Monday, September 3, 2018

Marinated Summer Squash…with Cherry Tomatoes, Olives, and Capers

Earlier this summer I had an unfortunate experience with a recipe for marinated summer squash.  I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on during the cooking process…I think I was distracted...and I was just blindly following a recipe in an attempt to get dinner on the table quickly.  (It happens to us all!)  The result was mushy…and oily…and kind of awful.  Because this was early in the summer, I’ve had the whole growing season to be sort of peripherally obsessed with marinated summer squash.  I’ve noticed it whenever a recipe for it crossed my path (which—surprisingly—happened with some frequency), and I’ve made several variations now.

Early on I happened across a great basic recipe from The Canal House.  I love recipes like this—no-frills, “method” recipes that enhance your understanding of a process and can then be used as a foundation for all kinds of variations.  Once you have the method recipe for something in your repertoire, you then begin to see it being used within more elaborate recipes all the time…and even when the more elaborate recipe is poorly or obscurely written, if you like the dish that recipe is trying to convey, you can then use your knowledge of the basic method…and the idea presented in the new recipe…and produce something delicious to eat. 

The basic method for marinated squash is to cook large pieces of squash 

(grill, broil, roast, sauté in a skillet, etc.) until golden brown and just tender (should still have a bit of resistance in the center) 

and then dress it with a tangy, garlicky, herby dressing while still warm. 

Then, all you have to do is let the squash sit and marinate until it has cooled to room temperature.  At that point you can enjoy it right away…or the next day (or later).  It is good chilled, at room temperature, or reheated.  The trick for success is choosing small, tender squash

...and then being careful not to overcook it (no matter what size you end up with).

I have run across variations on this basic method ranging from simple to complex.  Bon Appétit had a recipe in June with hazelnuts and mint (served on a bed of ricotta).  Joshua McFadden in his book Six Seasons includes a recipe with cherry tomatoes and a complex vinaigrette made with capers, raisins, anchovies and loads of parsley.  For subtle crunch, he tops the whole dish with a shower of toasted breadcrumbs.  

Michael Solomonov (Zahav) spoons his marinated squash over a “charred zucchini baba ganoush” and tops it with feta and hazelnuts. In her book Fresh from the Farmers’ Market, Janet Fletcher makes her vinaigrette with tomato concassé, niçoise olives, and capers.

Marinated squash can be served as a side dish (it’s especially nice with fish, chicken and lamb), but that’s just the beginning.  As demonstrated by the Bon Appétit and Solomonov versions, it is perfect for serving on top of a smear of ricotta, hummus…or other favorite spread.  If you add a loaf of crusty bread…or some warm flatbread…you have dinner.   At my table, I have served this squash for dinner on top of a big mound of fresh corn polenta…and as a side to halibut and toasted pine nut couscous.  

And I have enjoyed it for lunch with a custardy, soft cooked egg and a mound of warm freekeh.  

My favorite version is a hybrid of several of the recipes mentioned above (and it’s the one I’m including in my post).  Once you make it, I imagine you will come up with your own variations…and find a myriad of ways in which to serve it.

Marinated Summer Squash with Cherry Tomatoes, Olives, & Capers

1 lb. firm small summer squash (a mix of shapes and colors, if possible)
1 T. olive oil
Salt & pepper
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 large clove of garlic, peeled
1/2 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved (mixed colors, if available)
1 1/2 T. capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1/3 c. Kalamata (or other favorite brine-cured olive), halved
1/3 c. olive oil
10 to 12 large fresh basil leaves, cut in a medium chiffonnade
1/4 c. toasted breadcrumbs or toasted walnuts

Trim the squash.  For cylindrical squash, halve each squash lengthwise.  If the squash are on the large size (larger than 4 or 5 oz.), cut each in half again lengthwise.  Your goal is long slabs that are about 1/2-to 3/4-inch thick.  For patty pan-style squash, cut in half horizontally through the equator.  Again, if they are on the large side, you may want to cut these slices in half (to make semi-circles) or if the squash is extra tall, you may just want to cut it in 3 thick slices horizontally.  As with the zucchini, your goal is slabs that are 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick. 

Heat your grill or broiler to high.  Place the squash in a bowl and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil.  If you are broiling the squash, spread it on a baking sheet.  Slide the pan under the broiler or, alternatively, arrange the squash on the grill.  Grill or broil, turning occasionally, until both sides of the squash are lightly browned and just tender, but not mushy—there will still be a small amount of resistance in the center of the squash.  (Alternatively, you can simply brown the squash in a skillet on the stove top.  Film the pan with oil and cook over medium to medium-high heat, starting with a cut surface and then turning as the squash brown.)

While the squash cooks, place the vinegar in a large bowl.  Using a microplaner, grate the garlic into the bowl.  Add the tomatoes, olives, capers and olive oil.  Season generously with salt & pepper and toss to combine.

When the squash is tender, transfer to a wide, shallow dish and season with salt.  (If any of the squash is longer than 4 inches, then cut those in half first.) Pour the tomato salad over the squash and add

Let the squash sit for at least half an hour before serving, gently tossing the ingredients a time or two as they sit.  The squash may be gently warmed or served at room temperature.  To serve, transfer to a serving platter and shower with toasted bread crumbs or walnuts.  Serves 4.

Toasted Breadcrumbs:  Remove the crusts from a day old baguette or a few slices of artisanal style white bread.  Place in the food processor and process until bread is reduced a mixture of crumbs ranging from fine to pieces that are about the size of a pea.  Spread the crumbs in a small baking pan or pie plate and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil.  Toss to distribute the olive oil and moisten all of the crumbs.  Transfer to a 350° to 375° oven and bake, stirring at five minute intervals, until the crumbs are golden brown and crisp.  Let cool.  Toasted breadcrumbs may be stored for a few days at room temperature in an airtight container.   Freeze for longer storage.

Toasted Walnuts:  Spread the walnuts in a small baking dish and place in a 350° oven until golden and fragrant…about 5 minutes.  When cool enough to handle, crumble the walnuts with your hands.  Drizzle sparingly with olive oil and season with salt.

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