Biting Mr. Bittman: Succotash in Disguise

It’s officially summer! And between a few warm afternoons in San Francisco (made even more spectacular by parades and baseball games) and now the sweltering heat of the New York City streets (yes, I’ve left the best coast for the east for a quick work/pleasure getaway), I’m slapping on sunscreen, putting on my jumper, and soaking in all that this season has to offer–which above all else includes perfectly ripe, summertime produce.

Two of the poster children for this season’s pantheon of vegetables include corn (yum) and summer squash (yummer). And when you put them together, you have a dish that literally bursts with sunshine: SUCCOTASH!

Now, succotash is not traditionally made with squash. Or carrots, or tomatillos, or a handful of ingredients that I decided to use. In its original form, it includes corn (sometimes hominey) and lima beans as the main ingredients and usually a tomato-based broth for some background noise. But people often riff on this equation, building around the classical framework, to give it an individual twist. And as usual, Mark Bittman happens to be one of those people.

Mark’s version of this southern staple not only forgets the lima beans (who needs ‘em), but includes some Italian flare with noodles that cook along with the rest of the pot of vegetables. Mark advises the rest of us home cooks that succotash “is flexible not only in its flavorings but in its ingredients,” and that we should “think of it as a delicious mélange of whatever is on hand.” Like a frittata or a casserole, this dish is a great way to celebrate (or use up) the veggies waiting in your fridge, and even though substitutions may alter the succotash from its standard look, it still counts.

With endorsement like that, I didn’t need much else convincing to give it a try

Mark’s recipe calls for the following ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or 2 tablespoons oil and 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup corn kernels (from 2 or 3 ears)
  • 1 cup diced zucchini or summer squash (from 2 or 3 small vegetables)
  • 1 medium onion or 3 or 4 shallots, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic, optional
  • 1 or 2 sprigs tarragon
  • 4 plum or 2 large tomatoes, diced

Because the majority of the ingredients are fresh vegetables and herbs, there is not much to alter in order to make it low sodium–just make sure your butter is unsalted. But, Mark does say, in the intro to his recipe, that succotash can definitely withstand a “Southwestern treatment,” and he suggest adding “good chili powder, a little bit of cayenne, and perhaps some cilantro.”

So, to give it my Sodium Girl spin, I took his Southwestern cue and added a fresh poblano pepper and a tomatillo to the pot. And in order to up-the-anty in terms of flavor, I cooked these ingredients and the corn on the grill, adding a bit of char and smoke flavor as well. Once all the ingredients are prepped, all that is left is leaving them to stew. Throw them over a medium flame and let the heat do the rest of the work, coaxing the veggies to release their natural juices and spices in order to create a silky sauce with bite.

Succotash can be eaten on its very own–served hot or cold–but also works well as an accompaniment or sauce for your main dish, like this beautifully seared piece of halibut.

So head out to your backyard garden (i.e. local market), and pick up a few ears of corn and some summertime produce to make your own version of succotash. You’ll quickly discover that, when your ingredients are in-season, they need very little else but the sunshine to taste good. Chow on.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ears of corn, husked
  • 1 tomatillo
  • 1 poblano pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic – diced
  • 1 small shallot – diced
  • 3 carrots, cut into small circles
  • 2 large, juicy tomatoes, heirloom if in season
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1 or 2 pinches of red pepper flake
  • 2 medium sized, summer squash – diced
  • 1 lime

Directions:

1. Start by washing and prepping all of your ingredients: dice the garlic, shallots, and squash; cube the tomatoes; and cut the carrots into circles. Get your grill burning (or if you don’t have a grill, turn on your oven – you can roast the corn, pepper, and tomatillo in there to achieve a similar smokey flavor).

2. Wrap pieces of foil around the corn and throw it on the grill for 15 minutes. Put the pepper and tomatillo directly on the grill – allowing the skin to char – for five minutes. Turn the pepper and tomatillo and cook for another five minutes. Remove corn, pepper, and tomatillo from grill and allow to cool.

3. In a medium pot, over a medium flame, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

4. Once hot, add the garlic and shallots, and remember to stir so that they do not stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. The garlic will become a nice shade of tan and the shallots will soften when ready.

5. Add the carrots and allow them to brown as well.

6. Add the tomatoes, 1/2 cup of water, and the spices (ground black pepper, ground mustard, and red pepper flakes) to the pot. Bring to a boil and then allow the vegetables to cook and reduce (over medium flame) for another 15 to 20 minutes.

7. Remove the charred skin from the pepper and tomatillo and dice (removing the seeds from the poblano first). Add them to the pot.

8. Remove the kernels carefully from the cob and add those to the pot as well.

9. While the vegetables cook and release their juices, heat the other tablespoon of olive oil, over medium heat, in a small saute pan.

10. Add the summer squash to the pan and allow to brown for 5 minutes on each side. Turn off heat, but do not add the squash to the rest of the vegetables yet.

11. Right before you serve, add half of the summer squash to the pot of vegetables and squeeze in juice from half of the lime.

12. Plate by scooping heaping spoonfuls of the succotash into a wide-brimmed bowl and decorate the top with leftover squash. Enjoy.

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