Before some of you check-out for the summer, I must tell you about one of my favorite Spring book releases: Julia Reed's South. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Julia, and I know many of you feel the same. Not only are we Southerners devoted to her and her recipes, but non-Southerners are, too. I put Julia in the same category as Ina Garten, both masters of easy, delicious, and fuss-free recipes that practically guarantee successful entertaining.
The focus of Julia's latest book is parties, both elegant, pull-out-your-best-china soirees and casual, rollicking bashes. There is a "Cold Creole Supper" with Daube Glacé and Shrimp Rémoulade, and "Tomatopalooza", a celebration of everyone's favorite Summer vegetable with Gazpacho, Tomato Tarte Tatin, and Sliced Chicken Breast with Tomato Vinaigrette. One of my favorite chapters is "The Visiting Dignitary Dinner", whose menu of Rib-Eye Roast and Horseradish Mousse is made even more memorable thanks to Julia's amusing story about the dinner's origins.
As with all of Julia's books, the text is a hoot, but it's informative, too, with practical suggestions on entertaining and delightful anecdotes about the origins of certain recipes. (Trust me, you will want to read the text.) Equally compelling is the book's photography, shot by Paul Costello. It's refreshing to see tables, sideboards, and entire rooms, for that matter, decorated with antiques, practically a novelty these days. But not every party is quite so dressy. In fact, that's the charm of Julia's book. The author is a down-to-earth, Southern cook who knows that sometimes, the best fried chicken comes from the neighborhood grocery store and that for some dishes, crushed Ritz crackers make an excellent crumb topping.
Since my kitchen is out of commission at the moment, I have not been able to try any of the recipes for myself. But as soon as I can do so, I'm going to test out the Mock Cheese Soufflé, Green Goddess Soup with Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, and Nancy Peterkin's Summer Squash Casserole, which I have featured below. And if these recipes are half as good as those featured in her previous books, I've got some happy cooking in store for me.
Nancy Peterkin's Summer Squash Casserole
Serves 8 to 10
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, plus more for greasing the baking dish
2 pounds yellow summer squash, scrubbed, trimmed, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored, and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 slices plain white bread, such as Pepperidge Farm, toasted
24 Ritz crackers, ground to fine crumbs in a food processor
1/2 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 2 1/2-quart baking dish and set aside.
Place the squash slices in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times so that the squash is chopped fairly finely. You will likely have to do this in batches.
Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add the squash and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, bell pepper, jalapeno, and onion. When the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes more. Remove the skillet from the heat.
Meanwhile, crumb the toasted white bread (but not too finely) in the bowl of the food processor. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan and toss with the crumbs.
In a large bowl, place the squash mixture, cracker crumbs, and Cheddar and mix well. Stir in the beaten eggs, cream, sugar, salt, and cayenne. Blend well and pour into the prepared baking dish. Top with the buttered bread crumbs and bake for 40 minutes, until the crumbs are golden brown.
© JULIA REED’S SOUTH: Spirited Entertaining and High-Style Fun All Year Long by Julia Reed, Rizzoli New York, 2016. Images from JULIA REED’S SOUTH: Spirited Entertaining and High-Style Fun All Year Long © Paul Costello.