When we moved from New York to Nashville oh-so-many years ago, I was eleven years old: tall and awkward, somewhat shy, and firmly entrenched in my picky eating ways. My first impressions of The South ranged from confusion to dismay.
I had a hard time understanding some of the lingo and the accent. I didn’t know that when our neighbor Lola Newman said, “‘Y’all fixin’ ta go to the thee-ay-ter?” she was asking if we were going to the movies.
And there were foods (eek!) I had never seen before, like pickled okra and chow-chow, beans and greens cooked down in ham hock, skillet cornbread. I remember my picky girl horror when Lola Newman welcomed us with a dish called Summer Squash Pie.
“What is That?” I asked my sister Carole, who was the antithesis of picky eating. I was certain that she purposefully ate things like green olive mustard sandwiches just to gross me out.
“This?” she replied, holding up a forkful of the pie. “It’s yellow squash. It’s a vegetable but it’s sweet. I like it. Wanna bite?” she snickered, in full knowledge of my impending response.
I have to laugh at myself, having come to embrace The South, its foods, easy-speak, and sensibilities. It’s become my home. And, I believe that I would really enjoy Lola’s pie now, although I imagine she put sugar in it, and I would not.
Today, I made a kind of squash pie–no crust, or eggs, though. It was too hot for that. I layered young uncooked yellow squash (that I grew myself!!) with sweet corn that I bought at our farmers market. It’s more of a gratin. Bechamel sauce seasoned with onion and thyme held it together.
We enjoyed it, served with a piece of crusty bread covered with a fat slice of tomato. Our supper was light and summery-sweet, sooooo good. I think Lola would have liked it, too.
SUMMER SQUASH-SWEET CORN GRATIN
1 T. Butter
2-3 young Yellow Squash, sliced very thin into circles
2-3 ears Sweet Corn, kernels cut off the cob, cob scraped
1 T. Butter
1 c. Water
1/4 c. diced onion
1 T. Butter
1 T. All Purpose Flour
a few sprigs of Thyme
Salt and Black Pepper
1 Cup Lowfat Milk
Grated Gruyere or Parmesan Cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat 9″ pie pan with 1 T. melted butter, and lay out squash in partly overlapping concentric rings until the bottom of the pie pan is covered. This will use about half of your squash.
Melt 1 T. butter in a skillet; add corn and corn scrapings. Season with salt and black pepper, and stir in 1 cup water. Simmer for about 3-5 minutes–corn will partially cook and release more “corn milk.”
In a small saucepan, melt 1 T. butter and saute onions until translucent. Stir in flour and cook until it dissolves and is incorporated in the butter. Stir in milk, thyme leaves, and season with salt and pepper. Stir until bechamel becomes thick. Remove from heat.
Spoon corn and its juices over the layer of squash. Spoon and spread bechamel over the corn. Add another layer of squash, and repeat the process. Garnish the top with a center floret of squash circles and sprinkle cheese over all.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until liquid reduces and thickens. Cool slightly and serve. Serves 2 generously.