I apply this to my menu planning as well. I never juggle elaborate dishes with complex timings. “Make ahead” is my middle name. I’d rather be laughing over your juicy office gaffe than figuring out my next step in a recipe.
The items I serve fit neatly into three categories: things I’ve never made before, things I buy, and things I can make in my sleep.
It seems counterintuitive, but I do like to make at least one dish that’s new to me. A main, a side, an app, or dessert. It’s quite fun because I haven’t set a bar for the recipe to turn out a certain way. In fact, I’ll often ask people to vote: keep or sweep. Or we’ll kick around how it could be made better.
I also take a page from the great Ina Garten and look for what to buy already made. Stuff my own olives? Make ice cream? Labor over caramel sauce? Occasionally sure, but mostly nah. You get more bang from a fresh vinaigrette. Sure, if I have the time and will enjoy making bread, then great. If not, I buy it and move on.
Lastly, I make sure I have at least one dish I know I can depend on. A crowd pleaser that consistently produces great results. Although even that can backfire. Like the time I made my infamous pot roast, but it refused to get fork tender. We quickly found there’s only so many times folks can circle a Christmas tree….
But the dish I’m featuring this month is so very dependable. It’s summer comfort food that highlights the bounty coming from our farms. And cheese! Who doesn’t love cheese even on the hottest days? Oh, and did I say make ahead?! It’s among my most requested recipes for all these reasons and more.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Cover and steam the following over an inch of gently boiling water: 2 pounds of yellow summer squash, cubed; ½ cup coarsely chopped onion; 1 tsp of salt
After 5 to 7 minutes, when the squash is fork tender, drain into a large bowl. Add ¼ cup softened butter and mash until blended.
Mix in the following, then pour into a greased two-quart baking dish: ½ cup sour cream; 1¼ cups shredded Cheddar or Gruyère cheese; ⅓ cup Parmesan or Asiago cheese; ¼ cup white cooking wine; 2 large eggs; 1 tsp salt; and ½ tsp pepper.
Mix the following, and sprinkle on top: 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs; 3 Tbl melted butter. If you’re making this ahead, cover and refrigerate (bring to room temperature before proceeding).
Bake in a 350° oven for 30 minutes, or until bubbling and golden brown.
• Green zucchini is an OK substitute. But I don’t find the skin to be as tender, so I recommend you peel a couple strips lengthwise (not all) before cutting into chunks.
• Don’t skip the wine. This dish is unique in that it’s not cooked off. You’ll taste a subtle hint in every bite, and that would be missed.
• Using a food processor, I grind my own breadcrumbs from a loaf of Italian bread. I don’t even remove the crusts as I like my crumbs “rustic.” Pop them in the freezer and you can scoop out what you need for months. In a pinch substitute panko.
• When my husband and I eat really light for dinner, like a simple piece of grilled chicken and a salad, I often find I’m hungry two hours later. This recipe provides a dish that’s a bit more stick-to-your-ribs. It balances a light summer main such as fish or scallops. But make no mistake, it can hold its own in the dead of winter next to a juicy steak. ▼
Ed and his husband Jerry split their time between homes near Harrisburg Pennsylvania and Bethany Beach. Ed builds websites to pay the bills but loves to cook, garden, hike, and dote on their dog Atticus. Recipe requests and feedback welcome: email@example.com.