I love my #2s. I’m talking produce, not figuring out a new way to potty train my daughter or trying to comfort (the bitter and delusional) Evgeni Plushenko for his silver medal.
I don’t believe in the shiniest apple, the most polished bell pepper, smoothest zucchini, or most evenly colored watermelon. I don’t believe in the “hand-packed” (whatever that is supposed to mean!) $6 pint of strawberries or in a basket full of avocados identical in shape, color, and size. Actually, I find that to be ridiculous.
I am not saying that I am completely over judging a book by its cover- it happens to the best of us- but produce is real and beautiful imperfect, unique, slightly flawed. It is alive and inconsistent with its siblings- like any other living thing.
There was a time when I was really attracted to outside beauty…in produce (and otherwise). I mean, after all, who isn’t? And for me, growing up with produce from only farmers markets where producers were very small and not used to trying to grow the biggest shiniest vegetable, that really colorful perfectly shaped shimmering apple was a novelty. Maybe I can blame the attraction on the novelty factor.
That apple – the most vivid green with the most attractive spark is what I craved nearly nine years ago in a supermarket in New York City. I saw that apple and I craved it. I imagined it juicy, tart, luscious, and flavorful. I bought it and could hardly wait to bite into it. It was awful. Dry, tasteless, bland. Chewing on the peel was like eating wax. I remember that vividly. The experience woke me up and made me appreciate the less-than-perfect-looking apples I bought at the farmers markets back home.
Home is no longer Romania and the farmers’ markets in Colorado in February are… well, they are not. There are a few inches of snow on the grounds (still) and it has been 20 degrees for a few days. Sunflower is where I get my #2s now and I appreciate the selection, the prices, and the imperfections. Funny enough, I didn’t even notice that the produce I was buying there was # 2s. It was pointed out to me by a small grocery store owner where produce is scarce, somewhat overpriced, but always flawless. I don’t get produce there.
In honor of my Sunflower # 2 summer squash, Summer Squash Gratin. In case you missed it, our stove was down for a whole week so we cooked our way through seven days using the grill and oven without one dinner out! This one is from the “how to live without a stove” series.
Now, if you really want to have fun and figure out a little more about this delightful word, gratin, Clotilde has a fabulous explanation you can find here. Do listen to the pronunciation- you might be surprised to hear that you have been butchering this word for years.
Ingredients: 5-6 summer squash, 3-4 fresh springs of thyme, salt, fresh ground pepper. ¾ cup heavy cream, ¼ to ½ cup whole milk.
Preheat the oven to 375 ºF (oven thermometer anyone?).
Slice the squash thin- you can use a mandolin or not. Probably a knife will do. Here are my slices.
Arrange your squash slices in layers in a baking or gratin dish but put the thyme springs closer to the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on each layer as you lay them in. If you have more than 3 layers, maybe go with a bigger pan.
Pour the cream and milk in. The liquid should just come to the top of the squash.
Bake until bubbling and browned on top- approximately one hour.
It will be delicious, but then again, what isn’t if it is cooked in cream and milk. If you must, grate some cheese on it at the end while still hot.
See you soon!
P.S. In a perfect world, my # 2s would always be local and organic. Do I need to say it isn’t a perfect world? Partly because it is winter and the farmers markets are shut down, the #2s all local or organic. For a fun article on how to shop organically and not break the bank, click right here.