Fall produces its own bounty
It’s not hard to find inspiration at the farmers’ market on a warm summer evening. Juicy heirloom tomatoes, plump Sloughhouse corn, big bunches of green basil, aromatic and ripe nectarines, it’s all there, begging you to take it home and eat it with the bare minimum of prep work.
But I was reminded on a recent visit to a year-round market (under the freeway at Seventh and W streets in Sacramento) that fall produce has its own earthy pleasures. When it’s pouring rain for the sixth straight day, you want hearty comfort food, and that’s what you’re going to get if you buy fall produce.
Jewel tones of ruby and rainbow chard, pomegranates already split for your perusal and orange persimmons offer a rich palette of color, shape and texture. At one vendor’s stand, there are four varieties of yam and sweet potato, while another offers a good half-dozen varieties of squash – mind-blowing in their wild shapes and bright colors.
Dried lavender in bulk spills from one crate while nearby an enterprising farmer from Auburn offers roasted samples of his chestnuts. I manage to score three while we talk.
With some items, recipe ideas immediately spring to mind. One easy salad sprinkles pomegranate seeds, toasted walnuts, sliced pears and crumbled feta cheese over lightly dressed greens. This is an amazing combination of flavors. But other offerings are more difficult. Take those squash, for instance.
At Perry’s Gardens booth, you can choose from the familiar acorn and butternut, or be more adventurous and try the gaily striped turban, an enormous banana, the hideous-but-extremely-popular Sweet Mama kabocha or the pumpkin-like red curry squash. As John Perry notes, it’s the older generation that knows how to cook these squash. Younger folk like me often don’t have a clue.
One easy thing to do with a butternut or other sweet winter squash is to
make soup. Peel the squash and boil it until tender, then drain and mash with half-and-half and some sauteed onions. From there, use your imagination.
Add sauteed apples for a different layer of sweet, curry powder for spice or maybe some chopped cilantro.
I’m currently obsessed with making a variation of an absolutely amazing soup I tasted in Paris. The bowl arrived empty, with only a heap of chopped roasted chestnuts and frizzled pancetta. Just when I was thinking my French was rustier than I’d realized, the waitress swooped down with a little teapot and swirled a cream of Jerusalem artichoke into the bowl. Since sunchokes are hard to find, I thought a squash would do the trick.
And what about the yams? Most people don’t even know the difference between a yam and a sweet potato. Canisso Farms offers two varieties of each. According to Tracy Farlinger, the yams have a sweeter, moister flesh, while the sweet potatoes are more starchy.
I’m particularly intrigued by Kotobuki sweet potatoes, which Farlinger says have a less sweet, chestnut flavor. Most people will do little more than bake these tubers, although Farlinger tells me the Japanese who frequent the market use them for stir-frying.
Since enjoying roasted chestnuts every winter in Rome, I’ve been trying to recreate the experience, but my chestnuts always ended up charred and rubbery. Tim Boughton of Amber Oaks Farm taught me to cut the ends off, then boil the chestnuts for two minutes. Then roast them at the highest temperature possible, shaking the pan frequently until the shells are blackened.
If, like me, you need some help to kick-start your imagination, here are a couple of recipes that will do the trick.
Fennel and Acorn Squash Whip
(From Sheila Lukins’
One acorn squash
One fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped into one-inch pieces
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup orange juice
Salt and pepper
One tablespoon chives or parsley, chopped, for garnish
Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and cut into chunks.
Cook in boiling water until tender, about 10 minutes, and drain. Let cool and then skin with a paring knife. Cut into small cubes and set aside.
Cook the fennel in boiling water until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Melt the butter with the orange juice and cook for 2 minutes. Add the vegetables and cook 10 minutes, stirring. Puree in a blender or food
processor until smooth. Serve warm with garnish.
(From “Greene on Greens”)
Four large sweet potatoes
31/2 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
One tablespoon lime juice
Finely grated peel of one lime
3/4 teaspoon pepper
Two teaspoons butter, cut into bits
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly. Combine with cream, salt, ginger, lime juice and peel, and pepper in large pan. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Pour into a well-buttered shallow baking dish. Dot the surface with butter and bake about one hour or until lightly browned.
Liz Kellar, a resident of Union Hill, has cooked at brew pubs, four star bed-and-breakfast inns and university dining halls. She has catered intimate dinners for 20 and barbecues for 2,000. You can write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User