Lately our produce market has been pushing summer squash like it’s going out of style. Pattypans were twenty-five cents a pound last week, and white zucchini squash wasn’t far behind. Plus the usual varietes of green zucchini and yellow crookneck. When Squashalypse 2013 first dawned, I was a little stymied as to how I could really capitalize on it. Cheap, seasonal vegetables should be snapped up, so obviously we had to start eating more squash. But, I’m still scarred by the memories of dining hall squash from university: soggy, overboiled, and bland. I ate it anyway, but I don’t particularly want to go back. My favorite way to eat squash by itself is to grill or roast it, but we don’t have a grill, and I’m trying to avoid using the oven too often.
Then one night while we were working our way through a curried zucchini soup. Mr. C&V turned to me and said “You know what would make this really amazing? Searing the zucchini.” And I thought “Duh! Cast iron to the rescue!”. And we haven’t looked back.
Turns out, the cast iron skillet is the perfect vehicle for cooking squash: We can get it slightly seared and blackened on the outside, bringing out the flavor, but avoid turning it into a soggy mess. I’ve been making it the base vegetable for a catch-all medley of tastiness.
I feel a little silly calling this a “recipe”, so instead, here’s a general collection of tips for making a great summer medley of your own.
1. Have a few different kinds of vegetables. Because of the bargain pricing, our medley is usually one half to three-quarters squash, but by adding a little bit of bell pepper, tomato, or eggplant, the tastiness factor goes up tremendously. Just keep the ratio of cheap veggies high and treat the expensive ones as more of a condiment or garnish. Oh, and be generous with the garlic.
2. Let your skillet heat up properly and then do not overcrowd the vegetables. It will just lead to a big steamy mess. Cook the vegetables in small batches: if cooking chunks, each piece of vegetable should have full contact with the bottom of the pan on one side (as shown above). If you’ve run the vegetables through the food processor, spread them out in a layer that is thin enough to allow the bottom of the pan to go through. To counteract the slowness of cooking in batches, I usually use both our twelve and eight inch skillets.
3. Cook different types of vegetables separately, then mix. Eggplant will take 15 minutes or so to really cook properly (I like it soft and almost falling apart). Chunks of zucchini take 10-15 minutes to cook (cook for 5 minutes, then stir, repeat every 3-4 minutes), while peppers take only about five minutes. Really ripe tomatoes should only take 2-3 minutes, just long enough to get the juices running. Cook each vegetable in its individual small batch, then put them all back in the pan together and stir quickly to meld the juices together.
If we’re having these vegetables “plain”, I will often toss in a pinch of oregano or a handful of fresh basil. Alternatively, we will treat these vegetables as more of a bastardized stir-fry and add a little soy sauce and ginger, or a few large dollops of our homemade peanut sauce (recipe scheduled for a near future post…).
This medley also keeps really well in the fridge. We’ll make a big container of them and then eat it over the next few days. They’re great as a side at dinner, or with eggs at breakfast, or just mixed in to add a pop of color and taste with some kale or other greens. In short, we won’t be getting sick of this mix for a while.
What summer foods are you eating over and over right now?