Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tastes Like Summer

Apparently, I haven’t been paying very careful attention to the seasons. I live in The South, you see, where we tend to sweat on Thanksgiving, complain bitterly in early February when the afternoon temperatures refuse to reach sixty degrees, and all don our bathing suits on the first hot day in March (even though we've been known to have blizzards before March is over).

There have been signs that summer was coming to an end. The heat has finally broken here, and I think I even made it through the whole day today without choking on the still, humid air that’s been hovering so oppressively for the past three months or so. I mean, I knew it was ‘late summer,’ as I like to refer to the month or two following the end of berry season, and I was well aware that school had started back in session, but I hadn’t gotten anywhere close to putting away the flip-flops so it was with no small measure of alarm that I reacted to the news that the first day of Autumn is next week.

Next week? And here I thought I was so attuned to seasonal eating, yet I had absolutely no idea that I should start looking ahead for some new sweet potato recipes. Corn is on it’s way out, the figs are long gone, squash is getting harder to come by, I can’t find a local fresh onion to save my life, and the first day of Fall is on Monday?

Aaarrgghh.

My refrigerator and countertops are flush with summer produce at the moment, so there truly isn’t much call for panic yet. Just a couple of days ago, I picked up green tomatoes, mushrooms, okra, garlic, Swiss chard, pole beans, potatoes, spinach, zucchini, and corn from Locally Grown so it still looks like summer in my kitchen. And Friday, in a desperate quest to calm my anxiety over the approaching shortening of the daylight, I made it my mission during menu-planning to make the next few evening’s dinners taste like summer as well.

I’m still sitting atop a fairly intimidating stack of recipes for summer produce and I want to wade through as many of these as possible before I have to pack these away into a folder for next year like so many swimsuits. And even though I said there was no need to panic, the truth is, I’m suffering near-anxiety attacks at the moment. Even with the afore-mentioned pile of vegetables in my house, I still got up a little ahead of the crack of dawn this morning to hit the farmer’s market and snap up whatever else I could still get my greedy little hands on.

There wasn’t a single piece of yellow squash in sight, and the last few ears of corn, which I madly stuffed into my tote bag, were looking a little worse for the wear. I did score some whole-wheat sourdough bread from Luna Baking Corp which set my senses afire, and I happened upon some lovely yellow and red bell peppers that I stocked up on as well, but the end of summer is clearly staring me down right now.

I’m coming undone, I tell you. And frankly, I’m wasting time here imitating the rabbit from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland when what I should be doing is sharing the last of my summer recipes, right? There’s just no time to waste.

Today, with a discordant array of vegetables in stupendous enough quantities that I can’t really drag my feet on cooking them, I scrabbled around for a recipe that would use the widest variety and I stumbled upon a recent Cooking Light offering for a Corn and Summer Vegetable Saute (note please how much lovelier their photo is than mine). To be sure, it seemed entirely too simplistic for my taste, but since I will be subsisting on the slightly less-flavorful frozen vegetables in a month or so, this is the perfect time of year to tread lightly and let these sweet veggies stand on their own. And let’s be honest, I’m always wary of new recipes and yet most of the time, I’m pleasantly surprised.

This evening, along with Mushrooms with Mozzarella using local shitake mushrooms, and Italian Egg Sandwiches made using local eggs and that glorious whole-wheat sourdough bread that rocked my whole world, I quickly threw together the vegetable sauté dish and was nearly knocked over by the simple beauty and purity of taste. It was flat out scrumptious, and frankly I can’t figure out exactly why. There was nothing unexpected, no exotic amalgam of spices, no complicated techniques, just a few fresh vegetables sautéed in olive oil and a little bit of garlic, tossed with fresh herbs and seasoned with salt and pepper. Simple, in the best sense of the word.

But you’ll have to hurry. Unless you live in Florida or California, you’ll have a most difficult time finding fresh vegetables of this caliber for much longer.

*****

SUMMER VEGETABLE SAUTE (adapted from Cooking Light, serves 4 as a side dish)
  • 2 to 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions (about 4)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup sliced fresh okra (about 4 ounces, sliced 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick)
  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels (from about 2 ears)
  • 12 ounces cooked black beans (or a 15-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  1. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onions and garlic to skillet; saute for 1 minute.
  3. Add okra to skillet; saute for 3 minutes, letting it char in spots (yum).
  4. Reduce heat to medium and add bell pepper and jalapeno to skillet; cook 5 minutes, adding more oil by tablespoonsful if needed.
  5. Add corn; cook 5 minutes (adding oil if needed), allowing corn to char in spots.
  6. Add beans to skillet and cook for another 2 minutes, or until beans are heated through.
  7. Remove from heat, stir in parsley, a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of pepper. Taste and add more salt & pepper if needed.

8 comments:

Zoë said...

Mmm, I made this...minus the okra since I didn't have any and I don't think we like it. But I, too, thought it delicious and so did my baby. Maybe that's cuz I added a pat of butter at the end...who knows :)

Sarah Beam said...

Zoe - there's just nothing like a pat of butter, hmmm? I recommend you try this with the okra. It isn't as noticeable as you might think it would be and is a nice way to introduce it into your diet with less offense than, say, a big basket of fried okra (not that there's anything wrong with that). My baby loved this too.

alexandra's kitchen said...

I am always surprised by Cooking Light recipes, and I think simple recipes are often the best. This saute sounds simply delicious! I live in CA, so I am fortunate to have a wonderful farmers' market year-round, but I still get excited/sad about the beginnings/end of seaonal specialties.

Sarah Beam said...

Alexandra, we are signing up for the Eat Local Challenge and I've got to tell you, living in CA would make life much easier. Matter of fact, if I lived anywhere but here in GA, it would be California.

Candy said...

Heading to the Columbia Farmer's market this afternoon. They started a local Farmer's Market at University of South Carolina this week to get the students to start eating healthier. Not sure if they'll spend their beer money on produce though!

Sarah Beam said...

Candy - it's so great to hear of weekday farmer's markets. 'Round here, you've got to get up at the crack of dawn on Saturdays.

Meg an Aggie in Frisco said...

Sarah,

I have to say... Your mushroom and cheese bake is so good. I made them this weekend. YUM, I did not have bread to sop up the liquid, so I took it all for myself and poured it on my baked potato. Next time I will add some parmesan cheese to the mix. Still cant wait to try the crispy potatoes. Thank you.

Sarah Beam said...

Honest to goodness, Meg, now you went and brought up those mushrooms and I can't think of anything else. Might have to throw some in the oven right now...