I was actually planning to write a post about making the most out of what’s left in season and in the market at October comes to a close, and we see November baring its teeth. I thought about this as a subject sometime on Friday. Saturday morning came around, cold, windy and rainy and only confirmed my inclinations. The usual parade of game-day types trudged by our house toward the stadium, looking embattled in their ponchos and plastic bags (and, despite the Wolverine’s forward momentum, an unusual number of them trudged back at half-time, clearly defeated by the weather if not the Golden Gophers). All that ridiculous lingering sunshine and warmth is done with; it’s high time to move on to a steady diet of root vegetables and assorted starches.
But the market took me by surprise. The less hardy members of the family opted to stay home and read books and take baths, while Nick and I (made of sterner stuff) put on our boots and rain slickers and headed out to see what we could see. Which, it turns out, was quite a lot. Yes, there were many squashes and the odd celery root and rather intimidating daikon radishes, but there was a whole lot that seemed more like summer than fall. TheTantre Farms stand alone went on-and-on and plumb in the middle, miraculously, were small baskets of fresh strawberries (cause for Nick to come close to hyperventilation — the next half hour was punctuated by insistent cries of “Mama — the berries! The berries, Mama!” — Mama didn’t have the cash on hand).
It turned out that the limits on what I brought home were imposed by my relatively small budget (end of the month and thus end of the pay period), by the number of days in the week and by my imagination, not what could be bought. I came home with spinach, arugula, lettuce, some rather medicinally named “vitamin greens,” apples, leeks, potatoes, and onions, and really, there could have been so much more. I’ve got an uneasy feeling that we have global warming to thank for all this abundance, but after so many winters of deprivation, it’s hard not to be enthused.
So there was nice fall cooking around here this weekend: some red cabbage cooked down with maple syrup and ginger and a lightly fried egg on top; a veal shoulder braised in sherry with figs served with butternut squash puree; grilled salmon on a bed of spinach wilted with warm balsamic vinaigrette and then tossed with pine nuts and golden raisins. Oh, and Sunday breakfast? Chocolate chunk sour-dough rolls have returned to Zingerman’s and, preferably toasted and smeared with butter, they are one of the best things in the world with a strong cup of coffee and the Sunday Times.
All that said, the swings in the weather and the continuing presence of things like good tomatoes and flavorful peppers have made me think a bit outside the usual fall cooking box. I keep wanting dishes that have some of the bright clear flavors of summer but that are hearty enough to fight off the night time chill. The pasta pepperonata that I made earlier this week meets both criteria. It’s easy enough for a weeknight, as long as you don’t mind hanging around the kitchen a bit, it takes advantage of the fact that the frost hasn’t gotten to the fresh herbs yet, and with a salad and some bread, it makes you feel like you’ve had some dinner. Still lots of peppers in the market. Get them while you can. It was twenty-six when I woke up this morning, so that may not be very much longer.
Pasta Pepperonata (feeds about four medium appetites)
3 T Olive oil
1 T butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped (peeled if you’re fussy)
A combination of 3 large red, yellow and green peppers, seeded and chopped into strips
2-3 T red wine vinegar
1 T honey
Some basil and oregano — fresh is better, but a teaspoon or so each of dried will do
Pepper and Parmesan cheese
Heat the olive oil and butter. Ann the onions and garlic and sauté briefly until the onions are soft (about five minutes). Add peppers and saute for another five minutes until peppers are softened. Add wine vinegar, honey, pepper and herbs. Cover and simmer over low heat for almost ten minutes. Add tomatoes, cover partially and cook another ten minutes until aromatic. If a good bit of liquid has accumulated, uncover and cook over medium high heat until some has evaporated. Serve over pasta. (First toss the noodles with butter and Parmesan cheese. I prefer penne with this, but then I prefer penne with most things.)