Summer Succotash — Down-Home Comfort
Succotash is essentially an all-American stir-fry. Succotash has many variants and adaptations, but by definition, nearly all contain corn and beans. Fresh vegetables are what make this recipe so special, so I gently suggest not to bother with this recipe unless you can make it with peak-of-summer produce. All the ingredients are diced about the same size, resulting in a stellar vegetable medley. I promise you will be rewarded! The key to succotash is that simple ingredients are combined with a minimum of fuss, and the results are a colorful and crisp burst of down-home comfort.
Choosing the vegetables is important. When faced with a mountain of corn at the grocery store, farmers market or produce stand, look for the silk at the top of the ear to be very dark brown, almost black. It is not unusual to see people peeling back the husks in search of ears with perfect rows of kernels. Just take a peek to make sure the ear is full and free of worm. Try to purchase corn still in the husk and keep it on until ready to cook, to keep the corn moist and sweet.
If butter beans aren’t available, I often substitute shelled edamame or black-eyed peas. Small farm stands, local and state farmers markets, and even some grocery stores will carry shelled peas and butter beans in the summer. These pint-size containers are doubly precious, first in the sense that the peas or beans are already shelled, and secondly, in the sense that they are often more costly; born of the luxury of not having to shell your own.
According to the folks at my alma mater, the University of Georgia, the terms "lima bean" and "butter bean" are interchangeable. And, in Georgia the small, pale beans are known as butter beans, but in Texas they are called lima beans. It's going to depend on where you are in the country. There are a few differences in the varieties: Fordhooks are the big lima beans, and butter beans are typically smaller. Butter beans can be white, green or speckled. There's nothing quite like the taste of fresh butter beans, and they make this succotash really special.
Summer squash is a tender vegetable that differs from winter squash in that it is harvested before the rind hardens. It grows on bush-type plants, not vines that spread. There are many varieties, including yellow crookneck and straightneck, scallop, pattypan and zucchini, that all cook in the same amount of time. When preparing this succotash, I like to mix the varieties for an interesting contrast of color.
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.