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Recipes and Stories

8 July 2014: Sautéed Summer Squash with Onions

Sauteed yellow crookneck squash is the very essence of a Southern summer

When we were home a couple of weeks ago, the summer squash vines in my mother’s garden were bright with yellow blossoms and the most precocious vine was sporting a single fat, sun-yellow crookneck. By the time we got back to Savannah, a bumper crop of yellow crooknecks was already coming in from local farmers. The sunny color and graceful swan necks of this vegetable are, for me, the very essence of summer.

Throughout the season, a classic staple on Southern tables is yellow crooknecks stewed with onions and served up mashed with a big lump of butter and sometimes a splash of cream. Here, the same ingredients are sautéed instead, adding a light caramel element that we usually associate with cooler weather, but find no less welcome when midsummer’s heat blunts our appetites. The bonus is that it generates a lot less heat than many other methods of cooking them.

The character of this rests on the contrast of lightly caramelized sweet squash and onions against the bright, fresh flavor of herbs, but you needn’t feel bound by one particular herb. There may be a couple that aren’t quite as compatible with summer squash—cilantro or tarragon, for example, don’t make the happiest combination—but squash actually adapt well to most herbs. If you don’t have summer savory in your garden but have a nice stand of basil, use that. If you haven’t any basil, but your sage is thriving, use it. Likewise, if you lack sage, use thyme. If by some botanical disaster you find yourself without any fresh herbs on hand, the green onions can handle the job perfectly well on their own.

Serves 4

1½ pounds very young yellow crookneck squash, or, if you have no choice, zucchini
2 small yellow onion or 4-8 green onions, or 1 small yellow and 2-4 green onions
2 tablespoons bacon drippings or unsalted butter
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
1 tablespoon each chopped parsley and summer savory or chives

1. Scrub the squash under cold running water to remove any dirt and grit that may be clinging to them. Trim off the blossom and stem ends and slice them crosswise into ¼-inch-thick rounds. If using yellow onions, trim the root and stem ends, split lengthwise, peel and thinly slice them. If using green onions, wash, pat dry, trim, and slice them, keeping the white and green parts separate from one another.

2. Put the fat and diced onion or white parts of the green onions in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté until the onions are translucent, but not colored, about 3-5 minutes. Add the squash and continue cooking, occasionally shaking the pan and turning the squash once or twice, until both vegetables are golden and tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Season liberally with salt and pepper, add the herbs, and, if you’ve used green onions, the green parts of those. Gently toss, taste and adjust the seasonings, toss one last time, and turn off the heat. Transfer the squash to a warm serving bowl and serve at once.

Variation: Braised Squash and Onions—when the squash are not as young and delicate as you’d like, a lovely way to bring them to their fullest potential is to braise them. When the squash are added to the pan in step 2, toss them just long enough to coat them with the fat, then season well with salt and pepper, tightly cover, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Braise, shaking the pan occasionally and turning the squash after about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and golden, about 10 minutes altogether. Remove the lid, and if any liquid remains, let it cook away, being careful not to scorch the vegetables. Taste and adjust the seasonings and finish the squash as directed in step 3.

— Recipe adapted from Beans, Greens, & Sweet Georgia Peaches, 2nd Ed., coming from Globe Pequot Press in September 2014. Copyright © 2014 by Damon Lee Fowler, all rights reserved

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