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CHILES RELLENOS

Visitors to Santa Fe usually think of it as a visual place: the clouds and mesas that so enchanted Georgia O’Keeffe, the ancient adobe buildings around the Plaza, and the color of a fiesta. There are also sounds: the quiet of a December snow, crashing thunderstorms in the middle of summer, and the calls of geese and cranes flying overhead in the spring and fall. But Santa Fe is every bit a place of wonderful smells: lilacs pushing over an adobe wall in the springtime, the smell of a winter’s piñon fire burning in a fireplace near the Plaza. This time of year, the smell is of green chiles roasting. It is a fragrance like no other, and once you experience it, you never forget it.

Chiles have been growing during the hot summer throughout the state. Perhaps the most famous chile crop comes from Hatch,, but there are also bountiful sources in Chimayó and Socorro along with many a back yard.

All sorts of chiles at the farmers market

Chiles

When the chiles are ready for harvest, they are loaded into big gunny sacks and taken by truck all over the state. In Santa Fe, growers set up stalls throughout the city where they roast the green chiles on the spot in a revolving metal mesh drum over a blazing butane flame. The tough outer coat of the chiles is charred in the process so that it can be peeled off in preparation for cooking. The roasting creates a pungent, unmistakable smell that fills the air.

The farmers market also boasts chile roasters who make the festive environment even more vibrant.

Chile roasting at the farmers market

The spin of the chile roaster

The buyer can get a whole gunny sack full of roasted chiles or even a small plastic bag. Then the task is to take them home, peel off the charred skin, and either cook or freeze them for the winter ahead.

If you don’t need a green chile supply for the whole winter, you can even do them yourself on the barbecue or, better yet, on a special device made of metal screen and designed to sit over a gas flame. The device is indispensable for the Santa Fe cook. One can be ordered from the Santa Fe Cooking School.

Chile roasting pan

Roasting chiles

Roasted chiles resting in plastic bag before peeling

Green chiles wind up in just about every Santa Fe dish you can think of, including ice cream, but probably the most popular dishes are green chile stew, green chile cheeseburger, and my favorite, chiles rellenos.

Making a chile relleno is an act of love  because the preparation takes a lot of steps, and the chiles have to be eaten immediately. A leftover chile relleno is a soggy shadow of its former self. Still, they are worth the effort, especially when they are covered with a fresh salsa roja.  Here’s how you do it.

Roasted chiles peeled and ready for batter

Cheese pieces and chiles ready for stuffing

RECIPES

Chiles Rellenos

Ingredients

  • 6 to 12 Anaheim or New Mexico chiles
  • Monterey jack cheese, one ½x½x4 inch piece of cheese for each chile
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • all-purpose flour for dredging chiles
  • peanut oil for deep-frying

Two parts of batter before combining

Coating the chiles with batter

Method

  • Purchase roasted chiles or roast your own on a chile roasting pan over a high flame, a very hot barbecue grill, or in the oven under the drill. Turn frequently until all sides of all chiles are heavily charred.
  • Immediately place the chiles in a plastic bag and allow to cool. Then remove the chiles from the bag, and under running water peel the charred skin carefully so as not to tear the flesh of the chiles.
  • Cut off the stems of the chiles, pull out the seeds and inner membranes using your fingers. Rinse out the chiles to remove any loose seeds.
  • Gently stuff each chile with one of the pieces of cheese and set aside on paper towels.
  • In the meantime, prepare the batter by combining egg yolks, milk, flour, salt and vegetable oil using a rotary egg beater. Let the mixture blend for  30 minutes while you whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
  • Gently fold the yolk and milk mixture into the whipped egg whites until well combined.
  • Dredge each prepared chile into flour. Then dip the chiles individually into the combined batter.
  • While preparing the chiles, pour enough peanut oil into a deep-sided heavy pot (A cast iron skillet works well) and heat to 375°F.
  • One at a time, place the batter-coated chiles into the hot oil. Cook no more than two at a time. Otherwise the chiles may stick together.
  • Turn the chiles when well browned on the bottom and finish frying the other side. Remove from the hot oil and drain on layers of paper towels.
  • Keep the finished chiles on a plate in an oven heated to 200°F until all of the chiles are fried. Serve immediately. Otherwise they may get soggy.

Testing oil temperature with a cube of bread

Chiles rellenos frying

Quick Salsa Roja

Ingredients

  • 1 14.5ounce can, diced tomatoes
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon dry Mexican oregano, crumbled
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons ground red chiles (amount and heat according to your taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • In a blender, purée the canned tomatoes, including their juice
  • Transfer the puréed tomato to a small saucepan over low heat. Bring to the simmer
  • Stir in the remaining ingredients until completely combined. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes

Finished chiles rellenos ready to serve

Assembly

  • Place two or three warm chiles rellenos on each plate
  • Top with a generous serving of the salsa
  • Add rice and/or beans (refried or other) if you desire.

Chiles rellenos with rice and fresh pear with green chile raspberry preserves and almonds

I finished the meal with rice and a fresh pear-half filled with green chile flavored raspberry preserves (no kidding) and blanched almonds.

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RICOTTA PIE WITH ASPARAGUS, MUSHROOMS, AND PROSCIUTTO

Our ovens recently went on the blink, and we had to do without baking for over two weeks while the repairman ordered parts. We made it through the crisis – with some withdrawal symptoms – and our ovens were finally restored to working order. To celebrate, I decided to make a couple of quiches using some shrimp and fresh Spring asparagus from the grocery store. I made the quiches only to discover that I had left out the asparagus. My fall-back plan was to use the asparagus the next night in something else. The plan wound up to be an exercise in cleaning out the refrigerator. I came up with what is not really a quiche, so I called it a ricotta pie. Regardless of the name, it turned out to be a good use for the asparagus.

RECIPES

Pie Crust

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 Cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 2/3 Tablespoons (8 teaspoons) ice water
  1. Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl
  2. Add the shortening and cut it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse corn meal
  3. Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the water, mixing with a table fork until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  4. Knead gently for just a few seconds, shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes

Pie Filling

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces low-fat ricotta
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon Pernod
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon finely ground white pepper
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus
  • 6 crimini mushrooms
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 3 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly and finely grated
  1. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, Pernod, salt, and pepper until smooth and well blended. Set aside.
  2. Wash the asparagus, trim the woody ends (saving them for stock), and cut into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
  3. Clean and slice the mushrooms. Sauté them in olive oil until they have given up their liquid. Drain and set aside.

Just out of the oven

Final Assembly

  1. Remove the chilled pie crust dough from the refrigerator and roll it into a circle large enough to line a 9 inch pie pan with enough to crimp the top edge.
  2. Ladle half of the ricotta mixture into the bottom of the prepared pie shell.
  3. Arrange the asparagus pieces over the filling. Then add the mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and prosciutto in layers.
  4. Cover with the remaining ricotta mixture and sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 425° for 10 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 350° for an additional 60 minutes. Turn the baking pie front to back in the oven about half way through the baking. Watch carefully toward the end of baking and remove from the oven if the pie becomes too brown.
  6. Place the finished pie on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Then slice into 6 or 8 pieces. Serve while still warm.

Ready to eat

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