Calabacitas (Spicy Squash Casserole)

???????????????????????????????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 cheeseAsadero 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. 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.

???????????????????????????????Ingredients:

2 Anaheim peppers and 2 jalapeños (add more jalapeños for extra heat) You can substitute poblano chilies for the Anaheims for a smokier flavor

5 Tb olive oil

1 onion, diced

sea salt

About 1 tsp ea dried or 2 tsp fresh oregano

5 small to medium summer squash  (I used sunburst and zucchini)1 red bell pepper, diced

2 cobs corn. Cut the cobs in 2 crosswise to get a flat surface, then strip the corn from the cob. I sauté the uncooked corn. Sometimes I  use cooked corn and skip the sauté step.

3/4 cup of chicken broth. I use Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup You can make this vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth.

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 1/2 cups asadero cheese, chopped. If you can’t find asadero, substitute Monterey Jack.

1/2 cup powdered cotija cheese

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.

While chilies are sweating, chop the vegetables and place them in a cake pan by groups. Start off with the onion, then chop the other veggies while the onion cooks.

DSC02848Cut the squash at different angles so they’re chunky.

I use a wok to cook this in, but you can use a large heavy frying pan as well.

Sauté onions in 1 Tb olive oil over low heat until translucent, about 10 minutes.  Set aside in a large bowl.

Raise the heat and add 2 Tb olive oil to the pan. Add squash with oregano and a pinch of salt. Saute squash until it is beginning to brown on all sides. Add to the onions in the bowl.

???????????????????????????????Saute red bell pepper and corn in another Tb of oil until they begin to char. Then add to the other veggies in the bowl.

cooking tomatoesSaute 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 more 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, take out the chilies from the pot. Remove the stem and slice them open lengthwise. Scrape the charred parts from the skin, then scrape the seeds and soft parts from the inside. Julienne the chilies into thin strips.

Add the the chilies and the vegetables from the bowl to the tomatoes.

Pour in chicken broth and heat until boiling, stirring vegetables together.

Stir in 1 cup of the asadero or Jack cheese. Spray a flat casserole or 11′ x 8″ cake pan with non-stick spray, and pour the vegetables into it.

Sprinkle the rest of the asadero cheese on top of the calabacitas. Then sprinkle with cotija powdered cheese.

Move a rack to the upper third of the oven and turn on the broiler.

baked calabacitasPlace under the broiler for 3 -5 minutes, until the cheese turns a golden brown.

???????????????????????????????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

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Minestrone Soup

Fall in the Bay Area brings a few weeks of sunshine to ripen tomatoes, then rainy and chilly days, perfect Minestrone Soup weather. Pick those ripened tomatoes off the withering vines, combine them with broth and chopped veggies and herbs in a big pot. This is a pretty forgiving recipe, so if you want to clean out the veggie bin of your fridge, throw in what you’ve got. You could use frozen veggies  or canned tomatoes. There is a use for everything, even Parmesan cheese rinds! The rind lends a wonderful flavor to the soup. If it doesn’t break up, leave it in the pot when serving.

10 servings:
1 or more Parmesan rinds
1 large onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 bunch red Swiss chard, leaves torn off ribs and chopped fine, to make about 3 ½ cups, dice the ribs
1 large red bell pepper, diced to make 1 cup
1 large green bell pepper, diced to make 1 cup
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms
1 Tb salt (to taste)
½  tsp fresh minced rosemary
1 Tb fresh minced oregano
1 tsp dried basil
6 cloves garlic, minced
several grinds black pepper
One package (4 links) Aidells chicken sausages. either artichoke and garlic or sun-dried tomato with mozzarella cheese (optional)
1 bay leaf
several shakes red pepper flakes
10 cups (2 1/2 quarts) homemade chicken or vegetable stock Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup or vegetable broth (you can use boxed stock, but it won’t be as good!)
1 can tomato paste
4 cups diced tomatoes (Roma is best)
OR 28 ounce can San Marzano peeled tomatoes to sub for tomatoes and tomato paste
4 dried Porcini mushrooms
1 rind Parmesan cheese
1  cup peeled and diced carrots (2 large carrots)
2 peeled and diced red potatoes
2/3 cup small pasta (I used the tiny tubes called ditalini for my last batch, but I have also used salad macaroni)
4 small zucchini, diced to make 1 ½ cups
1/2 pound green beans, chopped
1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 small bunch Italian parsley, chopped.
1 Tb fresh minced basil (about 5 leaves)
 
Garnish:
a few pinches dried oregano to taste
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

Heat stock, Parmesan rinds, tomato paste, tomatoes or canned tomatoes  in a large pot.

Grind dried Porcini mushrooms in a coffee grinder or small food processor and add to the stock. Add salt to taste.

Scrub mushrooms and rinse well. Dry in paper towel. and cut off woody ends from the stems. Place mushrooms on toaster oven tray and spray with olive oil spray. Broil for 10 minutes. When they cool, cut them in quarters and add to stock.

Stir-fry onions, red bell pepper, chard ribs, garlic, celery, and herbs in  olive oil in a heavy skillet until translucent. Add to stock.

Slice sausages in quarters lengthwise and then into half-coins. Stir fry in the same skillet as the onions were in for about 4 minutes, until browned. Add to soup, then ladle some soup into the frying pan and scrape the browned bits into the soup, then pour back into the pot.

Stir in carrots, chard leaves, canned beans, and potato and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in pasta, green beans, zucchini, parsley, corn and peas. Cook 10 minutes on medium. Stir in fresh basil.

Discard bay leaf and ladle into bowl. Stir in a pinch of dried oregano, fresh basil, and a few spoonfuls of grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy with a slice of good bread such as Acme herb slab, foccacia, olive bread, or sourdough baguette. Manga!