Yes, this post is actually about squash. The vegetable, but also a dish my grandma used to make when we would visit. And I suppose this post is also about the way foods inform our lives, but maybe not.
Squash, the Vegetable
In our basket two weeks ago, we got four yellow squash. I had just made and frozen a squash casserole, so I knew I wanted something different this time. Really, I wanted squash the way I best knew it: Grandma-Toni-style. On Monday, the squash were screaming to be used. I started to slice.
Squash, the Dish
I called my dad to go over ingredients and directions again to remember how the dish comes together. Talking about the dish brought me back to my grandmother’s kitchen, its round table, the toaster oven, the Portuguese bread sitting on top of the microwave, the skillet sizzling with chicken cutlets and squash.
The staple ingredients are squash and potatoes, cut thin and cooked until soft. You can also add onions, green peppers, celery, and scallions. I had an onion and green pepper on Monday, so I threw those in, too.
Seasonings are key and can also vary: I used garlic, basil, oregano, and some salt and pepper.
Once the veggies are soft and seasoned, the last step involves an egg or two. I used two, just cracked them on top and stirred until incorporated and cooked. The egg really brings everything together.
And that’s it. Pretty much the heartiest, home-style side dish I’ve ever had. It turned out pretty good on Monday, too. I plan to have the leftovers for lunch today.
The dish brings me back to childhood trips to New York and college weekend visits to Rye. I remember dinners of breaded chicken pounded thin, manicotti, squash, ambrosia, sometimes liver and onions. Full dinners. Loud dinners. I remember long nights sitting at the kitchen table while my grandma continued to prepare something for us, a cup of tea, dessert. I don’t think she ever sat down. I remember talking about boys and school and the changing world and the weather, and not wanting to go to bed. I remember falling asleep in the family room, so cozy and warm and already looking forward to morning with its promise of fresh cups of tea, toast buttered with Breakstone butter, and grandma bustling around, attending to us, first and always.
I hope Grandma Toni knows how much those meals, those moments meant to me. I hope we will get the chance to visit soon, to return to that house, that kitchen with our three kids. I hope someday my kids will actually like eating squash (the dish), and I will get the chance to tell them how it has been passed down through the generations. Maybe they will make it for their kids. Maybe I will make it for their kids.
It’s not a pretty dish, and really there is nothing special about it: no special ingredients or procedures. But perhaps it is the dish’s simplicity that makes it mean so much.
Thanks, Grandma Toni.