New Mexico: Calabacitas

This was another incredibly successful dish for the food orgy that was our 24, 24, 24 dinner last month. We put together a menu based on foods by the various US regions. This entrée represented the Southwest region: Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The food in this region was heavily influenced by Spanish immigrants who brought ingredients such as chiles, tomatoes. These were then combined with ingredients common to the area, which included red pepper, cummin and cinnamon. And, of course, this is cattle/livestock country, so the entrée had to include something meaty. We ended up with: Lamb Chops with Pepper Chutney and Calabacitas.

Calabacitas is a true New Mexican favorite, you will often find it as one of the sides you can pick from when you eat at most restaurants. I remember having it in Albuquerque many years ago. It was a creamy casserole of sorts, with Mexican squash, corn, chilies, cheese and a hint of allspice.¬† For this recipe I wanted something ‘fancier’, so I was thrilled when I came across this version over at Fete & Feast. It brought to mind a stuffed chayote my¬† mom prepares. Anyway, here it is:

Calabacitas Rellenas
Serves 6

6 small zucchini squash
1 tsp. ancho chile powder
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
1 cp fresh corn kernels
1/2 cp red bell pepper, chopped
4 oz. chopped green chiles
1 tsp allspice
1 cp queso Oaxaca*, shredded
1/4 cp crema fresca or heavy cream
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375¬į degrees.

Slice the top ¬Ĺ inch from the squash. The squash I used for this were very small, about 4-5 inches long each and I used a whole one per person. To trim and remove their filling, I split each zuchinni at about 2/3s of the way–less than halfway through. If you’re working with larger ones, you could simply split them¬†in half horizontally and scrape out the seeds.

Bring enough salted water to cover the squash halves to a boil. Drop the halves into the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Remove shells from boiling water; nestle close together in a glass baking pan, and season with a little more salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Cook the onion until soft and starting to become translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the corn,  and green chiles. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes. Then add 2/3s of the cheese, crema, and allspice. Check for seasoning; add salt and pepper to taste.

Mound some of the stuffing into each squash half. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle the rest of the cheese, and return to the oven. Cook for an additional 5-7 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly.

Cookingly yours,

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