Friday, August 8, 2008



It's shaping up into a rare perfect day for DC in August: a dry breeze and coolish temperatures that invite me outside to some tasks I've been avoiding because of the enervating heat and humidity. That's where I'll be (or will have been) when you read this.

Today's recipe is one of those casseroles I always like to run across for something easy and different for a weekday. It's from the most recent Washington Post Wednesday Food section, from a story with suggestions on how to use the summer harvest in interesting ways. The original recipe is from a farm family nearby, but I made some changes to it and took their name off.

I know an oven casserole is not something you automatically think of for the summer. But the basic recipe is very tasty, and the possibilities for variations are as endless as your imagination, so I regard this recipe as a place from which to launch my own creation, and offer it as such, good for any time of the year. I'm already thinking the next time I do this I'll use Italian sausage instead of ground beef, much more cheese, a little cayenne and, if I have the time, my own tomato sauce.

Note: the squash gives off a lot of water as it bakes, but thanks to the breadcrumbs, the result isn't soupy. (The dish doesn't slice; it scoops with a spoon, and as you can see from the picture, it spreads a bit on the plate. But it isn't unappealingly runny.) Between the dissolved bread crumbs and all the veggies, there is a pleasant, natural sweetness that I find appealing.

1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs celery, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup 1/4-inch diced green bell pepper
6 cups homemade or store-bought spaghetti sauce
2 teaspoons dried basil or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-pound mix of summer squashes, such as pattypan, yellow and zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 cup plain or Italian-style dried bread crumbs
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (may use low-fat)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9- by 12-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking oil spray.

Brown the ground beef in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally to break up any large clumps. (The meat does not have to be cooked all the way through.) Drain off as much of the fat as possible, then add the onion, garlic, celery and green bell pepper to the skillet. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened. When the mixture has browned, add 2 cups of the spaghetti sauce and the basil; mix well, pour mixture into a large bowl and set aside. Wipe pan clean with paper towels.

Heat oil in pan over high heat until it shimmers and add chunked squash in a single layer. Quickly sear squash without stirring to carmelize surface but not to cook through. Remove squash to a separate bowl, repeat as necessary until all squash is has been carmelized.

To assemble: Pile all charred charred squash in the bottom of the baking dish, then layer in the following order in even amounts: the meat-vegetable sauce, the bread crumbs, some of the remaining 4 cups of spaghetti sauce and the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses; repeat twice to use all the ingredients, ending with a sprinkling of bread crumbs over the remaining cheeses. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the cheese and bread crumbs have started to brown. Remove from oven and cool on a rack 10 minutes before serving.


Peewit said...

Now that does sound nice. I'll try it when we return from our vacation. We're off to my wife's relatives in Glasgow for a week and then we've hired a cottage in North Wales in the shadow of Snowdon (this island's highest mountain a mere pimple in US eyes but nevertheless a challenging day's hike to climb (or we could get the train up...)) I shall be back in late August

Ralph said...

Havea nice holiday, Peewit. And by the way, here on the east coast of the U.S., all we have is "pimples" for mountains, too. I've never been closer to the Rockies than Denver, so we're in the same boat, mountain-wise.

Anonymous said...

Well, we do have the Shennandoah Ralpfee . . . been camping there a dozen times. Good Food Friday, I'll try this weekend.

Ralph said...

I looked up Snowdon and it's about 3500 feet high. That's about as high as anything in the Shenandoahs, isn't it? Dunno.

Go crazy with the casserole and let me know how it comes out.