I make this every summer when squash and corn ripen. My sister Leanna grows beautiful squash in her sun soaked Southern California garden. We made calabacitas (call-ah-ba-SEE-tas) with it when she visited me.
I discovered the recipe in the children’s book Carlos and the Squash Plant / Carlos y la planta de calabaza by Jan Romero Stevens. It’s a tale of a boy who won’t wash his ears until a squash plant grows out of his ears. His mom serves him calabacitas when he finally washes the plant out.
I put my own touch on her recipe, by substituting olive oil for margarine, adding oregano, red bell pepper and tomato for color. Our friends Victor and Mary Lau Valle, who are master chefs, brought us homegrown squash and oregano and taught me Victor’s mother’s version, using the Mexican cheeses asadero and cotija. (Victor and Mary are the authors of Recipe of Memory:Five Generations of Mexican Cuisine)
Asadero is a Mexican mozzarella and melts wonderfully. Although it is a low-fat cheese, it has a wonderful buttery taste not usually associated with mozzarella.
I’ve also used Oaxaca cheese with good results. The cotija we used was a powdery cheese in a bag, (not the kind that comes in a brick.) It made a nice crunchy crust on the casserole when we broiled it. I found my cheeses and chilies in the local Mexican market.
2 Poblano peppers
2 jalapeños (add more jalapeños for extra heat)
2 cobs of corn
4 Tb olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano or 2 tsp fresh oregano
5 small to medium summer squash (I used sunburst and zucchini)
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 Roma tomatoes, seeds scooped out and chopped
1 1/4 cups coarsely grated or chopped Asadero or Oaxaca cheese. If you can’t find these, substitute Monterey Jack.
1/2 cup powdered cotija cheese
1/4 cup cilantro leaves to garnish
Preheat oven to 350′
Place chilies directly on a gas flame until they char, then turn until all sides char. If you don’t have a gas stove, use the barbecue. And if you don’t have a barbecue, then char them on a heavy comal or frying pan placed over a burner on high. Place charred chilies in a small pot and cover until they are cool enough to handle. The chilies will sweat and the skin will soften.
Cook the corn on the cob in the microwave. Leave the husks on and run water over them, then place them on a large plate and cook for 7 minutes. Let them cook while you cook the other vegetables.
Cut tomatoes in quarters, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and squeeze out as much juice as you can. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the tomatoes and let them sit while you are cooking the other vegetables.
Chop the onion first, then chop the squash and red bell pepper while the onion cooks.
Pour 2 Tb olive oil in large frying pan or wok and heat on medium until it begins to shimmer. Add onions and turn heat to low. Cook onions about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent.
Raise the heat to medium and add squash and garlic with oregano and a pinch of salt. Saute squash until it is beginning to brown on all sides and onions begin to crisp. Put them in a large bowl.
Saute red bell pepper in another Tb of oil until it begins to char. Add it to the onion and squash in the bowl.
Squeeze out remaining juice from tomatoes and chop them. Saute the chopped tomatoes and a pinch of salt in another Tb of olive oil. Be sure to spread the tomatoes out so that they can caramelize. Add 1 tsp fresh oregano, and cook tomatoes over medium heat until they are mostly dry, Caramelizing the tomatoes concentrates their flavor – they are so delicious!
While tomatoes are cooking, remove the chilies from the pot. Put on some thin latex gloves to protect your hands. Slice the chilies open lengthwise and remove the stem and seed pod. Scrape the charred parts from the skin, then scrape the seeds and ribs from the inside. Keep some seeds if you want spicier calabacitas. Julienne the chilies into thin strips.
Add the chilies and cooked tomatoes to the vegetables in the bowl.
Remove the husks and ends of the corn cobs from the cooked corn. Hold the cob on a large plate and use a large knife to cut the kernels from the cob. Stir the corn in with the other vegetables.
Stir in 1 cup of the grated Asadero, Oaxaca or Jack cheese. Spray a flat casserole or 11′ x 8″ cake pan with non-stick spray, and pour the vegetables and cheese into it.
Sprinkle the rest of the Asadero cheese on top of the calabacitas. Then sprinkle with cotija powdered cheese.
Bake at 350′ for 20 minutes.
Move a rack to the upper third of the oven and turn on the broiler.
Place under the broiler for 3 -5 minutes, until the cheese turns a golden brown.
Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.
Delicious served with corn tortillas to soak up the cheesy sauce. You can mix it in with Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans)
Got leftovers? Add them to chilaquilas