I owe The Carnivore an apology. Please don't tell him I said so, of course, because I was mighty cranky with him recently when he made a crack about my Squash Ribbons, but it is because of that precise incident that I have discovered the best, most divine, end of summer dish.
We grow weary here at the cusp of Fall as I bring home the same basket of goodies each week from the farmer's market. Corn on the cob, green beans, squash, potatoes, all the vegetables that make you sing with joy in July can become somewhat cumbersome by September. The vacation fun is over, the pool is closed, the noise of football is ubiquitous, and the heat is just beginning to break, but the garden still coughs up the same old things.
Don't get me wrong. I could eat corn and beans and the like all year long if they were available, and I'm already getting hinky about the approaching season-end for these most beloved of vegetables, but I get in a rut this time of year and just plain stop trying new ways of cooking this produce. I trot out the same recipes week after week without realizing it, still appreciating the simple flavors of these fresh-picked, locally grown veggies, and before I have even noticed it, we're all just the slightest bit bored with the platters of food that keep showing up at the dinner table.
Turns out though that The Carnivore hits that threshold a little earlier than the rest of us, and when he hits it, it is quite a collision. This past Saturday, just a wee bit weary from waking up earlier than I would have preferred in order to high-tail it to the farmer's market before rushing off to The Big Boy's soccer practice which was then followed by a six year old's birthday party, I put what I thought was a remarkable feast on the table, given the circumstances. We had brown rice, Bitter Greens with Sweet Onions and Tart Cheese, Squash Ribbons with Red Onion and Pecorino Romano, and fresh Texas Pinkeye beans that I had simmered in vegetable broth and smoked paprika.
I slipped into my seat at the table happy as a clam, my plate piled high with vegetables purchased directly from the farmers that very day, and dug in enthusiastically. But I barely had the first bite in my mouth when The Carnivore picked up his fork, looked down at his plate, and grumbled, "I sure will be happy when I see the last of these squash ribbons."
Oh. No. He. Didn't.
"More for me," I blinked furiously, pushing his serving onto my plate with the back of my fork, muttering about passive-agressiveness and complaining bitterly about having to say a temporary goodbye to one of my favorite side dishes.
He tried to backpedal a little, saying it wasn't that he didn't LIKE that particular dish, just that he was sick of having it so often, but the damage had already been done and I was crushed. The truth is, we had been eating squash ribbons so often because we'd already gotten tired of the grilling and sauteeing options, and even though we both adore the squash casserole recipe that I use, it's a little too, well, casserole-like to have too frequently.
I was stumped. And there was still another two pounds of Zephyr yellow squash in the crisper drawer.
Last night, after eating Spicy Corn on the Cob and Crispy Flattened Potatoes yet again, I realized I was ready to admit that The Carnivore might have a point. If even those addictive potatoes had become routine, it was time to get a little more creative around here. It was time to go index cruising. So I pulled out the stepladder and ascended to the top of the cookbook shelves where I pulled down the usual suspects: Deborah Madison, Mollie Katzen, Moosewood Restaurant, Chez Panisse. I came up empty the first go-round, but then I noticed the Hay Day Country Market Cookbook, a ten year old book that my mother had found for me at a yard sale and which had languished, forgotten, under a pile of cookbooks on the top shelf. I felt a little silly when I happened upon it, and was appalled that I hadn't yet flipped through it. The book was put together by the people who began a very popular farm stand market in New England and who have long preached the now-familiar sermons about local and seasonal produce.
The book is filled with gorgeous line drawings and is printed in very visually-pleasing maroon and green ink colors. First and foremost, a cookbook must LOOK yummy, you know? And there are tips galore for working with different fresh vegetables along with a very diverse, yet entirely approachable collection of recipes to try. I think I've found my newest favorite summer cookbook. And, lo and behold, when I flipped through the index to see what I could find for yellow squash, I lucked into a Summer Vegetable Risotto under the Vegetable Entrees heading.
I love risotto. Love, adore, treasure, and hold dear. And this recipe, oh my glorious stars, it called for all manner of summer bounty. I made a few very minor tweaks to the recipe, and used some just-picked peppers, basil and tomatoes from my mother's garden along with the squash I'd been so worried about, to put this together for tonight's dinner.
I had a few nagging doubts about the recipe, not the least of which was the tomatoes, which made me more than a little nervous because I was afraid they would overpower the other flavors and turn the rice an odd shade of pink, but my worries were for naught. This dish was everything I love about risotto and much, much more. It was warm and creamy and a little bit rich, but had a subtle vibrancy of flavor from the fresh vegetables, and a glorious counterpoint in texture when garnished with some toasted slivered almonds.
The Carnivore agreed it was most delicious, and went back for seconds. Even The Semi-Permanent Houseguest, who generally eschews all forms of vegetables, ended up devouring his helping. The individual vegetables didn't try too hard to each be the star of the dish; instead the flavors melded together seamlessly, with only the bell peppers asserting themselves ever so slightly.
I think I'm in love.
SUMMER VEGETABLE RISOTTO (adapted from Hay Day Country Market Cookbook, serves 4 as a vegetarian entree)
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 large bell pepper (I used three little purple bells), stemmed, seeded and diced
- 2 cups diced summer squash
- 1 cup diced peeled fresh tomatoes
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 - 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves, shredded
- coarsely ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted (stir in a skillet over medium heat for 2-3 minutes to toast)
- In a small saucepan, bring the broth to a gentle simmer over low to medium heat.
- Combine the bell pepper, squash and tomatoes in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt, toss, and set aside. Do not be alarmed if the tomatoes ooze some juice - it will help to develop the flavors of the risotto.
- Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion to the pan and saute until tender, about 5 minutes.
- Add the rice to the pan and stir quickly to coat the rice with the olive oil.
- Add 1 cup of the simmering vegetable broth and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has been nearly completely absorbed.
- Add one-third of the diced vegetables to the pan, along with another cup of broth, and cook, stirring often, until liquid is mostly gone again.
- Repeat with another 1/3 of veggies and another cup of broth, stirring until broth is again absorbed.
- Repeat one last time, with the remaining vegetables and the remaining broth, stirring constantly until broth is mostly absorbed.
- Taste the risotto - if rice is al dente, the risotto is fully cooked and the heat can be turned off. (If the rice is not yet done, add 1/4 cup of water and stir constantly again until liquid is absorbed. Keep adding water, by the scant 1/4 cup, until rice is done.) Total cooking time will be 20 to 30 minutes, and will most likely not require the addition of any water at all.
- Stir in the Parmesan and nearly all of the basil, about a 1/2 tsp of pepper, and taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed.
- Serve immediately, topped with remaining basil and the toasted almonds.
Check out The Farmer's Market Report to find out what some other local eaters are finding at their markets.