Cheesy Summer Squash Casserole — Down-Home Comfort
At its simplest, squash casserole consists of thinly sliced tender summer squash and a cheese sauce to bind it all together, perhaps with a smattering of crispy, buttery crumbs strewn on the top for crunch. But, as with many favorite dishes, there are a whole lot of opinions about which recipe is the absolute best. Variations include those with homemade white sauce, those with sauces made with familiar red-and-white cans of cream of fill-in-the-blank soup, decadent heavy cream and cheese-laden versions crowned with smashed sleeves of crackers and pats of butter, and mayonnaise-cream cheese dump-and-stir versions. The truth is, nearly all are foolproof, crowd-pleasing favorites, because nothing, absolutely nothing, spells Down-Home Comfort like a casserole.
Casseroles are a cornerstone of American cooking and a favorite of busy cooks all over the globe. How did casseroles become such a staple at the dinner table? Casseroles, and their tony cousins the gratins, are oven-baked meals that generally can be treated as a side dish or as a main course. In them, a simple combination of ingredients is magically transformed into a one-pot wonder.
This recipe is just cheesy and rich enough to let the delicate flavor of the squash shine through. There are a few key points to ensure your squash casserole is a smash hit. First, use a combination of yellow summer squash and green zucchini for a colorful base. Next, to eliminate excess moisture, microwave or steam the squash, drain it well, and pat it dry. (Bland, limp, wet summer squash is the undoing of a crisp, flavorful casserole.) Then, combine the tender squash with onions and herbs to boost the flavor, and panko breadcrumbs to soak up any excess moisture. Last, add a final layer of crumbs on top to produce a crunchy, well-browned crust.
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all , among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.