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.

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

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Crustless Summer Squash, Zucchini and Tomato “Pie”

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A savory slice is oh so nice!

What a couple of weeks it has been…

This is our tree, you can see how the lightning circled it before it jumped to the chimney cap.

This is our tree, you can see how the lightning circled it before it jumped to the chimney cap.

When lightning strikes it does such weird things. Our experience has run the gamut from the usual burnout of electronics which one would expect, to the current running through the metal spines of a silk lampshade and tearing the silk out of it…which one would not expect! We’ll be repairing, cleaning soot and painting here for the next few months, and we were so lucky it wasn’t any worse.

Our chimney...8 feet of it is on the ground!

Our chimney…8 feet of it is on the ground! We sleep with our heads right next to where the chimney meets the top roof line.

Life goes on and mercifully we are here to experience and talk about it. And eventually you get back into the kitchen again and things begin to feel more normal.

Layers, layers and more layers are the key to this crustless pie.

Layers, layers and more layers are the key to this crustless pie.

Today I’m sharing a tasty and easy dish using some of summer’s bounty. This squash, zucchini and tomato pie is crustless, which makes it lighter than a traditional tart or pie, and perfect to serve as an entree with a salad or as a side dish for a meal. The “crust” in this dish is made by the slight caramelization of the bottom and sides of the squash in the oiled skillet, and the melted cheese. It holds together very well and has a wonderful, fresh flavor. I do love squash and am always looking for ways to feature it when it’s in season, and this little dish made me very happy…plus I got to use my cast iron skillet, which is always a bonus!

Pan pie, c'est tout!

Pan pie, c’est tout!

I hope you all have been doing well while I was away, and that you had wonderful and relaxing weekends and holidays. I am slowly getting around to visit all of you and catch up, so bear with me. Have a great week, and happy eating.

Crustless Summer Squash, Zucchini and Tomato Pie
Serves 4

This pie was inspired by my Squash and Tomato Galette from last year, but is much quicker and lighter because there’s no crust!

1 lb. yellow summer (I used crookneck) squash, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 large zucchini, trimmed and thinly sliced
3-4 roma tomatoes, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 cup ricotta cheese
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided
zest of one lemon
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons of chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 egg
1 clove garlic, minced
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sprigs of fresh basil for edible garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in the bottom of a 10-inch cast iron or ovenproof skillet and grease the bottom and sides well.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese, the lemon zest, lemon juice, thyme, basil and egg until well blended.

Place 1/2 of the yellow squash slices into the bottom of the pan in a single layer, slightly overlapping each other. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, then dollop 1/3 of the cheese and herb mixture over the layer of squash, spreading it slightly to cover. Next, layer 1/2 of the roma tomato slices over the squash layer and sprinkle with 1/2 of the minced garlic, a pinch of salt and some pepper, and drizzle over 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil. Make a single layer of the zucchini over the tomato layer, overlapping the slices. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt and pepper, dollop 1/3 of the cheese and herb mixture on top, spreading as before.

Make one more layer of the tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil, then top with a final layer of yellow squash mixed with any remaining zucchini, salt, pepper and the remaining cheese and herb mixture. Sprinkle the top with the remaining parmesan cheese and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 35 – 40 minutes, watching closely, until the top is browned, the whole is bubbling and the vegetables are tender when a knife is inserted through to the bottom. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Cut into four wedges and serve with a sprig of fresh basil on top.

Summer Squash and Tomato Galette

I look at this and all I can think about is making the next one!

A cool spell has arrived and with it comes the promise of fall, which is my favorite time of year. The mornings of late have been cool and calm. Each day this week has been filled with tempting breezes that stir the imagination and revive the spirit. The blistering temperatures have given way to the 80’s…absolutely delightful weather. But let us not be lulled into a false sense of security, as this is but a temporary respite.

It is, after all, still August…and here in the South that means at least one more month of 90 degree plus temperatures, whether you call it summer or not! It also means that we still have some of summer’s bounty of food left to enjoy in the form of tomatoes and squash, amongst other things. Continue reading