WARM SAUTÉED ZUCCHINI DIP
CALABACITA, OR "LITTLE SQUASH", is the name used in Yucatán to refer to the zucchini (Cucurbita pepo L.) Calabacita frita is a great party dip for the health-conscious; it is also a wonderful side dish for fish or grilled meats. In cantinas, Calabacita frita is deliciously picante – good for tempting patrons to order more beer. But if you are heat shy or plan on using this as a side dish, you may wish to use just one seeded serrano (or even a half for the truly timid).
Prepare ahead note: Calabacita Frita can be made a day in advance and refrigerated. Either gently reheat, or bring to room temperature just before serving.
FOR THE RECADO
• 3 Tbs. (36g) black peppercorns
• 3 Tbs. (6g) whole dried Mexican oregano, lightly toasted
• 20 whole cloves
• 20 allspice berries
• 8 bay leaves
FOR THE ZUCCHINI
• 4 cups (1 1/3 lb. / 650g) zucchini, unpeeled, cut into large dice
FOR THE SOFRITO
• ¼ cup (62.5ml) Spanish olive oil
• 1 cup (175g) fresh corn kernels
• 1 medium white onion (10 oz. / 275g), finely chopped
• 6 medium cloves garlic (1 ¼ oz. / 36g), peeled and finely chopped
• ½ cup (70g) green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
• 1½ tsp. (9g) salt
• 1½ tsp. (4.5g) recado para escabeche
• 1 or 2 medium chiles serranos, charred, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
• 3 medium Roma tomatoes (10 ½ oz. / 300g), seeded and chopped
• ½ cup (30g) cilantro, chopped
• Cotija or feta cheese, crumbled
• Corn totopos (chips for dips)
PREPARE THE RECADO
This seasoning blend is known as recado para escabeche and is used in many pickled and other dishes in Yucatán. Place all of the ingredients in a spice mill or coffee grinder adapted for the purpose. Grind until very fine; strain through a fine sieve over a bowl, crumbling any remaining bits of debris through the sieve with your fingers. Return anything left in the sieve to the grinder and process again; pass through the sieve, and discard any residue. Store in an airtight container; leftovers will keep well for several months.
PARBOIL THE ZUCCHINI
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil; add the zucchini; return to a boil and cook an additional 10 minutes or until very tender. Drain and set aside to cool.
PREPARE THE SOFRITO & FINISH
Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet until shimmering; add the corn and sauté 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent sticking, until the kernels are lightly browned and tender; add the next five ingredients in the order shown, stirring to combine after each addition; sauté until onions are beginning to caramelize.
Add the chiles and the tomatoes to the skillet; cook, stirring frequently, 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, place the drained zucchini in a bowl and mash with a potato masher until well broken up. Transfer to the skillet; continue cooking over medium heat another 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid from the squash and tomatoes has evaporated. Add the cilantro, stir and serve immediately.
TO SERVE: Mound the zucchini in a serving bowl; sprinkle with the crumbled cheese and serve with totopos for dipping. Alternatively, you may serve the squash as a side dish as noted above.