Savory Squash

Summer Squash Casserole can play a supporting role or be a main course.

ummer is the right time for fresh vegetables, and Carol Ann Dumond and her daughter Lise Ann Slatten grew up appreciating the seasonal bounty.

While growing up in New Iberia, Slatten and her family lived near a sugar cane farmer who grew vegetables in the off-season. After gathering his crop, he would leave large sacks of vegetables on their porch. "When I opened the door to go out on the back porch to get the milk, there would be these huge sacks of delicious summer vegetables," her mother recalls.

They would freeze all the vegetables in the sacks, except for the squash. "The summer squash was so delicious and so delicate, that you didn't really want to freeze it," Dumond says. "So we would cook it right away, and we'd have that casserole the very day that squash was delivered."

The Summer Squash Casserole is a family favorite ' fresh squash cooked down with bell pepper and onion, then baked and topped with crumbled butter crackers and parsley.

"I think the secret to the casserole is the freshness of the vegetables," says Dumond. "I think that's what the delicacy of it is, the fresh squash." (Frozen squash can be substituted, but Dumond doesn't recommend it.)

Slatten grew up observing her mother cooking, and they still get together to cook when her mother comes into town. Dumond resides in Boston but is a native of New Orleans and learned Creole-style cooking from her family's cook. Dumond's mother was also Creole and later learned to cook traditional Cajun dishes. "It was a real learning experience to adapt to [different] cooking styles, to a Cajun style," says Dumond, who has edited several cookbooks over the years, including the Shadows-on-the-Teche's first cookbook.

Dumond also loves making desserts, especially if they include ice cream, as well as fully dressed poboys. "I'm always looking for recipes that can be prepared ahead of time and just popped in the oven, and when company comes, it's all done," she says.

The Summer Squash Casserole is a perfect candidate and can be made at the last minute. "It is the kind of dish that you can serve for just your family or you can increase for a huge crowd," she says. "It's one of those dishes that easily multiplies."

The finished dish is a delicious treat, with a creamy sauce and squash that melts in your mouth. It can be served as a side dish or main course for a light summer dinner. Other vegetables in season, like tomatoes and eggplant, could also be added for color and taste. And if you're as lucky as Dumond and Slatten and a bag of vegetables turns up on the porch this season, throw those in, too.

Summer Squash Casserole
2 pounds washed and sliced yellow squash
4 tablespoons margarine
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup grated mild cheddar cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg, beaten
Fresh parsley, chopped for topping
Freshly crumbled round buttery crackers

Cook squash in boiling, salted water until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Drain well. Sauté onions and bell pepper in margarine until wilted. Combine with drained squash. Fold in cheese, mayonnaise, sugar, egg, salt and pepper. Pour into greased 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Top with parsley and crackers. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes in a preheated, 350-degree oven. Can be frozen. Serves 8.

For more information about The Junior League of Lafayette's cookbooks, call 988-2739.