Patty pan squash just makes me smile. They look like sunny little flying saucers, and they taste like summer in a skillet. Their flavor is delicate but with a bit more personality than zucchini, I think. They come closer to crookneck summer squash in flavor, but, really, they taste like… patty pans. Sometimes they are called scalloped squash, and they range in color from that sunny yellow to deep green to stark white.
I’m always sort of surprised when I mention that I’m fixing patty pans and people give me a confused stare. To me patty pans don’t seem so exotic or challengingly strange… like okra! (Ah, for another time.) But I can’t recall seeing them in the grocery stores, either… well, maybe a Whole Foods Market, but not elsewhere. They come from backyard gardens, roadside stands and, of course, farmer’s markets. Mine came from Biver Farms, by the way. Keith Biver always has the prettiest patty pans in June. And I always buy some.
This past week, I invited my friend Deb over for dinner because she was about to leave on a two-week vacation. It’s a great and simple gift to offer a meal with a healthy portion of leftovers to someone who will soon be away from home. If they’ve planned well, their frig is bare, so why not help them get through the last couple of days with a nice meal, a shared bottle of wine and a goodie bag for dinner the night before they head out of town?
I decided on a skillet dinner and a simple salad. Since Deb is a vegetarian like me, I was building a skillet with lots of in-season veggies and some garbanzo beans for protein. My husband Don added a burger for himself. (Ah, I love meat-eating men who are self-sufficient.)
Along with my patty pans, I bought some kohlrabi and garlic scapes from Daydream Farms. These are two other vegetables that garner a confused look from many people. If you want to learn more about garlic scapes and how to use them, see my very first post on this blog about the Great Garlic E-scape. And look for them at the market this week—they’re almost over, but they freeze!
As for kohlrabi, it is a cousin to cabbage and reminds me of a peppery turnip. It needs to be peeled but can then be eaten raw—perhaps grated on top of a salad or into a slaw—or sautéed every which way. It went into my skillet, accompanied by a couple diced sweet potatoes, green onions, a diced fennel bulb and my own garden produce—shell peas and fresh herbs. (Yeah, I am really proud of the peas.)
A skillet dinner comes together in minutes, once your ingredients are prepped. So the time investment is up front and, unfortunately, considerable. Something to keep in mind if you are planning this for dinner on a busy day.
- One to one and a half cups dry garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) soaked five hours to overnight, then drained
- Cold water, enough to cover the beans while they cook
- Bean spices: one bay leaf, one star anise, one whole clove, one cinnamon stick
- One quarter cup peanut or olive oil. (I like peanut for this dish.)
- Two medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and diced but not peeled (I only use organic potatoes, so no worries about the peeling—all nutrients accounted for!)
- Three to four garlic scapes, chopped (Missed the scapes? No problem: use four garlic cloves, chopped or sliced thin.)
- One cup chopped green onions, including some green parts near the white base (If you prefer, a red onion, chopped, works well here, too.)
- One medium fennel bulb, trimmed with tough outer layers and tough base removed, sliced thin. (Save some of your fennel fronds for your vegetable stock bag and for the dinner table centerpiece—beautiful and so aromatic.)
- Three large patty pan squash, washed and sliced vertically
- One large kohlrabi, peeled and cubed
- One teaspoon whole coriander, crushed
- One teaspoon ground cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Juice of half a lemon (zest, too, if you like more lemon)
- A dash or two of your favorite hot sauce or half a diced hot pepper (I used the last of my homemade winter Harissa.)
- A quarter cup fresh herbs, minced: thyme, sage, chives and oregano (or whatever is in your garden that you like)
- Begin this dish early in the day if things are going to get busy later on. Put your soaked and drained garbanzo beans in fresh cold water (in a roomy pot with enough water to cover the beans), add the spices for the beans, bring to a boil and then simmer on low until mostly done. You’ll want a bit of a bite to the beans because they will finish cooking in the skillet later on. They should be ready in about 45 minutes or so.
- You can make the beans ahead, drain, reserve some of the cooking liquid (maybe half a cup) and then store the beans and the liquid in the frig until ready to use. Or, you can go ahead and begin your skillet. Get all your vegetables prepped and all your spices measured and ready to go. This will make the actual cooking process go smoothly and quickly.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the sweet potato and a little salt. Stir so it doesn’t stick and then cover and let it get a head start on everything else, maybe five minutes.
- Remove the lid, give it a stir, and add the garlic scapes, green onion, and fennel. Salt lightly and stir. Continue to cook so that the flavors begin to build together and the vegetables become soft.
- Next add the patty pan squash and the kohlrabi. Again, salt lightly and stir. Now add the coriander and cumin and a dash or two of black pepper. Continue cooking a few minutes.
- When everything is tender, add a few big spoonfuls of the bean cooking liquid to create a bit of sauciness in the pan. Discard the bay leaf, star anise and cinnamon stick, drain the beans and add them to your skillet. Continue cooking about another 10 minutes.
- Near the very end, add your dash of hot sauce, your lemon juice and give it a stir. If all seems ready, remove from the heat and sprinkle with your fresh herbs.
Serve this yummy vegan dish directly from its large skillet right at the table. Works great as a topping for rice, quinoa or noodles, if you need to extend this dish for a larger crowd. And, as my husband will attest, it makes a nice side dish for the meat entrée. Note that the preparation time does not include the time it takes to soak the beans. If you are cooking your beans ahead, I suggest soaking them the night before.
Getting Into the Garden
Yes. Gardening is a lot of work. I will be the first to admit it. And, I am a super-small-scale gardener compared to many of my more talented and dedicated friends. But I still get an undeniable thrill when what I grow—no matter how humble—ends up on my dinner table and makes my family smile.
This year, I have planted my herbs—I’m getting good at this, so I’m expanding. Many actually come back annually without any prompting from me! I also planted peas—a second attempt after a failed crop last year. I talked with my farmer friends and spent a bit more time and energy giving the peas a better space in which to grow with something to climb on—they like that.
I will also have tomatoes—little super-sweets that will end up in my freezer so that I will not be buying canned tomato sauce next winter. My sauce will be local and organic and homegrown. Gotta love that. I may also have carrots this fall—never sure about the carrots. And, apparently, I have about four large squash plants that just seemed to pop up—benefits of composting. We’ll see what they produce.
How about you? Do you garden? You don’t, but would you like to try? Be brave. (Yeah, you hear that all the time from me, right?) Seriously, give it a try—maybe just some containers on your deck or patio. That’s how it started for me. And, like I always say, get to know your local growers and let them help you. They would LOVE to. Just a reminder, June 26 is Know Your Grower Day in my area. You can get your Passport at the Land of Goshen Community Market Information Tent.
Here’s another resource from Delicious Living Magazine that will help, if you think gardening might be for you– How to Start Your Own Organic Vegetable Garden. This article will take you from getting your soil right, through choosing your vegetables, to tending your plants, to harvesting the bounty of your labors. What can it hurt? Take a peek. And let me know—how does your garden grow?