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Some cooks have a natural gift in the kitchen. My good friend Paula is one such cook. Paula has been a bartender at Prune in New York City, a chef on a ranch in Hill Country, and a cookbook author. Now the senior travel editor for Southern Living, most of her cooking takes place at home.
If you stay at Paula's, there are flowers in your bedroom and freshly made biscuits for breakfast. When I arrived at her house in Austin recently, she had some slices of cured boar salumi laid out on a cutting board, and Riesling chilled.
For dinner, she served a summer squash gratin by Suzanne Goin, a friend of hers. She took the recipe from Suzanne's book, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, and added some chile. Because that's what Texans do. Along with the gratin, Paula passed around a soft cows milk cheese and some bread. Peach pie was for dessert. It was 95 degrees in Austin. Summer squash and peaches were exactly what I wanted to eat.
A few steps make this gratin special:
- Salting the squash draws out excess moisture, so the finished gratin isn't at all watery.
- Browning the butter adds great flavor to the breadcrumbs.
- And using a well-seasoned skillet results in a sturdy crust around the edges.
Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde and Gruyere
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin
- 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram or oregano leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint
- 1 cup coarsely chopped flatleaf parsley
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small clove garlic
- 1 anchovy
- 1 tablespoon capers (preferably salt-packed), drained
- 1/2 lemon, for juicing
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds summer squash
- 1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup sliced shallots
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
- 1 New Mexico chile or jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper