September is Produce Crossover Month
Aug 29, 2016 02:57PM
● By Lesley Stiles
September, month nine of our year, has arrived long before it logically should have, and I for one am scratching my head with wonder and curiosity at how the summer flew by so swiftly. School is back in session after a too short play break, along with a diminishing lazy traffic pattern, as students and parents swarm the streets, reconnecting to the long-time practiced ballet of learning and leaving off.
Grapes and apples reappear on farmers’ market tables, just in time for sweet treats in little lunch boxes. A semi new variety of grape, Thomcord, seamlessly blends the ever-popular Thompson seedless grape with iconic grape jam flavors of the Concord grape, combining the lush, juicy sweetness of both, without the seeds. This is unquestionably one of the most brilliant combinations of salubrious flavors and textures to cross our palate-pleasing paths for a while, and they are perfect for snacking on at any time or any age.
September mornings can be deceptively chilly, but afternoons warm up hot and fast followed by rapid cooling come dusk -- a weather pattern that produce loves as it matures, but is not so great for starting summer crops. Perfect, though, for starting winter crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, onions and garlic, carrots, radishes, greens of all kinds, and well-used and loved cool weather herbs such as cilantro and parsley. In the produce crossover month of September, we are also blessed with summer bounty, e.g. white nectarines and peaches. As winter crops begin to flood the markets, one of my all time favorites, butternut squash, will sit next to heirloom tomatoes and basil. This can, in a twisted culinary craw such as mine, conjure a salad of roasted butternut tossed with said tomatoes and basil, drizzled with fresh pressed olive oil and plopped chunks of fresh mozzarella, all doused in balsamic glaze and eaten at room temperature with grilled fish and a glass of sharp, crisp white wine.
Unquestionably, autumn’s sneaky, most delightful surprise is that it is peak season for peppers. Newer to the table, Guindilla peppers hail from the Northwestern Basque region, flow south to La Rioja region of Spain, and even spread over to Bilbao towards the amazingly beautiful coast, growing in lush fields and providing a main staple in Spanish fare. Unlike Padron peppers, eating Guindilla’s is not like Russian roulette, waiting for that one incendiary pepper to blow your head off. Extremely similar in flavor, these lovely, long, thin, squiggly, bright yellow-green peppers have the entire piquant, crazy addicting flavor palette of the Padron, without the chance of incinerating your taste buds. Farmers in Northern California began growing Guindilla peppers specifically to provide aficionados of the Padron with a safer version of an incredible tasting pepper to consume. Guindilla peppers are quite simple to grow in your own backyard if you are really on a pepper mission. Plant pepper plants in loamy, well fed soil in late spring for an early autumn harvest.
Grassy tasting and packed with mysterious pimento characteristics, these peppers make a fabulous addition to most dishes, but as with the Padron, simplistic prep is best. Heat a sauté pan, adding olive oil as it heats, and get that pretty hot, but not smoking. Carefully place peppers in, totally whole, clean and dry, and let them brown and blister well on all sides before cracking sea salt over them and removing from heat. Eat as soon as possible, holding the stem and putting the rest into your mouth. Discard the stems. Prepare to eat and serve a lot. Not inexpensive for sure, mostly six to seven bucks a pound, but worth every penny as well as very impressive to other food freaks at a party. Classic Spanish Gambas Al Pil-Pil takes on a gracious articulation with the addition of the Guindilla. Sauté copious amounts of chopped garlic in olive oil, add chopped raw pepper to caramelize a bit before throwing in prawns to pink up, and hit with lemon juice and salt, deepening a salient relationship with the esteemed capsicum. Cover a bowl of peppers laced with sliced onions with hot rice vinegar and enrich with a dollop of honey, leaving to macerate for a bit purposely to provoke an emerging, brilliant, pepper pickle condiment. Chopped in entirety raw and added to soups and stews will perk up early autumn fare sans the tongues on fire.
Fresh Kale Salad w/ Stone Fruits and Cherry Tomatoes
1 large bunch kale of any kind, sliced and washed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 to 2 lemons
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
2 stone fruits, chopped
1 bunch green onions, sliced
Sea salt and pepper to taste or Braggs Amino Acids to taste
Toss kale, tomatoes, fruits and green onions in a large salad bowl. Drizzle on lemon juice, zest, and olive oil and toss well. Season w/ Braggs or salt. Let sit a few minutes to gently “cook” the kale for a few minutes or up to an hour before serving. Serves 4 to 6.