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Too many cukes? Try baking them in cheese sauce

Recipe: Creamy cucumber casserole is a surprising side dish

Choose plump, well-hydrated cucumbers for baking.

Choose plump, well-hydrated cucumbers for baking. Debbie Arrington

""
Cucumber casserole is an unusual way to use your extra
cucumbers.
(Photo: Debbie Arrington)
What to do with too many cucumbers?

That's a dilemma many gardeners face in late summer. Like zucchini, cukes tend to come in bunches (no surprise, since they're both members of the gourd family). Not all cukes make great pickles. It can take a lot of salads to use up two or three pounds of fresh cukes.
My solution? Cook them in a casserole.

When cooked, cucumbers retain much of their natural crispness. Combined with creamy cheese sauce and toasted bread crumbs, it makes for an interesting mix of textures -- and a conversation starter. (Cucumber casserole? Who knew?)

This is a variation of a recipe from my grandmother, another gardening cook who also loved to shop the farmers markets.

Over the years, I've tried all sorts of slicing cucumbers in this dish: Common green, English, round, lemon, Armenian and more. They all work. The Armenian and round varieties, which are actually more melon than cuke, tend to be sweeter and never bitter.

To avoid bitterness found in other varieties, always choose plump, well hydrated cucumbers. (Like squash, pick cucumbers while young for best flavor.)

Slice off both ends first, then peel. (The enzymes that cause cucumbers to taste bitter tend to be concentrated in both ends and the peel.) If seeds are large or mature, scoop them out and use only the firm flesh.

Cucumber casserole
Serves 6

Ingredients:
4 cups diced cucumber (about 6 cucumbers)
Salt
1/2 medium onion, chopped
4 tablespoons butter (divided)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated Monterey jack cheese
3 slices bread, toasted with crusts removed
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Peel and seed cucumbers. Dice cucumber flesh into 1/2-inch cubes. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; add cucumber and adjust heat. Parboil diced cucumber for 10 minutes. Drain.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Saute chopped onion until soft. Remove onion from pan and set aside. Melt remaining butter in the saucepan. Stir in flour until bubbly. Gradually stir in milk; add salt. Cook until thickened, stirring often. Remove from heat. Stir in grated cheese until melted.

Toast bread. Process toast in food processor to make crumbs.

Butter a 9-inch square baking dish or a deep 8-inch round casserole. Put a thin layer of bread crumbs on the bottom of the casserole. Fold drained cucumber into cheese sauce. Spoon cucumber mixture into casserole. Top with remaining bread crumbs. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 1 hour in 350-degree oven. (Cover top loosely with foil if bread crumbs start to turn too brown.) Let sit about 10 minutes before serving.



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RECIPE

A recipe for preparing delicious meals from the bounty of the garden.

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Garden Checklist for week of May 19

Temperatures will be a bit higher than normal in the afternoons this week. Take care of chores early in the day – then enjoy the afternoon. It’s time to smell the roses.

* Plant, plant, plant! It’s prime planting season in the Sacramento area. If you haven’t already, it’s time to set out those tomato transplants along with peppers and eggplants. Pinch off any flowers on new transplants to make them concentrate on establishing roots instead of setting premature fruit.

* Direct-seed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, corn, radishes, pumpkins and annual herbs such as basil.

* Harvest cabbage, lettuce, peas and green onions.

* In the flower garden, direct-seed sunflowers, cosmos, salvia, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and asters.

* Plant dahlia tubers. Other perennials to set out include verbena, coreopsis, coneflower and astilbe.

* Transplant petunias, marigolds and perennial flowers such as astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia and verbena.

* Keep an eye out for slugs, snails, earwigs and aphids that want to dine on tender new growth.

* Feed summer bloomers with a balanced fertilizer.

* For continued bloom, cut off spent flowers on roses as well as other flowering plants.

* Don’t forget to water. Seedlings need moisture. Deep watering will help build strong roots and healthy plants.

* Add mulch to the garden to help keep that precious water from evaporating. Mulch also cuts down on weeds. But don’t let it mound around the stems or trunks of trees or shrubs. Leave about a 6-inch to 1-foot circle to avoid crown rot or other problems.

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