Friday, May 27, 2011

THE ALISON/DRAGONWAGON PROJECT: Deviled Summer Squash Casserole

Anything with the word "devil" in the title.

Casseroles used to be cool. I don't know what happened to them. They've been relegated to the ranks of potlucks, Thanksgiving dinners, bad cooks and busy moms and dads.

Perhaps with the rise of foodie-ism came a snobbery toward the shady, possibly carcinogenic "Cream of..." cans that you mix with cheese and noodles and call it a casserole day.

I think there are plenty of bad casseroles--and plenty of opportunities to deconstruct the beloved flavors of some so-so casseroles (think Tuna Noodle, King Ranch). But in this case, the pictured "Deviled Summer Squash Casserole" (Passionate Vegetarian, p. 800), is not reminiscent of any pantry casserole concoction. It's fresh, creamy, colorful, spicy and tangy.

PV's author Crescent Dragonwagon likes to use corn starch, instead of traditional roux-making, to thicken some of her dishes. It's a calorie-saver, and in this dish, the flavor is still preserved. The thickening happens in the oven.

The gist of the dish is sliced summer squash, whatever variety, with some sliced mushroom caps, in a zesty sauce, covered in breadcrumbs and baked to golden perfection.

That zesty sauce includes fresh tomatoes, garlic, cheddar and cream cheeses, corn starch, salt and pepper and Pickapeppa sauce (a Dragonwagon standby). Everything is pureed in a blender. 

You also need to sweat out an onion and seeded jalapeno to add to the casserole mixing bowl.

Like most casseroles, nothing bad will happen to it for 35 minutes at 375 degrees. In fact, very good things happen to this dish in the oven when it's topped with breadcrumbs and maybe a little butter (not a Dragonwagon recommendation).

It's a summery dish, but it's got a cold weather, comforting feel to it, too. Good all year round.


  1. As one who cooks for students, casseroles are an essential (especially when I was doing this on a much larger scale than now). This genre represents creativity, being good stewards (using ingredients before they spoil), fusion and practicality. I agree that some "old standards" that have become banal, but even those can be tweaked into something new (like in music: variations on a theme).

    Cooking is an art form, if done with right intent and mindfulness. Thanks for sharing. Buen provecho!

  2. I had never thought of the connection between casseroles and stewardship, but you're completely right. Repurposed leftovers into fusion dishes likes casseroles don't have to be scary or fact, they can be quite classy: Déjà food!