We're very excited to welcome writer, photographer, and cook Michael Harlan Turkell back to the virtual pages of Serious Eats. In this series, Michael will share some of his favorite recipes that use the broiler, one of the most powerful and underutilized tools in the home kitchen.
Some people complain about the never-ending parade of bumper crop summer squashes at the farmers market, but I can’t get enough. Green (yes, zucchini included), yellow, bi-colored zephyr, straightneck, crookneck, pattypan, cousa, tromboncino—the entire cornucopia of warm-weather cucurbita pepo beckon to be reckoned with.
Every year, I see listicles of what to do with this bountiful crop (an addition to many loaf breads, grated for fluffy or fried pancakes, and, increasingly, spiralized into zoodles), but they’re more often noted for their watery consistency than flavor. But when they're allowed to brown and caramelize, their sweetness does come out, and that’s where my broiler comes in: In just a few minutes the broiler’s intense top-down heat is enough to drive surface moisture off the squash and begin to brown it, developing its flavor in the process.
That was my inspiration for this one-pot side dish of tender browned summer squash with sweet corn and buttery avocado.
To make the dish more interesting, I like to amplify the overall sweetness of caramelized squash by adding a little sugar and also some fresh sweet corn kernels. With all that sweet, though, there needs to be counterbalance, and that’s why I turn to vinegar. I toss the caramelized squash with sugar, the corn, and several tablespoons of white wine or apple cider vinegar and return it the broiler for another brief spell. After a few minutes, the liquid in the pan will reduce to what is called an agrodolce in Italy—a basic sweet-and-sour sauce.
Acid doesn’t just pair well with sweetness, it also goes perfectly with fat (think of sweet, sour, and fatty duck à l'orange). To that end, I also add creamy cubes of nearly ripe avocado. I think of the following dish as “salad” or even a condiment, and I often serve it over simply grilled fish. This agrodolce has got everything, from the firm bite of well-cooked squash, the saccharine burst of sweet summer corn, and the smooth cool flesh of an avocado. Plus, any recipe that employs the one-two punch of sugar and vinegar truly makes for la agrodolce vita...you know, the sweet-and-sour life.