"Summer Squash with Herbal Butter"
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 leaves of fresh sweet basil
2 sprigs of fresh sweet marjoram
1/4 teaspoon green peppercorns
2 tablespoons butter
1 summer squash (about 6 x 2 inches)
reserve 1 tablespoon squash cooking water
1/2 teaspoon grated parmesan cheese
couple shakes of lemon juice (about 1/2 teaspoon)
Fill a saucepan about halfway with water. Add 1 teaspoon sea salt.
Gather 6 leaves of fresh sweet basil and 2 sprigs of fresh sweet marjoram. Pick off the marjoram leaves and put them in a small microwaveable bowl. They are usually small enough to go in whole, although you can snip them if they're bigger than about thumbnail size. Fold the basil leaves into a tube and snip them into the bowl.
Grind 1/4 teaspoon green peppercorns, then add them to the bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons butter to the herbs. Microwave the bowl for 33 seconds. The butter may not be completely melted, but that's okay; the residual heat should melt the rest of it as it sits.
Rinse and dry the summer squash. Cut the ends off. Leave the peel on, but you can cut off warts or other blemishes if you wish. Cut the squash in halves or quarters depending on its size. Slice each section thinly (1/8 to 1/4 inch wide) so you have bite-sized pieces.
When the water is boiling briskly, put in the squash. Boil for about 3 minutes. Test the squash to see if it is the texture you want. At 3 minutes it's usually tender. If you want it almost crunchy, check after 1 minute; if you want it mushy or will be mashing it, you'll probably need 4-5 minutes.
Take out 1 tablespoon of squash cooking water and add it to the bowl of butter.
Dump the squash into a colander and taste it. If it's too salty, rinse it to remove some of the salt. If you're happy with the salt level, put the squash in a serving bowl.
Add 1/2 teaspoon grated parmesan cheese to the bowl of butter. Stir to make a creamy sauce. Pour the sauce over the squash a little at a time, using a spoon to fold in the sauce. Try not the shred the squash slices. Shake a little lemon juice over the squash, fold to spread it around, then taste to see if that's enough. If not, repeat until you're satisfied with the amount of lemon.
Serve warm. One small-to-medium squash will feed two people as a side dish.
Sea salt includes more minerals than table salt, but table salt will work if that's all you have.
Warning! Current cooking advice results in drastic oversalting. Salt from the cooking water WILL get into the vegetables quite quickly. If the water tastes like the ocean, so will your vegetables. Use a modest amount of salt when cooking them. If they still come out too salty, rinsing will remove much of it. It's better to cook with little salt and let people add more to their own serving later.
Sweet basil and sweet marjoram are delicately spicy herbs. You can use different varieties -- lemon basil would be nice -- or different herbs. These work well with the very delicate flavor of summer squash. If you choose a squash with stronger flavor, like zucchini, then you may want more robust herbs such as thyme, oregano, or sage. When you don't have fresh herbs, you can used dried instead, such as 1/2 teaspoon of sweet basil flakes and 1/4 teaspoon of sweet marjoram flakes.
Green peppercorns have a leafy note and less heat than black. White peppercorns would also work. If all you have is black, just use a tiny pinch.
When making a butter sauce, use the best butter you can get because its flavor will carry through the dish. I use Irish butter. Most grass-fed butter is good. Try to find unsalted rather than salted butter, because people use salt to cover up butter that is off-flavored or old.
Summer squash can be straightneck or crookneck; both are yellow and taste the same. If you are cooking them like this, you want young ones; if you can find babies at hand size or smaller, just use two of them. (If you're making summer squash bread, however, you can use ones up to about forearm size as long as they're not yet starting to dry inside.) This recipe will also work with other types of summer squash. You could probably use patty pans or any other yellow variety without modification. If you use zucchini or anything with a stronger flavor, you may want to go with more savory flavors so they don't lost, and you might not want lemon on it. By the way, these really are summer squash. After September or so, the ones you find in the store are rarely worth eating.
Water from cooking vegetables will pick up some of their starch, flavor, and nutrients. This is helpful in making sauces.
Parmesan or any other hard grating cheese will make the sauce creamier. You can sprinkle more on top of your squash if you wish. I actually used a three-cheese blend because it's what I had.
Lemon juice brightens the flavor of vegetables. If they're too salty or too bland, a little lemon helps balance that too. I would have added lemon zest if I'd had a lemon, so if you are planning ahead, that's an option.