At this time of the year, whenever I shop the farmer market, I get a vaguely guilty feeling about summer squashes. They are inexpensive, they come in so many varieties, they just look so good that I feel like I really ought to have more good ideas of what to do with them. I really should take a bunch home. But the question is; what am I going to do with them all. Sure, they are good in a stir fry, or maybe sliced in a salad. Maybe a ratatouille? But beyond that, where do you go?
Anyone who has ever planted zucchini will know that the problem is even worse if you have summer squashes in your garden; using up the yield can seriously tax the available recipes (lets face it, zucchini bread is a cry for help). My mom, faced with this dilemma in our family garden, would bread then shallow fry slices of zucchini and serve them with ketchup. I think she figured it would resemble fast food and thus be more palatable to the kids…a misguided hope.
This summer, while reading French culinary magazines, I was reminded that stuffed summer squashes are a popular dish throughout the south of France (a region thankfully free of zucchini bread…are the two facts related?). In Nice, for example, the name Petite farci Nicoise describes a dish of assorted stuffed vegetables, including squashes, eggplants, onions, sweet peppers and artichokes, baked with a stuffing of ground meat and bread crumbs. In Provence, Legumes farci a la Provencal are vegetables stuffed principally with rice and salt pork, although the recipe can also include cheese, herbs, onions, garlic and other ingredients, depending on the cook and the local customs.
Summer Squash v Winter Squash
I have made stuffed winter squashes before with a fair amount of success (meaning that my wife agrees to eat my stuffed winter squash and says she likes them). So on a recent weeknight, I decided to try my hand at stuffed summer squash with the help of a pound of ground pork from Olsen Farms. Off the bat, it seems to me that there would be 2 major differences in cooking the summer and winter types : 1) unlike harder winter squashes, summer squashed do not need to be par cooked 2) In fact, since you dont want summer squashes to be cooked to mush, the filling should be fully cooked before stuffing so that it only needs to be heated through along with the squash.
As with many county dishes, where the best cooks often Grandmothers who keep their recipes in their heads, there are few hard and fast recipes for stuffed squash. But the basic steps are 1: prepare the squashes 2: make the stuffing 3: stuff the squash 4: prepare the accompaniments and 5: bake the stuffed squashes.
A few guidelines and considerations:
I think that using a selection of squashes makes for a nicer presentation. In order to make room for the stuffing, a certain amount of the interior flesh of the squash needs to be removed. I find that a small melon baller works best for this.
For roundish squashes, I find that it is best to cut a lid and then hollow them out like a pumpkin. With long, thin squashes, I cut them in half the long way and then hollow out a long trench for the filling.
Don’t throw out the flesh removed from the squashes. Instead, dice it up and saute it with onions and garlic to add to the filling.
The possible choices for the base of the filling are endless; ground meat, vegetables, bread cubes, grains. I used a pound of ground pork, an onion, several cloves of garlic, the chopped flesh of the squashes, and some fresh goats cheese. I first sauted the ground pork in a little olive until it was cooked through, then added the onions, garlic and squash, a little Mexican oregano, piment d’espelette, salt, pepper, fennel seeds and ground allspice. After it was cooked and cooled, I stirred in the crumbled goat cheese, a splash of red vermouth and a couple tablespoons of breadcrumbs. Done.
Drizzle the interior of the squashes with a bit of olive oil, then salt and pepper well before stuffing. Stuff the squashes very full as the filling will shrink a bit as it cooks.
Before baking in a 350 degree oven, drizzle the exterior of the squashes with a little olive oil then salt and pepper well. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the stuffing is hot through and the squashes are just tender.
In Provence, stuffed squash would often be served with a simple tomato sauce. I think they are also good with just a little pistou on the side (pistou is very easy to make if you have a mortar and pistil: basil, pine nuts, garlic, maybe an anchovy filet, olive oil, salt and pepper, a little grated Parmesan if you like).
The day when I decided to make the stuffed squashed turned out to be a scorching 90 deg plus day in Seattle. Not the sort of day when you want to be heating an oven or spending a lot of time with the stove top burners on (must be about the same in the south of France when summer squashes are in the markets). So it was a pleasant surprise to find that most of the preparation can be done in the morning while it is still cool. Then the final baking right before dinner only takes about 30 minutes at relatively low heat, so the discomfort is minimal.