When the doorbell rings and you find a 2-foot tall little girl standing there holding an armful of fresh zucchini, you can’t help but smile. She’s shyly grinning while barely hanging on to the three large squash that are about the size of her arms. She hardly says a word, but you can tell how proud she is that these came out of her garden. Her dad grew these – mighty impressive in the eyes of a toddler. Turns out our neighbor’s garden was overflowing with summer squash that nearly doubled in size overnight. I can relate to her awe – it’s the same marvel I felt when I saw the gargantuan zucchini popping up out of the compost pile as a child. And watermelon. Those things can grow anywhere, I tell ya.
We go bananas over squash in the wintertime – butternut squash soup, spaghetti squash bolognese, pumpkin everything – but there’s a special place in my heart for summer squash. Could this be because zucchini was a major food group in my family from June through August? Probably. It’s gotta be cooked just right though – none of that mushy baby food-like stuff. Lightly softened with a bite, and properly seasoned. Ever since I discovered the speed with which my new food processor can thinly slice squash, it’s been all squash all the time in my kitchen. No one’s complaining.
Most of my culinary experiments these days involve finding ways to take the gluten out of my cravings. You know that moment when you’re planning a dinner party and your house guests tell you that they’ll eat anything except _(blank)_ and for some reason snails or whatever they detest is a major component of every single recipe that sounds good? And you can’t possible fathom cooking anything else. Even if you’ve never even actually eaten snails. Same premise with me and gluten. You tell me I can’t eat it and it’s the only thing I want to eat and OMG-why-don’t-we-have-anything-to-eat-in-this-house? Pizza, pasta, bread, and creamy béchamel sauce. All filled with flour. So when your new favorite food (it’s always the biggest deal because it’s your favorite food this week) is going to cause you a massive migraine, you substitute. In this case, the flour thickening agent in this beloved nutmeg béchamel gets swapped out for masa harina. Pitch hitter. You wind up with the rich velvety vegetable lasagna you long for, without the headache-inducing ingredients.
Summer squash gratin with nutmeg béchamel (gluten free)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 large shallots, chopped
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 4 large assorted summer squash, thinly sliced into rounds (about 5-6 cups)
- 2½ tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons masa harina
- 1½ cups milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook until the garlic is lightly toasted and shallots are translucent, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. About 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
- Melt butter in medium or large saucepan over medium heat. Add masa harina and whisk until smooth. Continue cooking, whisking, until golden brown, about 6 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat milk in saucepan until just about to boil. Add milk to butter and masa harina mixture, in three parts, whisking continuously until very smooth.
- Bring to a boil. Continue cooking for about 1 minute, until it thickens. Remove from the heat and add salt and nutmeg.
- In a lightly greased 9×13 casserole dish or baking pan, layer, in order, 3 to 4 layers of squash slices, garlic/shallots, béchamel, and parmesan.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Bake for about 35-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Turn on the broiler for 3-4 minutes, if necessary
- Slice and serve.