As summer starts to flourish, so do the chilies. It’s not unusual for us to receive eight or more chili peppers in a single share, and that can go on for weeks. Plus, the spiciness level seems to track with the soaring mercury, but sometimes not, making it difficult to know exactly where to use up our share of chiles.
Fortunately, over the years, we’ve come up with a few ways that use up a lot of chiles but still taste good, although we’ve not found a great way of tempering those super-hot versions. The best we have is to use them along with a dairy product, such as cheese, as in our version of Chili Relleno Casserole.
While we really love good chili rellenos, we don’t like the idea of making them. The stuffing of the chili pods, the battering, the frying, the grease. All that makes rellenos more of an occasional treat when we head out for dinner. But, we will make a casserole from our chilies. It’s a flexible recipe that we based on the standard rellenos that you might find at a Mexican restaurant, but we’ve included some ingredients that come from rellenos such as you might find in Guatemalan cuisine. So, let’s get scratchin’ and see what this might entail.
Makes an 8×8-inch casserole.
We never really thought of using potatoes, walnuts, and mushrooms in Chili Rellenos until we had some at a local Guatemalan restaurant and fell in love with them. It was so nice to have the chilies filled with something more substantial than just cheese. It really made the chilies into a complete meal, instead of seeming like an accent to the rice and refried beans. Not that standard rellenos aren’t good, mind you; it’s just that everyplace does them the same way (and so few do them well, to boot). It gets old. All the ingredients here are pretty flexible. Use cheese you like; you’ll see in this batch we’ve used some fresh goat cheese, but we’ve used mild cheddar, or one of those four cheese blends — pretty much any cheese that melts well will work. This time, we added a summer squash, mainly because we got a few in our CSA share. If you don’t have one, don’t use it. Finally, you’ll note that we don’t really add much in the way of seasoning, but rely on the saltiness of the cheese, and the heat of the chilies for most of the flavors, and this time the peppers were HOT!
Procedure in detail:
Broil peppers. Make up a quick tray out of aluminum foil and place the chilies under a hot broiler. Broil for about 5 minutes on a side, until skin is blackened, blistered, and peeling away from the pepper. Watch carefully, so you don’t end up with a carbonized pepper.
Place in paper bag. Drop the peppers in a brown paper bag, fold over the top, and let cool. You can also use a plastic bag. Basically, we want to keep some of the steam and heat in to help cook any part of the chili missed during the trip through the broiler, so the skins will just slide right off.
Microwave potatoes. We like to microwave the potatoes while the chilies cool. Both take about 10 minutes, so we pop a few taters in the microwave, set the cook time, and let them go. You might have to adjust the cooking time depending on the size of potatoes and the power of your microwave.
Peel and de-seed. Now that the chilies are cool, just pull off the skin. It will come off in big pieces. Slice open the peppers lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and cut off the top, to reveal a nice pepper “fillet.” Discard skins, seeds, and tops.
Wash hands. We can’t stress this enough. After dealing with the peppers, you will want to wash your hands. With soap. Perhaps twice. You’ll know why if you’ve ever just rinsed your hands off, trying to save a bit of time, then, the later in the day, compounded the error by rubbing your eye. Youch!
Preheat oven to 350°F. And lightly coat an 8×8-inch baking pan with oil.
Layer casserole. Place a single layer of chili peppers on the bottom of the pan. Reserve one or two chillies for an accent on top. Try to spread them open to cover most of the pan, but, if you can’t, that’s okay, too. Then, place the sliced potatoes on top of the chilis. Try to slice the potatoes about 1/4-inch thick, and use all the potatoes. Top the potatoes with the walnuts, just a sprinkle so that you get one or two in every bite.
Add more layers. After the potatoes and walnuts, we like to add those vegetables that will release moisture as they cook, which helps to avoid a dry casserole. So add the mushrooms and that layer of summer squash.
Seal with cheese. Finally, seal the top with whatever shredded cheese you’re using. Add some sliced chillies on top so that it looks nice, and cover with that piece of foil you used for broiling the peppers. If you didn’t read through these instructions in advance, you might have to use a new piece of foil. Live and learn.
Bake. Slide the casserole into the oven and bake until everything is nice and bubbly, about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for about 15 minutes more so the cheese browns.
Serve. We slice the casserole into four squares and serve it up that way. Or just use a large spoon and scoop some out.
We like this casserole because it is so flexible: choose a different cheese and the whole texture can change from a stiff hold-its-form lasagna-like casserole, to a gooey cheesey, scoop-it-out, pan-scraping adventure. Sometimes we put a few tomatoes on top for color, sometimes we skip the squash; we’ve even tried a version where we made the traditional relleno egg coating for the top. Sometimes we use rice as a filling. Yep, it’s a versatile way to eat up a bunch of chilies of nearly any variety, but some things remain constant. We always have some nuts mixed in, and there is always some cheese to cut the heat. Four stars.