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A fun squash, chayote is now in season

The chayote has a large seed that must be removed before cooking. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Recipe: Chayote casserole could be holiday dish

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.

Don't be intimidated by a chayote's looks, but watch out for
prickles when harvesting it.
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 before it goes into the casserole.
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
Grated cheese and bread crumbs top the casserole.
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.

Chayote casserole makes an excellent 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 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

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

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

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

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

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

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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