Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thanksgiving's Summer Vegetable Casserole Cousin

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I mean go figure. It's in the fall when the seasons have turned and the chill in the air is whispering that the holiday season is near. It's a historical holiday which has it's roots in the story of the Pilgrims and their struggle to find a home here in the new world. And it's a blow out crazy foodie fest day of unrivaled proportions! A day of feasting and celebrating the bounty of the world and the graces given to us. It is a spiritual moment in which we reflect upon all that we have and all that we should be grateful for. It is in short a perfect holiday!

Now many dishes are well known as part of the Thanksgiving menu landscape. Mashed Potatoes, Green bean casserole, Sweet Potatoes glazed or mashed and swirled with bourbon and brown sugar, and of course the Bird are all dishes which we have come to expect in one form or another on the groaning board of our feasting holiday tablescape. These dishes especially the vegetable side dishes are the normally the favorite dishes in both cooks arsenals and in eaters menu choices. I mean who doesn't love Green bean Casserole! Well, there are some. However, many have now tried to reimagine the famous casserole taking it to new and interesting places and new taste and texture and ingredient frontiers.

Which brings us to the dish at hand. What does summer yellow squash casserole have to do with Thanksgiving you might ask. Well in the South it is sometimes served along with other vegetable casseroles as one of the holiday evenings feasting dishes. Indeed I have it every Christmas Eve at my Aunt Beverly's house! However, it is not where I first encountered it. No it was in the summer time in South Carolina on my Big Mama's lunch table. Warm, bubbly, buttery and full of fresh summer squash goodness! My oh My! Was it ever good. It was served with  steamed fresh beans or corn  and sometimes it was maybe the only other thing on the table that was warm. Served along green beans and a platter of sliced ham,  with fresh slices of big ruby juicy tomatoes and cornbread and butter, this casserole was wonderful.

Yellow Crooked Neck Squash or the Yellow Summer Squash are southern vegetable favorites. Easy to grown and voluminous in the amount of food the plants yield it is normal in my mind that along with zucchini it is a staple of the summer table. Vegetables are a huge part of the traditional Southern diet. Something we don't normally acknowledge when we think about Southern food. But even the "Meat n Three" served up at old school Southern restaurants or diners it tribute to how important vegetables were in the traditional Southern diet. Now one must admit that the old school manner in which many of these vegetables were prepared ( i.e. boiled to death)  was not the best preparation. but they were a major part of the diet. Back when "Mac n Cheese" was not a vegetable, as it is often joked about being today in the South.  Squash Casserole is one of those in between dishes. It has many incarnations and it has many varied ingredients but the key is the things that go into it must elevate the lowly squash to culinary nirvana. In short it's a favor bomb born of butter and fat! Yeah Vegetables!

Today's recipe is certainly not one of those newly redone modern takes on vegetables. Oh no! However, as part of a meal balanced with fresh or freshly prepared foods it takes it place as the succulent side dish of the Summer table. It is in short the fatty, yummy dish that while it could, in it's goodness, grace the Thanksgiving Table. It remains a staple of the Summer when fresh vegetables are the center of the table's focus and the bounty of the garden is the fodder of the kitchen's counter. So when you are preparing your summer meals give it a try. It could not be easier and as part of a balanced menu it is that side that indulges that part of us which wants Thanksgiving everyday, even in the middle of the Summer! Enjoy Ya'll

Squash Casserole ala Renee ( Old Family Recipe)
1 pound yellow crookneck squash, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup grated extra sharp cheese
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 egg, beaten
1 stick butter, melted
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed

Combine squash, onion, cheese, sugar, salt, pepper, mayonnaise and egg in a large mixing bowl. Stir to mix well. Pour into a greased 2 quart baking dish or 6 individual baking dishes.

Combine melted butter and crushed Ritz crackers in a medium size mixing bowl. Stir with a fork to combine.

Sprinkle cracker mixture over casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving, Enjoy!

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