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October’s Transitional Season

October 03, 2011 | Tags: Deborah Madison , Food , Vegetables | Post comment

October’s Transitional Season

October is a beautiful month everywhere in the world, and it’s another beautiful month as far as vegetables go, too.  It’s a transitional season, meaning that just when you begin to get winter squash, cauliflower, broccoli and grains coming into view, you’ll also be seeing the last of the tomatoes, basil, peppers, and even eggplants, at least until the first freeze.  In fact it’s a time when almost everything is in season, except maybe peas and asparagus.

The fall crop of artichokes comes on. Jerusalem artichokes start to appear in the market, and they make a wonderful autumnal soup and roasted vegetable. Radicchio and other chicories are looking robust now, too, gaining their cold-weather sweetness.  In fact all these vegetables are in the same botanical family, the daisy family, and they tend to have a little bitterness, but cold weather sweetens them up as does cooking them.

A cauliflower of magnificent heft astounded me at our farmers market recently. I bought one that weighed almost four pounds. It took up an entire dinner plate and the curds were perfect. I used it in many ways because there was so much of it, but one thing you can do with such a large cauliflower is to take a few slices from the middle, which are very attractive when roasted in the oven. Even so you’ll only get 3 slices. But you can also slice the large side shoots to roast.  I did both to make a dish of the roasted cauliflower, a spicy tomato sauce, some crumbles of feta cheese and a few sautéed wild, frozen shrimp for an evening meal.

Broccoli was present too, but unlike the cauliflower, in very diminutive form – small heads, narrow stems and brilliant green color. When I went to peel the stems I didn’t even have to dig down to make the stalks edible and free of fiber, but just took off the surface – it was that young and fresh. And in honor of this transitional season I made a salad with it, steamed lightly, and then paired it with the last of the tomatoes and basil, plus mustardy vinaigrette.

Greens return in the fall after taking a break from hot weather, and the infamous kale is likely to be in your CSA box if you belong to one and if not, certainly at the store or farmers market. It should be sweet and tender right now. As with other vegetables, cold weather improves the flavor and makes it better, a good thing because kale is such an amazing powerhouse of a vegetable, With the emphasis on grains this month in the discussion, I wanted to include one in a dish that sounds stodgy but isn’t at all —A Barley and Kale Gratin, thus working in that bunch of kale. The kale is pureed, added to the barley, making in the end, a main dish gratin that’s a delicate shade of green. There’s no cream, only a béchamel sauce to bind it, which is good to know how to make as it can often replace cream in dishes.

Winter squash is making its appearance too, but I’m going to wait until November to talk about it.  It’s one of the most versatile winter vegetables, but one that we eat for so many months that I don’t want to jump the gun, as much as I adore it. In fact, there’s still plenty of summer squash at the market, right now. But I will say this: some groceries, such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, sell some really fine eating squashes for Halloween pumpkins, and at a very good price. Keep your eye open for these two: Rouge vif d’Etampes and Musquee de Provence. Both are large, deeply furrowed squash that are exceptionally handsome (and good to eat!). The Rouge vif d’Etampes, which is a vivid red orange, also goes by the name “Cinderella Pumpkin”.

Lastly, DO save room for dessert. The east coast has some of the most splendid apples available anywhere, including many fine heritage apples and among them, some known as dessert apples, such as Cox’s Orange Pippin and Ashmead’s Kernel. I was in the Boston area last year at this time and I came home with a suitcase filled with apples from one of the farmers’ markets because they were so remarkably good and alive with interesting flavors and nuance. Real fall apples are truly worth seeking out, whether they’re heritage apples or a more modern variety. These are apples that are good enough to enjoy for dessert —not in a pie, not in a crisp, not with butter and sugar, but just sliced and eaten solely on their own. You might want to include some walnuts to enjoy with them, and a small piece of good quality cheese, like an aged Gouda or cheddar. As fruit is part of a health supporting way of eating, your local apples will make the most perfect dessert. Be sure to taste apples at the market and even ask questions, like what will happen as they age. Some apples, especially the dessert varieties, actually improve weeks after they’ve been picked.

A Happy October to All!