Every year around this time my husband plants his "crops" in the 2x5 foot rectangle along the side of our house that's practically the only part of our backyard that's level and gets several hours of direct sunlight. Everything he's ever planted with the exception of cucumbers and tomatoes has failed miserably but ever the optimistic farmer he tries year after year to coax new veggie varieties out of our obviously very inhospitable soil. Three years ago it was pumpkins (all we got was some gnarly looking weeds), two years ago he attempted corn (and after tending it all summer long, a labor intensive process which included organic bug repellent and the installation of a special wrap-around sprinkler hose) all we netted were 3 measly dried up ears. Last year it was zucchini and squash and at first it seemed that he'd literally hit pay dirt because at the beginning of the summer the plants were thriving and sprouting blossoms and I got all excited anticipating a bountiful zucchini harvest and started mass collecting zucchini-based recipes. Sadly our hopes were "squashed" when, for reasons unknown, the plants up and died, leaving me with tons of squash recipes but no homegrown squash. That sad saga is the reason I haven't tried this Summer Squash Bake until now, albeit with supermarket squash. And you know what guys, with or without the homegrown veggies, it's simply fantastic and will quickly become one of your favorite summer sides. It's absolutely delicious!!
That deliciousness comes from so many areas, I really don't know where to start. First off there's the tender zucchini and squash, coated in a creamy garlic white sauce enhanced by the fresh herb goodness of basil and chives.
Then there's the crispy crunchy cheese-y topping that I dare you not to pick at!
Now, how about the fact that you can make this hours before serving or even the day before and reheat--great for pre-entertaining planning!!
And finally there's the elephant in the room that we've been avoiding (a very thin one at that) but this dish is actually lightened up (though you'd never know it) and as compared with a full-fat version that comes in at 450 calories per serving, this one has just 220 and less than half the fat, cholesterol and sodium, which means that you can enjoy large helpings of this guilt-free! Here's to a summer full of gorgeous squash and zucchini--preferably grown by those with more of a green thumb than us!
Summer Squash Bake-Lightened Up
Makes 8 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes: Bake Time: 30-40 minutes
2 cups homemade whole wheat breadcrumbs (made from 4 slices of your favorite whole wheat bread)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions or 1 large, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 medium yellow squash (about 2 1/4 pounds), cut into thin rounds
1 large zucchini (about 1 pound), cut into thin rounds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cup cold 1% milk
2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 1 cup), grated and divided
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan, divided
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF and spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Tear up the whole wheat bread and place in a food processor. Pulse until the pieces are all broken up into crumbs. Set aside.
3. Place the oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until they're golden and softened. Add in the garlic, squash, zucchini, salt and pepper and stir together. Cover the pan. lower the heat to medium-low and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring every now and then, until the veggies are tender. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the veggies to a large bowl, trying to leave as much of the pan juices in the pan.
4. In a separate small bowl, whisk the milk and flour together until the flour is entirely dissolved. Gradually add the milk mixture to the juices in the pan, whisking constantly. Bring the mixture to a simmer and then turn the heat down to medium-low again and cook for about 8 minutes or so, until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the cheddar and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan. Pour the cheese mixture over the veggies in the bowl. Stir in the 1/4 cup basil, 1/4 cup chives and 1 cup of the bread crumbs.
5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread out evenly. In a small bowl stir the remaining cheddar, parmesan, breadcrumbs, basil and chives together and sprinkle the mixture over the top of the squash mixture in the pan. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling and the top is golden brown. Serve immediately.
6. Casserole can be made one day, covered and chilled and reheated in a low oven or you can make it early in the day to use that night and leave it at room temperature to reheat right before serving.
Note: Recipe adapted from Comfort Food Fix by Ellie Krieger. I tinkered around with some measurements and ingredients and didn't toast the breadcrumbs that the original recipe calls for because I somehow missed that step but it came out great this way and it saves you a step. Plus the crumbs on top get toasted anyway when they're mixed with the cheeses and herbs.