Goodness me, was this ever good. The day after I made it a friend came to visit who’d watched me put it together (but who wasn’t invited to the dinner – mean, huh?) and asked to taste it. Not only did she love it, but after dishing up a few bites for her, I just licked the spoon clean and it was even delicious cold out of the refrigerator!
The recipe has an interesting story behind it. Amanda Hesser, who compiled the 1000+ recipes of previously published ones into the new monstrous cookbook published last year from the New York Times, The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, wrote this as the headnote to the recipe:
Warning to food snobs: the following recipe contains Ritz crackers.
As much as the Times food writers and editors (myself included) like to think we’re covering the nation’s foodways, it’s a bit of a lie. We are and have been preponderantly New Yorkers, smitten with the new and the best on our little island, and we have sometimes ignored – or even turned up our noses at – the way most Americans are cooking.
Julia Reed, who wrote regularly for the Magazine in the early 2000s, was one of the few who had the guts to run recipes involving jarred mayonnaise and iceberg lettuce. In this casserole – and I mean casserole in the American pile-in-the-ingredients sense, not the French – a moist squash puree is held together with grated cheddar and Ritz cracker crumbs. It’s the kind of dish that probably won a cooking contest or two, and it will win you plenty of compliments. Whether or not you reveal the secret ingredient [the Ritz crackers] is up to you.
With that kind of write-up, I decided it needed to be tried. And since one of our guests was recovering from surgery and barely starting to eat anything except soft foods, I thought this would be a perfect one to try. It does use squash puree to start with, so it’s almost a soft food to begin with.
But, with all the different things in it – like red and green bell pepper, onion, garlic, jalapeno, cheddar, eggs, cream, sugar, salt and cayenne – plus the fresh bread crumbs on the top – it makes it a company-worthy dish for sure. The recipe is available at the New York Times website. It was published in 2002.
It’s a cinchy dish to make – and if you didn’t put the bread crumbs on the top until later, you could easily prepare this ahead of time, which I should have done. But the recipe didn’t indicate you could, so for my first time through I stuck to the recipe exactly.
What can I tell you except that the flavors are just dynamite. You can’t taste the Ritz crackers, of course, but it does give the squash part a delicious texture, somehow. I don’t know the how of it, just that it is. There is just the right amount of heat (with one jalapeno and some cayenne added). I left the jalapeno out of one part of it so our grandson would have some, but he didn’t like it period even so. But he was the only person at the table who didn’t. Trust me on this one, okay?
Recipe By: From The Essential New York Times Cookbook, 2010
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: This may seem like it’s over-the-top in fat and calories – well, I suppose it is – and you may scoff at using Ritz crackers. But taste this and you’ll be a convert.
2 pounds yellow squash
7 tablespoons butter
1 large onion — chopped
1 large clove garlic — chopped
1/2 red bell pepper — chopped
1/2 green bell pepper — chopped
1 medium jalapeño pepper — seeded and chopped
4 slices white bread — toasted
24 Ritz crackers — crumbed in food processor
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese — grated
4 large eggs — beaten
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 2 1/2-quart baking dish. Cut the squash into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cook in boiling, salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Purée in a food processor.
2. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and peppers and cook until just tender. Meanwhile, crumb the toast in a food processor, melt remaining butter and toss together.
3. Mix the squash purée, cracker crumbs and cheese. Stir in the eggs, cream, sugar and seasonings. Blend well. Pour into the baking dish. Top with bread crumbs and bake until browned, about 40 minutes.
Per Serving: 326 Calories; 25g Fat (67.0% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 147mg Cholesterol; 585mg Sodium.