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NPR Arts & Life

Squash Savories To Soothe Summer's End


The season is almost over, but summer squash is still plentiful in supermarkets.

Tanya Holland, executive chef and owner of Side BBQ and Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, Calif., tells NPR's Scott Simon that she loves the versatility of summer squash.

Tanya Holland is the executive chef and owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-Side BBQ in Oakland, Calif.
/ Lisa Keating
Tanya Holland is the executive chef and owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-Side BBQ in Oakland, Calif.

"It can pretty much be used in any dish as a vegetarian substitute that might require chicken or a fish," she says. "It kind of takes on any flavor that you put it with."

One of Holland's dishes is a roasted summer squash egg tart. "The tart is really a fancy word for the quiche," Holland says. It's a deliciously rich custard of whole eggs and half-and-half, poured into a pastry crust with oven-roasted squash and Gruyere cheese. Holland says she makes her own crust, but you can feel free to buy one at the store. "It's a really good dish that could be breakfast or lunch."

Summer squash also stars in a succotash on Holland's table. "Succotash is usually a mix of corn and peppers, sometimes black eyed peas, and I just added the summer squash to give it a little bit more body to it," she says. "The peas and the peppers is almost like a light relish, and if you add the squash it can be a nice vegetarian meal."

For those unfamiliar with succotash, Holland describes it as a stew, almost like a ragout, cooked with broth and thickened with a little sour cream. "It's pretty substantial," she says.

For a lighter dish, diners can try Holland's vegetarian dirty rice — starring squash in place of the traditional chicken livers and gizzards. "To sort of give it that 'dirty' — and that's kind of in quotes — quality, we use Worcestershire sauce and a little soy sauce, ground black pepper, chopped thyme, other fresh herbs," she says. "You start with white rice, but you kind of end up with a rice that has, like, a little brownish color to it."

Though she's cooking in Oakland now, Holland's roots are in the South, which inspired the Southern tastes in her restaurants. "My dad's from Virginia, my mother's from Louisiana, so I grew up spending summers in those states with my grandparents," she says. Holland herself grew up in upstate New York, but her parents would cook Southern dishes when they felt homesick. "I've taken it with me wherever I've gone," she say.

Roasted Summer Squash Egg Tart

Egg tart
/ Phil Surkis

Makes 6 servings

Pre-baked lined tart shell

For the tart custard:

3 cups half and half

6 whole eggs

3 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg


3 cups sliced summer squashes (crooked neck, romanesco, patty pan, sunburst, etc.), roasted (instructions below).

1/2 cup sliced spring onions or scallions

3 cups fresh spinach leaves

1 tablespoon fresh fines herbs (equal parts chopped parsley, tarragon, chervil, chives)

1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

Slice squash and onions and lay out on baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in 350-degree oven for 10 minutes until vegetables are soft.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, add 1/2 teaspoon olive oil. Add spinach and cook until leaves are just wilted.

For custard:

Whisk eggs together in a large bowl, whisk in half and half and remaining ingredients.

To finish tart: layer squash, onions, spinach and cheese into tart shell. Cover with custard and top with herbs and bake for about 1 hour. Allow tart to cool slightly before serving.

Summer Squash Succotash

/ Phil Surkis

Makes 6 servings

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 cup chopped scallions

1/4 cup chopped red bell peppers

1 teaspoon minced garlic

3 cups diced summer squash

2 cups cooked black-eyed peas

2 cups cooked corn

1 cup chicken broth or stock

1/3 cup sour cream or creme fraiche

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add scallions, red peppers, garlic and squash and cook until squash is tender. Add peas and corn and mix well. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Add creme fraiche, spices and thyme. Cook until mixture is slightly thickened. Salt and pepper to taste.

Vegetarian 'Dirty' Rice

Dirty rice
/ Phil Surkis

Makes 6 servings

1-1/2 cups basmati rice (preferred)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups sliced summer squashes (patty pan, sunburst, crooked neck, etc.)

3 scallions, finely chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, diced

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon chopped jalapeno chili

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Pinch cayenne

1 cup fresh spinach leaves

1 tablespoon fresh chopped herbs (parsley, chives or thyme)

Salt and pepper to taste

Put rice in a large bowl and cover with water. Stir the rice and drain. Repeat this process 5 or 6 times until water runs clear. Put water in a pot and cover with enough water to measure 1 inch above rice. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered for about 20 minutes; do not overcook.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add olive oil, squash, onion, peppers, chilies and garlic and cook until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add spices and Worcestershire sauce and cooked rice. Stir until rice is coated and cook over low heat, partially covered, for another 15 minutes. Stir in spinach and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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