Here in Colorado we’re finally swimming in peak summer produce, but it was a long time coming. Our early season was challenging at best and impossible at worst for local vegetable farmers to get a harvest to market. A cold wet spring stalled their plantings and then either stopped or slowed growth in the fields. In mid-April a long night of way below freezing temperatures killed most blooms on fruit trees in one of Colorado premier orchard and vineyard areas, Paonia and Hotchkiss in the North Fork valley on the western slope of the Rockies. Needless to say, it will be a harsh financial setback for these fruit growers which they cannot recover from until next year. That’s one of the reasons I have so much respect for and do what I can to support Colorado’s small growers. Our season is short, intense and unpredictable which makes having access to locally grown food that much more precious and delicious. Where ever you live and eat, I hope you too get to know and support your local growers.
A few crops like corn and summer squash made their first appearances later than usual. But once squash arrives, it never seems to end does it?! Last week I gave Cure Organic Farm CSA (community supported agriculture) members a couple of ideas of how to easily prepare summer squash – grilled zucchini and cold-brined zucchini pickles. Like most of us, CSA members have busy lives professionally and/or family-wise but they have committed to making a weekly purchase of vegetables and/or fruit from a local grower part of their dinner plans. Their pre-season payment for 20 or so weeks of produce is like an annual “kick starter” to our local growers. So as their chef guide to how to get lots of vegetables into part of a nourishing and delicious meal, I feature fast, easy and straight forward preparations with a slant on kid friendly if possible. When I cook at home I sometimes like the luxury of using many different vegetables in a dish with layered flavors, cooked at a slower pace (with a glass of wine in hand). One of my favorites is “calabacitas con elote” (squash and corn) or calabacitas for short. Our family lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for only a short time, but many of my favorite dishes are from this state. I love that New Mexico cooking brings the foods of the Pueblo Indian tribes, Mexico, Spain, the Mediterranean immigrants and cowboys together in a homey, delicious and often spicy way. Here’s how I like to make calabacitas.
Use summer vegetables in any proportion you like. Chop them into a medium cut (about 1/2″) keeping separate so you can add them to the pan longest cooking to shortest. I like to use (in cooking order) onion, peppers (sweet and/or hot), garlic (finely chopped), summer squash, tomato and fresh corn cut from the cob. I keep the seasonings mild to let the vegetable flavors shine, adding only salt, pepper and/or chile flakes, fresh or dried oregano or marjoram (preferred), bay leaves, cilantro stems and leaves at the end. For a heavier spice profile, you could also add freshly ground cumin and/or coriander.
Use a wider than deep pan that will accommodate all the vegetables and allow lots of evaporation so there’s just a little juice by the end of cooking. Over medium to medium-high heat, melt your fat(s) or oil of choice and start cooking your vegetables. As each one partially cooks, add the next. Add a little salt and the seasonings early in the cooking, then taste and add salt as you continue to add vegetables but under salt until the end. By the time you add the last, they will only need a short time to finish so that everything is tender but not mushy, and most of the juice has reduced. For an added flourish sprinkle the top with chopped squash blossoms and cilantro and then grated cheese. Cover with the lid or run under a pre-heated broiler to melt the cheese. Serve as a side dish, or with pinto beans or an egg for a vegetarian meal.
Got more ideas for summer squash besides leaving them at your neighbor’s front door?