There are some dishes that are quintessentially New Orleanian, dishes that you won’t find an equivalent taste anywhere else, this is one such dish. I don’t know if it’s the ham/shrimp blend, the bread crumbs, the mirliton or the combination of all these elements put together, but this tastes like my grandmother’s kitchen to me… my comfort food.
Mirliton is the word for chayote squash in Louisiana, and they are coming into season here and they are large, cheap and plentiful. This is but one of many dishes you can make with this delicious squash.
Mellytawn (Mirliton) Casserole
6 medium mirlitons, boiled, peeled, and diced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
6 toes garlic, minced
2 lbs. shrimp, peeled and chopped
1 lb. ham, small diced
1-14 oz. can diced tomato (you can substitute 1 large fresh tomato if you have some)
1 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/4 cup parsley, minced
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups seasoned bread crumbs
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup buttered corn flakes, crumbled
1 can chicken broth
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
First, take your mirlitons and boil them whole in lightly salted water until you can pierce them all the way through without using excessive pressure. Then remove them from the pot and set them aside to cool.
In a large saucepan, melt your butter over medium heat and sauté the trinity until slightly wilted. Add garlic and mushrooms and sauté until everything is soft and tender. Slice the cooked mirlitons in half lengthwise, remove the center seedpods, and throw them away. Then take a paring knife and carefully peel the outer skin away from the pulp. Once the skin is removed, dice the pulp into small pieces and set it aside as well.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Add the shrimp and the chopped ham to your sautéed vegetables and turn heat to medium-high. Within 2 to 4 minutes time, the shrimp will turn pink and the ham will brown slightly around the edges. Add to the mixture the mirliton pulp and the diced tomato. Then stir the pot constantly for 15-20 minutes, cooking the pulp and the vegetables together over medium-high heat until a chunky paste forms. Add the spices and herbs and be sure to fold them well into the mirliton, shrimp, and ham blend.
Begin working in bread crumbs into the casserole mixture (this is best done a little at a time). When all the crumbs are added, you should end up with a somewhat dry paste that sticks to the spoon. If it is still too moist, add a few extra bread crumbs, if the mixture it too wet it will run during the baking process. If your stuffing mix turns out too dry, moisten it with a little canned chicken broth. Then when you’re satisfied with the final consistency, quickly stir in the egg to bind everything together (be sure to temper it!).
Finally, transfer the mixture to a large casserole dish. Then liberally top the casserole with the buttered cornflake crumbs, put the dish into the oven on the center rack, and bake it uncovered for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the topping turns a toasty brown. For a little extra, liberally sprinkle the casserole with shredded Parmesan cheese when it has 10 minutes left to bake in the oven. This will form a nice crusty topping on the dish.
Variation: instead of ham, try 1 lb. cleaned crab meat.
This feeds a lot of people! I should have halved the recipe, we wound up with two casseroles. Before we ate I said “I hope you like it, we’re going to be eating it for awhile.”