*Note: Use care when handling nettles. Their little stingers are not terribly dangerous, but they can cause a great deal of discomfort. I like to wear rubber gloves or use tongs to handle them...
Ever notice how "squash" suspiciously resembles "squish?" Perhaps it had not occurred to you, in which case it is probable that you have not eaten enough of it in your lifetime. Squash, that is.
There are some plants that really work at procreation. In fact, most plants are remarkably good at it. But for our purposes today, we'll focus on the squash, as most everyone I know is drowning in the stuff right now. Squash seems to have no trouble reproducing, and because we have always been taught not to waste food, we simply let it fill up the crisper drawers until it grows soft. Most people find it much easier to cope with passive waste ("It went soft before I could use it.") than active ("I threw it away.").
I understand completely. Sometimes it almost seems as though I sincerely believe that if I leave something in the refrigerator long enough, it will simply vanish, leaving behind it copious fridge space. And in a sense it does vanish, but not in the most ideal and discreet manner. Over time, I have learned to be proactive rather than face what I like to call "fridge sludge." An appropriately horrible name for something so...well...horrible.
Squash may not be the most charismatic vegetable. It ranks above celery root and possibly parsnips, but certainly below most other vegetables. It is watery and largely flavorless, having about it a barely perceptible sweetness and a slight crunch. It is not an unpleasant vegetable. In fact, it isn't much of anything, preferring to lie coyly in the realm of mediocrity.
I don't mean to sound so down on squash. There's nothing wrong with it per se. It just has a way of outstripping the average human's imagination. In my family, squash is treated in one of three ways, with perhaps a few outliers. It is either fried in a very light breading, turned into casserole, or stewed with butter and onion.
These are solid ways of dealing with a very unreasonable vegetable, and to be perfectly honest, my attempts to be clever with squash have rarely, if ever, improved upon these three simple applications.
One recent treatment for squash that I have come to love is grilling. Simply cut squash into large-ish strips (baby squash may only need to be halved or quartered), toss with any spices or flavorings you have around (I tend to use garlic, red pepper flake, black pepper, a little olive oil, and soy sauce), and grill over high heat in a grill basket. The edges of the squash will blacken a little, and the interior becomes almost creamy.
Another recipe I have come to love is squash casserole. I know that to some, the word casserole is noxious, recalling memories of mayonnaise-laden concoctions not fit for consumption by man or beast. But frankly, casseroles can be perfectly venerable dishes when constructed with care. If it makes you feel any better, call it a gratin.
This recipe is straight out of the Joy of Cooking, with a couple minor tweaks on my part. I added a quarter cup basil pesto because we had some on hand that needed using. I also doubled the recipe, as we were experiencing a severe glut of squash and needed to act quickly. You could add various types of cheese. I took this as an opportunity to empty my cheese drawer of odds and ends.
I can see this casserole going in several different directions. Give it an Indian sensibility with garam masala, minced ginger root in addition to the garlic, and a simple, salty cheese. You could add other vegetables--sautéed kale or perhaps eggplant that has been steamed alongside the squash. Add curry paste. This dish can be an excellent blank canvas, as squash is unassertive and plays well with almost any flavor.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 10-inch gratin dish or an 8-inch square baking dish.
Steam, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes:
11⁄4 pounds yellow squash, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
Remove to a medium bowl. Heat in a small skillet:
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
Add and cook, stirring, until softened:
1 small onion, finely diced
Add and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes:
2 cloves garlic, minced
Add to the squash, along with:
2⁄3 cup diced Monterey Jack, Swiss, or Brie
1⁄3 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
(1 tablespoon white vermouth or dry white wine)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt and white pepper to taste
Spread into the prepared dish. Combine in a small bowl and sprinkle over the top:
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon butter
Bake until bubbling and golden, about 35 minutes.