Southern Comfort Food: Pimento and Cheese Squash Casserole

readytoeatHere’s a dish I think you’ll really love as much as we do and it’s a staple of the Southern food culture. A squash casserole full of fresh yellow squash and onions, enhanced with the flavors of homemade pimento cheese…what’s not to love?

I’ve been making squash casserole for years. My version has always included squash, onion, bell pepper, an egg, a knob of butter, extra sharp cheddar cheese and breadcrumbs on top sprinkled with sweet or smoky paprika. My only variations have been in changing the color of my peppers and varieties of cheese. Delicious, and not the stereotypical southern casserole that involves cream soup, sour cream or mayonnaise, which suits me just fine.

However. Sometimes a little decadence can go a long way and change can be good. Really good, in this case.

Pimento cheese seems to have enjoyed a renaissance lately. My mom makes the very best pimento cheese in the world and perhaps I will share that recipe at a later date. It was she who first mentioned adding pimentos to her squash casserole and that gave me the idea to do my own version with a “pimento cheese” spin. When I tasted it, it was transformative! Who knew that those little pimentos could make such a difference in the flavor of this casserole?

Although to be fair, the mayonnaise is really the game changing element from a textural point of view. I use mayonnaise regularly in some things as needed, but generally use a very light hand with it. In this case, the mayonnaise makes this casserole so wonderfully flavorful and comforting, while complimenting the taste of the squash and other ingredients. It adds just the perfect amount of creaminess to the dish without being sloppy or gooey. It’s so good and easy to prepare, you might be tempted to make a meal off of the casserole alone, but it’s even better as an accompaniment to your favorite entree.

I chose squash that was seasonally available to make this casserole, and in this case it was a yellow summer squash with a pale green end. The result was this beautiful “confetti casserole” appearance. Any yellow summer squash will work just as well and taste great.

Pimento and Cheese Squash Casserole
Serves 6

1 lb. of yellow summer squash, crookneck or other, trimmed and sliced into 1/4″ slices
1-4 oz. jar of chopped pimentos, drained
1/2 sweet red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/3 cup good quality mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a casserole dish with olive oil cooking spray or just coat it lightly with olive oil.

Place the sliced squash into a medium sized pot, cover it with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to simmer and partially cover the pot with a lid. Allow the squash to cook until it is just tender when pricked with a fork, about 15 minutes. Drain off all of the water, leaving the squash in the pot. Mash the squash with a potato masher until it is well broken up, but not pulverized. Place the pot lid back over the top of the pot and drain the water one more time. Add the butter to the hot squash and stir until it melts. Add the pimentos and red onion and stir. Add the egg and stir well. Then add the mayonnaise, 3/4 cup of the cheddar cheese, the salt and pepper and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish and top with the remaining cheese.

Place the casserole into the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until the casserole is set and bubbling and the top is very lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow it to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

*****

What am I cooking up next? A breakfast bread of champions. Stay tuned and Happy Fall…

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