Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from one of the biggest players in early features of the wild west.
William S. Hart is renowned for his dark, grown-up westerns. He often played psychopaths, killers and sundry bad fellas who may or may not find redemption before the end (but usually did). This month marks the centenary of his very first feature film and so what better time to share his recipe?
Will Hart’s talents extend into the kitchen or is cooking too much of a stretch for our beloved Good Bad Man?
Hart makes a bold move. Unlike many of his male brethren, he opts out of the meat section. Instead, he takes a vegetarian option. Real cowboys are lacto-ovo vegetarians, everyone knows that. His recipe involves one of my very favorite vegetables, the lowly summer squash.
Here it is as it was originally printed:
I know that summer squash is very much a love-it-or-hate-it veggie. I personally love it. You know all those articles that say the best way to get kids to eat their vegetables is to let them have a little garden? My parents did that and it totally works. Fresh peas, squash, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, carrots, sunflower seeds… Ah, tastes of childhood! Summer squash was always in our garden and we ate it steamed almost every night when it was in season.
(Can I just mention here how much I hate those ridiculous “sneaky” veggie puree books? Purees have their place but the idea that good nutrition is something that has to be obtained through deception just seems… unhealthy on many levels.)
I was interested in this recipe because I am used to eating squash very simply and here was a recipe that called for cheese and egg and breadcrumbs. Would it overwhelm the delicate flavor of the vegetable?
I did make one major change to the recipe. I opted to soften the squash in the microwave to preserve its flavor. (I would have steamed it but I was not in my own kitchen and did not have a steamer basket and did not feel like improvising as it was late and I was tired.) The recipe does not specify the type of cheese needed so I went for the classic option of sharp cheddar. I also used good Hungarian sweet paprika (which I had to foresight to pack) because it really makes an enormous difference. For breadcrumbs, I used panko crumbs. I realize this is not period correct but, again, I didn’t have time to make my own and I wanted some crunch.
The recipe gives no temperature so I used the old “when in doubt, 350” rule of thumb. 350-degrees for about twelve to fifteen minutes. (Your altitude will make a difference. Just keep an eye on the top of the squash. When the cheese is melted and starting to brown on top, the egg should be poached underneath. It shouldn’t take long.)
Here are the results. I think it looks great.
I considered whipping up a quick batch of simple bechamel sauce (as recommended as an option in the original recipe) but decided against it because the squash looked really moist and tasty as it was. How was it? Here is my taste test video:
Okay, as you can see in the video, I had trouble getting the slippery devil to stay on my fork. (Don’t judge.)
Still, this recipe is darn tasty. I realize that this is highly subjective. Your enjoyment of this recipe depends greatly on whether you like summer squash and poached eggs, two items that definitely have their detractors. The egg was particularly nice. The moisture of the squash ensured a perfect poaching. As someone who likes poached eggs but lacks much skill in making them, I was very happy with the unexpected bonus.
The soft flavors of squash, cheese and the egg gently poached in the moist vegetable meld together very well. It’s comfort food at its very best.
My Rating: 5 out of 5. Mr. Hart earns the first five-star rating in the project so far! I wolfed this thing down and wished I had made more. While it’s slippery to eat and using the oven may not be practical during a hot summer, this recipe is a real winner. It’s delicious, reasonably light (a real shocker for this fat-filled cookbook) and it’s easy to make. I will definitely be preparing it again.