Summer produce won’t be around much longer, so I’ve been eating summer specialties as much as possible. Last Sunday, my focus was zucchini, tomatillos and sweet corn, which I combined in a “pseudo stew.” I’m calling it a “pseudo stew” because it was too liquid to eat on a plate, not thin enough to be a soup, but didn’t quite feel like a stew. I ate it with rice that week — I suspect that it could be a good filling for tacos, burritos, or quesadillas.
These days my cooking is a little unfocused, so it doesn’t take much to get me moving into a certain direction. The inspirations for the pseudo stew were a tweet from Simply Recipes about sauteed zucchini; a new carbon steel skillet that I purchased from Food52 that is naturally non-stick and loves high heat; and summer produce.
In the end, my pseudo stew came from the adaptation and merging of three recipes:
- Sauteed zucchini with gruyere from Simply Recipes (note that the dish also makes great filling for crepes)
- Pan-roasted corn: Part of a several year-old recipe from Mark Bittman at the New York Times
- Roasted tomatillo salsa: One of the foundational recipes in Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, sometimes used as a stand-alone salsa, sometimes thinned so it can be added to other preparations (my version is here)
The basic idea was to make three simple preparations and combine them for the final dish: 1) broil tomatillos until soft, then puree with chipotle puree; 2) sear zucchini (adding garlic at the end); 3) pan roast sweet corn.
To be sure, a similar pseudo stew could be prepared with much less effort: simmer tomatillos in a little bit of water until soft, then puree with immersion blender; add zucchini, corn, chipotle puree, onions, garlic, and cook until the vegetables are tender; garnish and serve. This would certainly work, but the flavors wouldn’t be as complex.
For the zucchini and corn, you’ll get best results with a pan that can get very hot and is relatively non-stick (like carbon steel, a wok, or a cast iron skillet). The goal is to have a good amount of color on the vegetables.
Recipe: Pseudo Stew with Zucchini, Tomatillos and Corn
6-8 small to medium zucchini
2 cloves garlic
3 ears sweet corn
2-3 cups (480-720 mL) whole tomatillos (about 15 medium)
1 t. (5 mL) or more chipotle chile puree (see note below)
1 t. (5 mL) salt
Chopped cilantro leaves
Toasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
Crumbled queso fresco or queso anejo (optional)
Prepare the tomatillos: Turn on the broiler. Peel the paper husks off of the tomatillos, wash them, and put them in a single layer in a broil-safe baking pan (use one with sides since there will be juices running). Place under broiler. Broil until blackened on one side, then turn (different sized tomatillos cook at different rates, so you might need to turn them at different times, and remove them as they finish cooking). Puree the chipotle chile puree and roasted tomatillos (and any juice that was exuded) in a blender or with an immersion blender. Put the puree into bowl that will be large enough to hold the zucchini cooked in the next step. Set aside.
Prepare the zucchini: Choose a pan that can hold all of the zucchini, corn, and tomatillo puree, ideally one that can be used over high heat. Cut the zucchini into bite-sized pieces — cut small zucchini in half lengthwise and cut into slices; cut larger ones in quarters lengthwise and cut into slices. Mince the garlic. Heat a pan over medium-high heat. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil. Add the zucchini and saute, stirring frequently, until some of the pieces are browned, a few minutes. Add the garlic, stir, cook for about 30 seconds. Scrape the cooked zucchini and garlic into the bowl with the tomatillo puree. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine.
Prepare the corn: Clean the pan used to prepare the zucchini (or pull out another clean one). Cut the kernels off the corn cobs, being sure to scrape the cobs with the back of the knife to extract as much corn as possible. Heat a pan over medium-high heat. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil. Add the corn and cook, stirring occasionally for a few minutes until the corn is cooked and browned in places. Turn down the heat.
Assemble: Add the zucchini-tomatillo mixture to the corn. Stir well, then simmer for a few minutes to meld the flavors. Adjust the salt as needed.
Serve and Garnish: Serve with rice or tortillas. Garnish with chopped cilantro, toasted pumpkin seeds and crumbled cheese (like queso fresco, queso anejo, or sharp cheddar).
Variations: Pan-roast a few cloves of garlic, mince, and add to the tomatillos before pureeing. Saute some sliced onions with the zucchini. Add minced raw or pan-roasted green chiles. Add diced roasted poblano chilies.
Note: to make chipotle chile puree, buy a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, open it, and put the contents in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. For long term storage, wrap and freeze. The puree stays soft enough in the freezer so that you can easily slice off what you need. If you also keep tomato paste in the freezer, be sure to label the chipotle puree so you don’t mix up tomato paste and chile puree.