”Why don’t you just cook something that tastes really good?”
This was Julia Reed’s mother talking, chiding her daughter, a writer of uncommon style and wit who used to contribute food essays and recipes to The New York Times Magazine, for spending too much time thinking about complicated, over-the-top recipes at the expense of simple, honest American cooking that draws compliments not because it looks amazing, but because it’s delicious.
Reed quoted her mother in one of those essays, in 2002, above a recipe that still fits the bill, for what she called “the best squash casserole on the planet Earth.” The ingredients are by no means fancy (summer squash, white bread, Ritz crackers, eggs and cheddar), but they combine in mysterious, marvelous ways to deliver a perfect accompaniment to a grilled chicken or weekend roast.
The recipe is a classic, a recipe of distinction worth bringing back to light. Summer squash is coming in all over the country now. Won’t you give it a try?
2 pounds yellow summer squash
7 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)
4 slices plain white bread, toasted
24 Ritz crackers, crumbed in food processor
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2 1/2-quart baking dish. Cut the squash into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cook in boiling, salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Purée in a food processor.
Melt 6 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and peppers and cook until just tender. Meanwhile, grind the toast into crumbs in a food processor, melt remaining butter and toss together.
Mix the squash purée, cracker crumbs and cheese. Stir in the eggs, cream, sugar and seasonings. Blend well. Pour into the baking dish. Top with bread crumbs and bake until browned, about 40 minutes.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.