I recently saw the NY Times hailing a recipe for squash casserole as “the best squash casserole on the Planet Earth”. This got my attention for two reasons: I grew up eating my great grandma’s squash casserole recipe and had never heard of anyone else making squash casserole. I admit, I even sort of thought it was all ours, or, maybe just a southern thing that hadn’t made it north, save for our family courageously pioneering Gulf Coast cooking in the Pacific Northwest (thanks, internet, for spoiling that for me). The other reason was that, well, MY squash casserole is the Best Squash Casserole on Planet Earth… so that just doesn’t quite compute.
Our family squash casserole, like the NY Times squash casserole that it’s almost identical to, is nice. Especially when you are a kid (or my mom) and don’t want to know that there is squash in your food. All of the squash, onions and bell peppers are boiled and pureed into complete submission so the cheese, eggs and crackers can take center stage. Cheese and cracker based dishes are all well and good but eventually I grew up, and my squash casserole had to grow up too.
Turns out the solution was simple. Instead of boiling and pureeing, you dice all of that summer squash, onions, and red and orange bell peppers (or green if that’s your thing) and saute it in all of the butter from the recipe. It takes longer, but instead of water-logging your veggies, sauteeing gives you lovely, lightly carmelized veggies with all of their flavors and natural sweetness concentrated. The only other tweaks are to grow the cheese up a bit from medium cheddar to sharp (or gruyere, gouda, pepper jack – you really cant go wrong) and ditch the evaporated milk in favor of half and half. There you have it – tender little cubes of buttery squash suspended in eggy-crackery-cheesy goodness. Yep, this is the best squash casserole on earth.
Dice your squash, onions and peppers and start them sauteing in the butter. I prefer red or orange bell peppers, but this week we had green and yellow peppers from our CSA, so green and yellow it is.
Beat the eggs, half and half, salt and pepper together
Add the saltines
Keep sauteing the veggies until they are reduced and starting to get brown around the edges
Add the squash mixture to the egg mixture and stir just until mixed
Pour into your casserole dish, top with cubed bread and grated cheese mixture and bake. We happened to have a leftover croissant, so I used that.
- 3 medium sized summer squash (yellow crooked neck, yellow or green zucchini all work well)
- 1 large onion, diced finely
- 2 bell peppers (any color)
- 4 T butter, salted
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 C half and half
- 1/2 t salt
- fresh ground pepper
- 1 sleeve saltines, roughly crushed
- 1 C sharp cheddar, grated
- 1 C bread (any good quality firm bread), cubed
- Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and saute the cubed squash, onion and bell pepper, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat until well reduced and started to turn golden at the edges – 15-25 minutes.
- Mix together the eggs, half and half, salt, and ground pepper to taste in a large mixing bowl and beat lightly. Add the crushed crackers.
- When the squash is done sauteing, add it to the egg/cracker mixture, stirring just until combined. Pour into a 2 quart casserole.
- Mix together the grated cheese and cubed bread and spread on top.
- Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, or until slightly puffed at edges and golden brown on top.