Last night for dinner, I made two fabulous recipes from Nathan's blog. We had Cuban Pork Chops and Calabacitas.
To tell the truth, I have never been that fond of calabacitas, a Mexican squash dish made with zucchini and/or yellow summer squash. Chiefly, the dish consists of squash sauteed with onions and topped with cheese. It always tastes kind of bland and watery to me. I was so excited to see Nathan's recipe, because it sounded really flavorful! His family's version improves on the calabacitas concept by adding copious amounts of garlic, tomatoes, plenty of black pepper, a bit of butter, cilantro, and crumbled queso fresco (fresh Mexican cheese).
Oh my gosh, it was SO DELICIOUS I got a stomach ache because I could not stop eating it!
One of the few challenges in feeding DC is that he doesn't care for most vegetables. I'm from the South, and as Fannie Flag says, "You don't have to tell us Southerners to eat our vegetables: we love 'em!" So his aversion to veggies sometimes cramps my culinary style. He is such a sweetheart, though-- he's always willing to try anything I cook. Here is the best part about the calabacitas: DC loved them! I never thought to see him happily eating zucchini.
What makes Nathan's family's version so good? While the garlic, tomato and cilantro add a lot to the dish, I think the standout ingredients are the butter (which Nathan tells you not to leave out if you have some on hand) and the black pepper. Wow, am I glad I didn't leave out the butter!
When I was a child, my mom made the most wonderful summer squash-- rich and flavorful, to us, it was the taste of summertime. Unlike me, she cooked by instinct, not using recipes. No matter how I have tried to duplicate her squash, I've never succeeded. Of course, Mom doesn't remember how she made the squash, since she gave up cooking for Lent in 1978 and has never looked back. ;) I now realize that her squash dish must have incorporated BUTTER. I remember there was black pepper, of course, but I don't think I ever thought to add butter.
When I was eating the calabacitas, it instantly brought back the flavor of my mother's squash to me. The combination of LOTS of black pepper with the rich butter is magic with squash. The queso fresco is also PERFECT for this dish-- it doesn't make the dish greasy the way jack or cheddar cheese would. I also think that not using any water in the cooking also helps to make a very flavorful dish.
Of course, the pork chops were DC's favorite part of the meal. They are rubbed with a mixure of garlic paste, salt, cumin, and fresh lime juice, and pan-sauteed in evoo. (Extra-virgin olive oil.) They are served smothered in onions cooked in the pan drippings, with fresh lime juice used to deglaze the pan.
The porkchops were fantastic! However, I think I messed up somewhere, because instead of ending up with golden brown onions like in Nathan's photo, my onions were a rich mahogany brown from the pan drippings. Which makes me think either I used too much cumin, or I cooked the chops at too high a temperature. When I removed the porkchops, the pan was well-encrusted with a thich, dark-brown spicy paste-- perhaps a somewhat scorched spicy paste? The onions were delicious, however, and nothing tasted scorched. DC loved the porkchops so much he ate two!
I served the porkchops and calabacitas with some yellow rice and pan frito: fried cuban bread. I used some dinner rolls that I had split to make the bread. It was my first try at the pan frito, and it was pretty good, but the garlic burned just a tad bit. Also, I fried the bread in just olive oil and garlic, and I think I was supposed to add butter too. I need to figure out how to have the temperature high enough to fry the bread but not burn the garlic. I am afraid of producing what one food writer called "inedible greaslings" by not having the oil hot enough for the bread. (I don't recall what the "inedible greaslings" referred to, but I'm pretty sure it was Mollie Katzen's phraseology.)
Dinner was fantastic-- I am so grateful to Nathan for sharing his recipes! You can have the best cookbook in the world, but nothing can replace "watching" someone prepare the food and sharing all their tips and tricks!
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