Among the best things of all the wonderful summer produce that used to come from my mother's now dormant vegetable garden were delicate, sweet summer squash. It yielded our familiar Southern yellow crooknecks by the bushel, but also produced slim little green zucchini in equal quantity, because our whole family loved both.
They're what I miss most from her garden. We cooked them in all the usual ways and never tired of any of them: breaded and fried; sautéed or steamed with onions, creamed, stuffed and baked, gratinéed, and mashed and folded into a casserole with onions and soft bread crumbs.
I've also never tired of experimenting with new (at least, to me) ways of preparing them. For example, both varieties make a wonderful sauce for pasta, alone or paired with fish, poultry, or seafood.
Using them in that way made me wonder if they might also make a nice "sauce" for any or all of those proteins. And sure enough, while working on a column about simple summer cooking a few years back, I discovered that they do. It's a perfect thing for coping with mid-summer's heat.
Chicken Cutlets with Summer Squash
Squash prepared this way are also lovely over or along side of firm, thick, fish fillets such as sea bass, snapper, or pompano. Cook the fish in the pan in which you will later cook the squash: film the pan with olive oil and warm it over medium-high heat, then add the fish skin-side down and sear until it's releasing from the pan (about 2-3 minutes), turn, and cook for about 1-2 minutes longer, depending on thickness. Remove it from the pan to a warm plate and prepare the squash, then return the fish to the pan at the end as for the chicken below.
The squash are also be very nice cooked alone in this way and served alongside grilled chicken, fish, pork chops, and steak.
2 small yellow squash (yellow zucchini or crooknecks)
2 small zucchini, no more than 1-inch in diameter
2 large boned and skinned chicken breast halves about 12-14 ounces each
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
About 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small bunch scallions or small green onions, washed, trimmed, and thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram or oregano
8-10 fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne just before using
1. Scrub both kinds of squash under cold running water. Trim and cut lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices, then cut each slice into ¼-inch-thick strips about 1½-inches long.
2. Trim the chicken of any cartilage and membrane. Lay them flat on a work surface and, pressing each flat with your hand, carefully split each in half horizontally, making 2 equal flat cutlets. Lay them between sheets of plastic wrap and gently pound them out to a uniform thickness with a textured meat mallet or scaloppine pounder. Pat them dry and lightly season both sides with salt and pepper.
3. Film a heavy-bottomed, lidded 12-14 inch skillet with oil and add a pat of butter. Warm it over medium heat. When the butter's foaming subsides, put in the cutlets and cook until their bottoms are nicely browned and releasing from the pan, about 2-3 minutes.
4. Carefully turn and cook them until the second side is browned, about 2 minutes longer. Add a splash of water, cover, and adjust the heat to medium-low. Cook until they're just cooked through, about 2-3 minutes longer. Remove them to a warm plate and cover.
5. Raise the heat to medium and film the pan once again with oil. Add another pat of butter, the white part of the scallions, and both kinds of squash. Sauté until the squash are almost tender and just beginning to brown at their edges, about 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
6. Push the squash to one side, return the cutlets to the pan, and gently scoop the squash over them. Scatter the marjoram or oregano and green parts of the scallions evenly over them, cover, and let them just heat through, about 2 minutes. Remove the cutlets to a warm platter. Taste and adjust the seasonings in the squash, then spoon them evenly over the cutlets, scatter the basil over all, and serve immediately.