Rarely does the humble squash inspire desperation and subterfuge. But that’s exactly what happens around this time of year, when Texas is darn near overrun with the alarmingly prolific, highly perishable Cucurbita pepo. Numerous and humorous are the veggie tales told by besieged backyard gardeners and overwhelmed CSA customers, all involving the depths to which they’ve sunk to rid themselves of their bulbous bounty: concocting yellow-squash chocolate cakes and zucchini-tinis, begging friends and family to take a couple (hundred) off their hands, even venturing out under cover of darkness to make deposits in the mailboxes, driveways, and unlocked cars of unsuspecting strangers.
Should you find yourself blessed with hoards of gourds, here’s a delicious way to dispense with them, one that doesn’t involve bread or fritters. Economical and versatile, calabacitas (“little squash”) is popular in West and South Texas, where it’s often served as a side dish, transformed into a main course with the addition of sautéed pork or chicken, or wrapped up in a warm corn tortilla to make a taco. Recipes vary in composition (some include tomatoes or corn) and complexity (from simple sautés to elaborate casseroles). This one caught my eye because it takes perfectly innocent produce and, in fine Texas tradition, scorches it in hot butter, bombards it with spicy chiles, and drowns it in cream. No one will have to be tricked into eating that.
Calabacitas con Crema
Serves 4 to 6
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely diced sweet onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
2 pounds squash (can use any summer squash, like zucchini, yellow crookneck, or Mexican grey or tatume), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch-thick pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 long green chiles, like Anaheims, trimmed, roasted, peeled, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Mexican crema (or crème fraîche)
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, garlic, and oregano and cook, stirring once or twice, until lightly colored, about 6 minutes. Stir in the squash, season with the salt, and cook, stirring and tossing often, for 3 minutes. Stir in the green chiles and cook another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the squash is almost tender. Stir in the crema, lower the heat, cover the skillet, and cook, stirring once or twice, until the sauce has thickened, about 3 minutes. Adjust the seasoning and serve immediately.
From the book El Paso Chile Company, by Park and Norma Kerr. Copyright © 1992 by Park and Norma Kerr. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow Cookbooks, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.