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A fun squash, chayote is now in season

Recipe: Chayote casserole could be holiday dish

Chayote has a large seed that must be removed. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Chayote are fun to grow. On trellises, the fruit dangles down for easy picking. Just watch out for any prickles when grabbing a vegetable pear.

Watch out for prickles when harvesting chayote.
The vines can grow 30 feet or more and will cover anything in their way -- such as an arbor or a garden shed. The squash arrives late in the season and keeps for up to a month in the refrigerator.

Native to the Caribbean, chayote is also known as mirliton squash. In Louisiana, it's a traditional part of Cajun and Creole Thanksgiving and holiday get-togethers.

Usually, I cook chayote as simply as possible. I split them open, pop out the over-sized seed and microwave them on a pie plate; cut side down first. (Don't bother peeling.) I zap them on high for 3 minutes, covered, then turn them over for another 3 minutes or until fork tender. (Big ones take longer.) Topped by cheese or butter, it's an instant side dish.

For upcoming holiday get-togethers (or any time there's an abundance of chayote), try this easy casserole. By steaming the chayote first, it cuts down on oven time and keeps the pretty green squash cubes from making the sauce soggy.

Chayote casserole

The chopped chayote is steamed first.
Serve 4 to 6

Ingredients :
3 large chayote squash, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon instant chicken or vegetable broth granules
1 cup milk (1% fat or more)
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

To prepare chayote: Wash chayote and, with a sharp knife, cut in half lengthwise. Pop out seed halves. Peel squash and cube into 1/2-inch pieces. Steam cubed chayote until fork tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.

This is a great holiday side dish
Meanwhile, make sauce. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and chicken or vegetable broth granules to make a roux. As the roux bubbles, gradually whisk in milk. Let the sauce thicken, stirring often. When sauce reaches desired consistency, remove from heat and stir in parmesan cheese.

Fold steamed chayote into sauce, then put the mixture in a buttered 8-inch casserole dish. Sprinkle grated cheese and bread crumbs over top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly and crumbs are golden. Serve warm.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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