Cheesy Yellow Squash Casserole

This time of year, anyone who has a garden is frantically picking yellow squash and zucchini. They inundate neighbors and family members with baskets full of these vegetables. At the beginning of the season, they’re GREAT. A couple of weeks into it, though, we start to run out of ideas for preparing these gourds.

My sister-in-law's beautiful basket of veggies from her garden! © Miyo Wratten

My sister-in-law’s beautiful basket of veggies from her garden! © Miyo Wratten

My sister-in-law has a beautiful garden this year, and she gave us about two pounds worth of beautiful, buttery yellow squash. We usually just keep the preparation of this vegetable really simple: Fry in olive oil with salt and pepper with onions and green peppers. Very simple, delicious side dish for any meal.

We have, however, hit the “I’m starting to have enough of this” point with the yellow squash. So, I set off on a little search for alternate preparations, and found some recipes for yellow squash casseroles that looked really interesting. I couldn’t settle on just one recipe I liked, so I came up with a hybrid of the best features of a couple of recipes I came across.

If you’re lucky enough to have an abundance of yellow squash, try out this recipe. I hate to brag, but it turned out really well. I added nutmeg to the sauce, a culinary trick I learned while watching a show on Food Network. It really works well in any cream sauce, like scalloped potatoes, too. It adds an extra peppery flavor and a little “je ne sais quoi” to the sauce. Try it, you won’t regret it!

© Miyo Wratten 2013

© Miyo Wratten 2013

My husband was skeptical of this casserole, but said he would absolutely want me to make it again. You can’t really go wrong: thinly sliced, tender and sweet summer squash with onions, a rich, creamy, cheesy sauce with a hint of pepper and garlic. It’s topped with a crunchy breadcrumb and Parmesan cheese topping that complements the creaminess of the whole dish.

This casserole is rich enough to stand on its own as a main dish for any vegetarian (I wish I’d had a nice crusty bread to have along side this!), but it serves as a beautiful side dish to any meal you choose to have.

Cheese Yellow Squash Casserole
Serves 12 generously. Total time spent on this dish is around 45 minutes including prep and cooking time. 

2 lbs of yellow squash (be sure you have small, tender ones, not much longer than 6″), sliced 1/8 inch thin
1 medium onion sliced 1/8 inch thin
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup water
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 Tbsp butter; 2 Tbsp butter (melted, for topping)
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup vegetable broth
3 1/2 cups milk
4 oz cream cheese, cubed
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated; 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (for topping)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup bread crumbs

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thinly slice yellow squash and onion. If you have one on hand, use a mandolin set to 1/8-inch thickness. Be sure to use the guard … I didn’t, and lived to regret it.

2) In a deep-sided, heavy pan, add olive oil over medium heat. Add squash and onions, along with water, salt and pepper. Stir to distribute salt and pepper throughout the vegetables. When the water begins to steam, cover the pan. Stir occasionally, and continue to cook until the squash is tender and onions begin to turn transparent, about 10 minutes. The vegetables should not caramelize. 016

3) When the vegetables are cooked, remove them from the pan using a slotted spoon and place into a 9 by 12-inch casserole dish. Spread the vegetable mixture evenly in the dish. Set aside.

4) Wipe out the pan, and still over medium heat add 4 Tbsp butter. Once butter is mostly melted, stir in the flour slowly, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. You are basically making a white roux here. Continue stirring constantly and cook the flour in the pan for about 2 to 3 minutes. Do not allow the flour to brown. When the flour has thickened to a tight paste and has taken on a light-tan or ecru color, begin slowly adding vegetable broth, stirring continuously and stirring lumps out of the flour after each addition.

5) Once all the broth has been stirred in, begin slowly adding milk. Again, be sure to stir continuously and stir any lumps out after each addition of liquid to the flour mixture. You should have a thick sauce that coats your spoon at this point.

6) Drop in cubed cream cheese and stir until fully dissolved and evenly distributed into the sauce. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and shredded mozzarella. Stir until the shredded cheese is completely dissolved. The sauce at this point should appear very thick, and when you try to lift some sauce out of the pan with the spoon, you should see some ‘melted cheese’ stringiness to the sauce.

7) Stir in garlic powder and nutmeg. Taste the sauce, and adjust seasonings to taste. Pour the sauce over the vegetables in the casserole dish and stir so each vegetable is coated evenly with the sauce.

8) In a small bowl, stir together breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan cheese and melted butter. Sprinkle evenly over the vegetable and cheese-sauce mixture. Place in center of oven and cook for 20 minutes or until sauce is bubbling and topping has browned. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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