After four summers of putting up with the squash in my CSA box, I have, at last, found a reason to love the stuff.
My habit of perusing stacks of used books finally paid off during a spring visit to Nashville’s BookManBookWoman, which yielded a copy of Cover & Bake by the Cook’s Illustrated team. I’ve found the Cook’s Illustrated collections to be virtually foolproof — they do, after all, painstakingly test each recipe numerous times before releasing it into the wild.
I grew up with very little respect for the squash. I remember eating it mostly fried, although surely that wasn’t the only way my mother and grandmother prepared it. The only thing I really figured out to do with it myself was to chop it up and sauté it with a little garlic and olive oil. Passable, but by no means a method to use up copious amounts of squash.
This recipe, however, uses 2 entire POUNDS of squash, meaning I haven’t spent the last two weeks feeling bad about unwanted veggies languishing in the crisper. They’re all gone.
The original recipe specifically calls for zucchini and summer squash. I was saving my zucchini for brownies (I’ll share that recipe soon — seriously the best brownies ever), and I had at least three other varieties of squash in the box, including Slick Pik, Zephyr and patty pan.
Squash is squash, I say. I also substituted chopped leeks for the shallots, since I had leftover leeks and the Internet vaguely signaled that they would be OK. No complaints.
I also never bother keeping parsley in the house, so I used an entire cup of chopped basil instead of buying a whole bunch of parsley just for 1/4 cup.
This recipe is a lot of work, to be sure, but totally worth it. The creamy sauce delivers a consistent hint of fresh basil, and every forkful delivers a healthy array of veggies.
Baked Penne with Squash, Tomatoes and Basil
(Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
Serves 6 to 8
4 slices white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 pounds zucchini and/or other squash varieties, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/2-inch thick
3/4 lb. penne
4 tbsp. olive oil
6 medium shallots, minced (about 1 cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Ground black pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
For the topping:
Process the bread and butter in a food processor fitted with the steel blade until coarsely ground, about six 1-second pulses; set aside.
For the filling:
1. Toss the squash with 1 tbsp. kosher salt and place in a large colander set inside a large bowl to drain, about 30 minutes.
2. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 2 tbsp. kosher salt and the pasta; cook, stirring occasionally until al dente. Drain the pasta, return to the pot, and toss with 1 tbsp. of olive oil; set aside. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat to 400 degrees.
3. Spread the salted squash evenly over a double layer of paper towels and pat dry with additional paper towels, wiping off any residual salt. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking. Add half of the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and slightly charred, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet. Add 1 tbsp. olive oil to the pan and return to high heat until smoking; brown the remaining squash and transfer to the baking sheet.
4. Wipe the skillet clean with a wad of paper towels. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan, basil and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Add the sauce, tomatoes and sautéed squash to the pasta; stir gently to combine. Pour the pasta into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumb topping. Bake until the casserole is bubbling and the crumbs are lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.