On menus at little mom and pop lunch rooms and restaurants throughout the South customers are offered "meat and three." Their choice of a central protein (roast beef, fried chicken, pork chops) and 3 side dishes, generally a rotating list of salads, beans and soft cooked vegetables. Many eaters (me included) opt for just the three with a hearty piece of cornbread to soak up the juices. Squash casserole is a regular on many of those menus and on Thanksgiving tables throughout the region.
For some reason tonight, looking at a box of Ritz crackers on our kitchen shelf, I set out to turn out beautiful farmers market summer squash into this cheesy, buttery baked vegetable dish.
First I cooked the squash (about 4 cups) and sliced onions (1 medium) in a skillet with a small amount of water for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile I crushed 1 large sleeve (about 35 crackers) of Ritz crackers (okay they aren't classy or artisan but admit it they are delicious -- and James loves them) and mixed in 1 cup of grated cheese. Cheddar is more traditional but I used Gruyere. I mixed half of the cracker combo with the squash and stirred in 2 eggs, 3/4 cup of whole milk, and 1/4 cup of melted butter. After seasoning with S&P I turned the mixture into a prepared baking dish and topped with the remaining cracker mixture and dots of butter. The casserole bakes for 25 minutes at 375º until toasty and golden brown on top.
On the side, you won't find this crisp salad on any meat and three menu but our garden is brimming with fresh, beautiful lettuce. This was our first garden salad of the season and I dressed it simply with a light Meyer lemon vinaigrette.
California meets the South on a plate.