I do not hate summer squash, but it is not my favorite. Yet subscribing to a CSA, like having a neighbor with a vegetable garden, means that a certain time of year arrives when one is utterly deluged with squash. White squash, yellow squash, long squash, squat squash, pounds and pounds and pounds of squash.
Of course there is always ratatouille, which never seemed more comprehensible to me than the first time we subscribed to a CSA and learned that eggplant, zucchini, green peppers, tomatoes, and basil arrive together as reliably as Laurel and Hardy. But there is so much more squash than any amount of ratatouille will consume, enough squash that it really must find its way into dishes that are pretty much ALL SQUASH. And that's where I get worried.
My main fear is the dreaded watery squash. I know I am not alone in this. Limp, bland, puddled in weak squash broth, poised between undercooked and slimy, just... ugh. Fibrous, seedy, soggy, squeaky, please God no! I loathe to discover little batons of zucchini in my pasta salad, or cheerfully waterlogged steamed or sauteed chunks at the side of my plate. It is a terrible conspirator in the so-frequently horrible pasta primavera to be found as the only vegetarian offering at every seafood restaurant in America.
But this recipe is not a bit terrible in any of these ways and is in fact downright delicious accompanied by an equally seasonal tomato salad. It also reheats like a dream. The best summer squash for a gratin, I think, is a pattypan squash or the variety of zucchini that is only seed-filled down at one end. Try to keep the seeds to an absolute minimum. Trim ruthlessly and feed your compost heap.
SUMMER SQUASH GRATIN
Two pounds summer squash, trimmed and sliced thin (about 1/8")
2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons butter, plus extra for the baking dish
1 small onion diced very fine
several sage leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup milk
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz parmasean cheese, grated
freshly ground pepper
Toss the squash with the salt and spread on a clean towel for at least half an hour. Rinse well and squeeze dry.
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Butter a baking dish. A 10" pie pan works particularly well -- the more exposed surface area, the better.
Heat the rest of the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft and translucent. Add the squash and sage and cook, stirring, 5-10 minutes more, until there is no water at the bottom of the pan (the squash will express some liquid as you cook it) and the squash is soft and beginning to brown in a few places.
Sprinkle the flour over the contents of the pan and cook, stirring, for another 1-2 minutes. Add the milk and stir gently, scraping the bottom of the pan. When the milk begins to thicken, in another two minutes or so, add the garlic and cheese and continue to cook a minute more. Tip the contents of the pan into your waiting, buttered baking dish and smooth the top. Bake for twenty minutes.