Our niece Susie brought one of her favorite cookbooks to a family gathering in Kansas earlier this summer. When she handed me Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s Use it All: The Leftovers Cook Book, I grabbed it like a hungry trout after a tasty mayfly. The first two sentences of the introduction set the hook:
“How often have you opened your refrigerator and looked at some small amount of leftover roast, or cottage cheese, or dairy sour cream, or boiled potatoes? How often have you wished you could use it up simply, economically, and tastefully?”
We try to use every leftover that remains after a meal. We package them, put them in the refrigerator or freezer and do our best to remember where they are. One time, when he was about ten years old, our son made a “freezer map” which helped for a while, but today we just rummage through the packages looking for inspiration.
If something gets lost, we think of Jerri’s grandmother, a frugal Mennonite housewife, who explained as she was putting a few tablespoons of gravy in a dish to go in the ice box, “I don’t like to waste anything, but if I forget about it and it spoils, I don’t feel so bad throwing it away.”
Our sentiments exactly.
But it really is better to use those leftovers whenever you can. The calabacitas recipe below calls for cooked corn. Most of us probably have had the experience of cooking a dozen ears of corn and having three or four left over. Jane Dieckmann’s recipe calls for three ears of cooked corn. I used uncooked ears, and the calabacitas was delicious. I am sure that it would be just as tasty made with the leftover corn.
Calabacitas is another one of the great dishes invented by native Americans. It is a traditional dish of the Pueblo people of the American Southwest and also very popular in Mexico. If you made the mistake of planting more than one hill of zucchini, it may become a popular dish on your table as well.
Calabacita is the Spanish word for zucchini and calabacitas refers to a dish of stewed or sautéd corn and zucchini. There are scores of variations on the basic recipe. Some add sweet bell peppers, others, hot chile peppers; some omit the onion entirely, others add scallions. Most use a little oil, but some do not. Cheese is optional or required, depending on the cook.
I was a little skeptical about this recipe, since it uses no oil. Instead, you simmer the vegetables in a small amount of water. The cheese provides just enough oil to enhance the flavor of the vegetables, so you end up with a side dish that is very low in fat but high in flavor.
3 ears of sweet corn
1 medium onion (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter)
1 large clove garlic
2 – 3 T water
1 medium zucchini (about 2 inches in diameter)
2 medium tomatoes (2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter)
1/2 cup grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Cut the corn off the cob and remove the dry outer husks, stem and root ends from the onion and garlic. Slice the onion thinly and mince the garlic. Put the corn kernels, onion and garlic into a saucepan along with two or three tablespoons of water. Cover the pan and bring it to a simmer over medium to low heat. Cook for about five minutes.
Wash and cut the stem and blossom ends from the zucchini. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, then cut quarter-inch-thick slices Add the zucchini to the saucepan and cook for another eight minutes.
Wash and chop the tomatoes into a fine dice and grate the cheese. After the squash and onion mixture has cooked about eight minutes, stir in the salt, pepper and tomatoes and cook another two or three minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and fold in the cheese. Taste the calabacitas and adjust the seasoning with a little salt if necessary.
NOTES: You can use either fresh or cooked sweet corn. Since “medium” means something different to each of us when we are discussing vegetable sizes, chop vegetables until you have generous cups of corn and onion and a cup and a half each of zucchini and tomatoes. This will produce enough calabacitas to serve four to six adults or two adults and one hungry vegetarian grandson.
Jane Dieckmann advised against adding salt and pepper, but our grandson agreed with Jerri and me that it needed a little. You can omit it from the recipe, and diners can add as much as they wish at the table.