The closer an ingredient is to its field or branch, the richer its flavor and the deeper its meaning. In Farm Fork Food (Kyle Books, 2014), author Eric Skokan shares his seasonal recipes that always have a sense of discovery and delight. The book will guide you through your local market with confidence or turn your garden into a season-long celebration of cooking. This Stuffed Summer Squash Recipe with Ratatouille and Taleggio Cheese is from the chapter, “Appetizers.”
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Ratatouille is breathtaking when you think of the hours and hours of sunshine concentrated into a single spoonful. It really is a marvel. I like to highlight ratatouille in this spectacular dish as a celebration of the end of summer.
• 2 cups diced summer squash
• 2 cups peeled and diced eggplant
• 2 cups diced red peppers
• 3 cups diced tomatoes
• 2 medium onions, diced
• 1/4 cup minced garlic
• 1 large fennel bulb, diced
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 sprig fresh rosemary
• 6 sprigs fresh thyme
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
• 12 small round summer squashes, like Eight Ball or Ronde de Nice
• 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
• sea salt
• 1/4 cup Taleggio cheese, cut into thin slices
• 1/4 cup basil coulis (see larder)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Working in batches, in a large sauté pan over high heat, sauté the diced squash, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and fennel in the olive oil until lightly browned. Transfer to a baking dish, add the bay leaves and rosemary and bake until a crust forms on the top, about 1 hour. Stir the vegetables, mixing in the crust, and bake 30 minutes more. Remove from the oven and stir in the thyme and chopped basil. Set aside.
3. Cut the tops off of the squashes. Using a spoon or melon baller, hollow out the centers of each squash. Place the hollowed squashes and tops in a medium bowl, dress with the sunflower oil and toss well to coat. Season with salt. Spread out the squash on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake in the oven until just tender, about 6 minutes.
4. Fill the squash cups with the ratatouille. Top with the Taleggio and return to the oven until the cheese has melted, about 5 minutes more.
5. Divide the squash among warmed plates. Garnish with the basil leaves and basil coulis. Serve immediately.
Despite the lack of rhyming, “you say summer squash, I say zucchini” should have been included in the song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” because they really are the same thing. We grow about twelve varieties at the farm, in every color and shape: the traditional long “zucchinis,” crooknecks, scalloped pattypan and round squash (Eight Ball, One Ball and Ronde di Nice), which I love for this recipe as they make perfect vessels for baking when hollowed out. Most summer squashes are part of the Cucurbita pepo group, like acorn squash, and develop a hard shell and tough seeds if left to mature on the vine too long. Because their flavor and texture are better when small, before the seeds have developed, we harvest them almost every day. For best flavor, try the light green varieties like Costata Romanesca, Lounge Fiorentino and Cocozelle—very old traditional European types. American supermarket owners don’t like them as they bruise easily, so the dark green color was bred in to mask the bruising, and the flavor was lost in the bargain.
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This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Farm Fork Food, by Eric Skokan and published by Kyle Books, 2014.