Squash and Cheese Casserole

Until he was 5, my son eyed most casseroles with deep suspicion. But whenever he saw me cutting up summer squash for this creamy, cheesy gratin, he was so happy he hung around to help. Just before the dish went into the oven, he sprinkled on the bread crumbs and butter and called out "Ready to fire," just as he'd heard restaurant cooks do.

This dish makes a great vegetarian entrée or side dish. It's also a great way to introduce kids to fresh-from-the-garden food. You don't have to dig up half the lawn — or even have a lawn. All you need is a sunny spot, some deep pots, and a few bags of soil.

Hands-On Time: 15 minutes
Ready In: 50 minutes
Yield: 4 servings as a vegetarian entrée or 6 as a side dish

Ingredients

    1 1/2 pounds yellow summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
    1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
    3 tablespoons butter
    3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack
    1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
    Salt and pepper to taste
    2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs (from 2 slices of bread, crusts removed, coarsely ground in a food processor)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a shallow 2 1/2-quart baking dish.
  2. In a vegetable steamer, steam the squash until tender but not mushy-soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. In a small skillet over low heat, cook the onion in 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add to the squash along with the Jack and Parmesan cheeses, cream, coriander, and salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into the baking dish.
  4. Melt the remaining butter. Sprinkle the top of the gratin with the bread crumbs and drizzle with butter. Bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

What's Good for You
Yes, there's cream and butter in this dish, but for little kids, that's not a bad thing (not for you either, in small doses): They need some fat for nerve development during their crucial growing years.

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