Note: This is not a recipe. Ceci n’est pas une recette. It is more a suggestion, and as so many traditional peasant dishes are, a great way to use up leftovers. Like chilaquiles, a common breakfast in Mexico. Now, whenever there’s a bag of stale tortilla chips leftover from some party, it’s a common breakfast for me, too. Alright, and midnight snack. Dinner? Why not. And seconds, please.
When you cook, and especially when you entertain, there are so many opportunities waiting for you with the leftovers. Let’s embrace leftovers, because they open these exciting new doors for us, and not regard them as sad artifacts from a former life. People tend to turn up their nose at eating them, as if it were a chore, but if it weren’t for bits and scraps of several things, we surely would not have invented so many stews, soups, sautes and stir-fries that have become favorites today. A telltale sign that a food was probably spurned from leftovers is if it incorporates stale starch of some sort — like the stale bread in stuffing or panzanella. With chilaquiles, stale tortilla chips work just as well if not slightly better than crisp corn chips — they hold a little more of their own against the saucy elements that will drench them, until soft. This is not nachos supreme.
leftover succotash with corn, summer squash, green beans and eggplant gets layered on corn chips
It just so happened that a half-eaten bag of chips was left open on my table one night, after hastily turning in. The next day, they were a little stale, but I knew just the cure for them. Leftovers, leftovers, and more leftovers…
I had followed one of my tips for CSA stress last week: I threw a dinner party, for eight. It was great. We had a “succotash” with all manner of vegetables tossed in (I’ll say that’s a leftover invention, too), like chopped green beans, roasted eggplant slivers, fresh corn kernels and chopped summer squash. The vegetables were sauteed together for no longer than five minutes, and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Ironically, that simple feat turned out to be everyone’s favorite dish of the night. (I actually can’t take credit for it, because I’d made a friend who arrived early stir the pan as I hurried to chop everything, and literally toss in handful at a time.) Beforehand, I’d labored over a roasted squash curry soup and some fresh tomatillo salsa.
These strange paper-covered green tomatoes, or tomatillos, were a novelty to my kitchen. I still have no idea what they taste like fresh. But roasted, peeled and pureed with lime juice and a bit of chopped jalapeno for kick, and they made a clear green, jelly-like pool of salsa verde that tasted deliciously tangy and fresh, much better than bottled.
The little bit of succotash that wasn’t eaten by the next morning was layered with the corn chips in an oven-proof individual casserole. I didn’t have any cheese — Mexican, at least — except for a pint or so of my homemade ricotta. Leftover, of course, from the Brooklyn Cheese Experiment (I warned you this would come up again).
My guests liked the salsa verde, but there was plenty of it the next day, too. I would have loved some leftover meat from the roast pheasant we’d eaten that night, to shred into the chilaquiles. I’m glad it was finished, but that diminutive bird had been picked clean from the bone (who did that, anyway?). At least the carcass was salvaged to make stock with.
Once everything was layered in the casserole — the stale chips, succotash, slicks of ricotta and salsa verde to cover — I went ahead and added some cherry tomatoes, and an egg. I suppose a poached egg, placed on top of the whole dish once it’s taken out of the oven, would have made the cooking procedure a little easier to execute. But in my post-dinner party sloth, I merely cracked one carefully above the bowl and let it settle on top. It baked for twenty minutes until yolky but done.
And so were the chilaquiles. The ricotta cooked to a smooth, creamy bliss that softened the heat of the salsa verde. The vegetables melted with the smothered corn chips, which had turned mealy as porridge in parts, and crispy where there was not so much sauce. The egg yolk married everything in its runny richness. Altogether, it was the perfect harmony of everything I’d feasted on with friends the night before (minus the pheasant). And so lovely to be reminded of those good times as I ate.
Okay, so here’s a recipe after all.
Chilaquiles with Summer Vegetables, Ricotta, Green Salsa and Egg
(makes one serving)
two handfuls tortilla chips (can be stale), broken to coarse pieces
about 1/2 cup summer vegetables (fresh corn, chopped zucchini, summer squash, green beans, etc.)
1-2 tablespoons ricotta
about 1/2 cup tomatillo salsa verde (use any recipe you wish; I used the roasting method at Simply Recipes, but left out the onion — it was still good)
3-4 grape or cherry tomatoes
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In the bottom of a small casserole, sprinkle about half of the broken corn chips. Add half the vegetables, and a small spoonful of ricotta. Repeat the same layers once. Top with the salsa verde. Place the optional cherry tomatoes on top and bake, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add a small splash of vinegar to the water (optional, to hold the poached egg together better). Turn heat to low so that there are only very occasional bubbles that rise from the bottom. Crack the egg in a small bowl and carefully slide it into the water. Let poach for approximately 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, and place on top of the chilaquiles.
(for 1 serving)
2 handfuls tortillas: $0.35
1/2 cup chopped vegetables: $0.40
2 tablespoons homemade ricotta: $0.50
1/2 cup fresh tomatillo green salsa: $0.50
1 egg: $0.25
optional grape tomatoes: $0.25
Six brownie points: Warm cheese and fried corn chips will never quite hold their place in the canon of ultimate healthfulness, but if you need it — and you know you will — this is a fine way to enjoy it, for its ratio of vegetables. The egg does nothing to help out on the cholesterol level, but it’s a source of protein that brings this dish to balanced-meal territory. The tomatillo sauce that smothers this dish is full of Vitamin C from the lime as well as fresh tomatillos — it’s a terrific dip or sauce for anything, as there is literally no added fat.
Eight maple leaves: Using up leftovers is one of those little ways you can save a lot of food from your personal waste stream. Most of the ingredients in this dish were fresh and sourced locally, too, even the tomatillos, jalapeno, egg, and the milk that was used to make ricotta a couple weeks back. Tostitos, on the other hand, are a bit of a stretch — I think Karol bought these at the closest bodega.