End-of-Summer American Southwest ‘Ratatouille’

Serves 6 – 8

I’m not a vegetarian, nor do I play one on TV, but sometimes I cook like one.

This is the recipe for my end-of-summer casserole, product of discussion between me and some of my internet acquaintances.  It’s my personal take on the Southwestern staple calabacitas (‘little squashes’) and turned out seriously yummy.  Not necessarily the healthiest dinner in captivity (cheese is about 100 calories an ounce, most of it from fat), but with all those veggies, I think we can get away with it.

One of the other netizens suggested adding Andouille sausage and serving with some wine. Even with the sausage (which, if you’re not familiar, can be quite spicy), it still feels like white.  Gewürztraminer is good with spice, but a little sweet for this; somehow I’m thinking something fuller, maybe a not-too-oaky Chardonnay…  Or beer…  Or (oh, yeah!) prosecco, sparkling wine or champagne…

If I’d had a few more tomatoes, I might have made some of my ‘Salsa Bruschetta’ (just what it sounds like:  spread homemade salsa on crunchy toasted artisanal bread) to go along with it.

Ingredients

5 ears fresh corn

3 large fresh tomatoes (preferably home grown, but heirlooms from the farmer’s market work great)

3 smallish fresh zucchini

1 large onion

3 cloves garlic

2 pasilla peppers (the blockish but pointed very dark green Mexican peppers I originally learned to call poblanos – they’re anchos when they’re dried – very mild, but with a much more pronounced flavor than bells)

1 orange bell pepper (’cause it was there the first time and looks pretty; red works fine, too)

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

fresh basil, herbs de Provence, Italian herb blend or other herbs of your choice, to taste (optional)

1 pound grated cheese (your choice; I use a mixture of five California cheeses, including some Mexican-style ones, mostly pretty dry and salty, but about 1/3 essentially mild cheddar)

a couple of handfuls of crushed tortilla chips.

Technique

Using your preferred tool, remove the corn kernels from the cob.  (I have the Oxo corn stripper, but you can just use a chef’s knife.) Use a table knife to scrape any remaining pulp and juices from the corn cobs into a bowl.

Peel the tomatoes if you like; I never bother. Cut the tomatoes in half across the ‘waist’, and squeeze and use your finger tips to remove all the gel and seeds from the interior.  (This keeps them from making the dish too wet.)  Chop the tomatoes into about 1/4-inch dice.

Trim the zucchini, cut them in half lengthwise, and then into about 1/4-inch half-rounds.

Chop the onion into about 1/4-inch dice.  Mince the garlic.  Cut all the peppers into about the same 1/4-inch dice.

Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a pre-heated pan.  Sauté the onions until they start to get translucent.  (You may add salt, pepper, and fresh basil if you have it, or any other herbs you fancy at any time in the following process.  Put dried herbs in early, since they need to absorb some of the juices from the veggies to reconstitute.)  Add the garlic and sauté another couple of minutes.  Add all the peppers, and sweat about 5 minutes.  Throw in the zucchini and tomatoes, and stir until about half-cooked.  Add the corn and all the juice, and stir until warm (but not really hot).  Taste and season, remembering that all that cheese will likely be pretty salty.

Spray a big oven-safe pan or casserole with olive oil.  Spread about 1/3 of the veggies in the bottom, then spread a little more than 1/3 of the cheese.  Repeat the layers, ending with the last a-little-less-than-1/3 of the cheese.  Bake about 30 minutes at 375 degrees F.  When everything is hot through, crunch up the tortilla chips and spread them over the casserole.  Put back in the oven until the chips are lightly browned and crisp.

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