A Whiff of Smoke And Autumn Is Here

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Roasting To Boost Flavor

This was not the best year for many crops, but my, the peas were good. In fact, I’m still getting some from the August planting, which faltered in the belated, sudden heat, but are now having a second wind. Squash are still productive (of course), and my neighbor Mary harvested eight small but mighty cantaloupe, so ripe the whole field smelled like fragrant fruit.

My late beans are getting past their best, and I find that roasting now brings out their flavor better than steaming or stir-frying.  Best of all is roasting them over an open fire made with apple wood (pruning scraps) and/or rosemary trimmings. The smoke gives everything a delicious, mysterious savor (good with fish too).

The Spring And Fall of Peas

I’m always happy when the pea season stretches out. When I was an art student in Italy, a simple dish of peas and rice was my springtime favorite, and it’s still lovely with late peas. Fluffy rice is served very hot with a peppery sauce of clotted cream, garlic chives, and glossy green young peas, barely cooked. If clotted cream is hard to come by, try a cultured sour cream like Nancy’s, but don’t substitute yogurt, because it will dominate the delicate flavor of the young peas.

If your garden or market doesn’t offer garlic chives, use the fresh green tips of growing garlic. You can also substitute regular chives, though the distinctive bite of the garlic will be lost. If none of the above are to be found, use a small clove of garlic.

Risi Bisi

1 cup raw shortgrain brown rice
2 cups new peas OR snow peas (about 1 pound)
2 sprigs fresh spearmint  (any mint will do, really)
1 bunch fresh garlic chives  OR 1 small clove garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons fruity olive oil
1 dried pepperoncini or chile pepper
1 cup clotted or sour cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

Cook rice according to directions on packet. Shell the peas (rinse and string snowpeas) and set aside. Rinse the herbs, setting aside a small bunch of garlic chives sprigs for garnish. Stem the mint and mince about a teaspoon of mint foliage with the remaining garlic chives (you should have about 2 tablespoons of minced chive foliage). When rice is done, top it with the peas, return the cover and steam peas over the rice for 2-3 minutes. Peas should lose their raw flavor but remain plump and bright green. Heat the oil in a small saucepan and sizzle the dried pepper over medium heat until lightly brown on all sides. Discard pepper, add  minced herbs and stir for 15 or 20 seconds. Stir in sour cream and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set peas aside briefly while you turn the rice into a serving dish. Top rice with sauce, add peas and garnish with garlic chives. Serve immediately. Serves four.

Roast Anything and Everything

We can emphasize the complex natural flavors of almost anything with slow roasting. Sweet potatoes, for instance, can taste sticky-sweet when boiled and mashed. Roasted with herbs and spices, they take on savory flavors as well as developing a deliciously crisp crust.

Savory Roasted Roots

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon corinder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large carrots, cut in quarters lengthwise
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths lengthwise
2 white or yellow onions, peeled and quartered

Place the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat oven to 500 degrees F. In a bowl, combine oil with next 5 ingredients, reserving half the salt. Gently toss vegetables in
oil mixture and arrange in a single layer (without touching)  in a roasting pan. Bake for 10 minutes, turn everything over and continue roasting until crisp and brown (5-10 minutes). Serve hot, sprinkled with remaining salt. Serves four.

Magic Mushrooms

Our local mushrooms are just staring to appear, now that the rains are returning. In the meantime, we can add savor to the big fat supermarket Portobellos by slow roasting them. Roasted Portobello Mushrooms are fabulous as an entree and leftovers make an exceptional soup. Offer these luscious treats with a tossed green salad and hot rolls or serve them like burgers in whole grain buns.

Roasted Portobello Mushrooms

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon rosemary, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 large Portobello mushrooms, stemmed

Place the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat oven to 500 degrees F. In a bowl, combine oil, shallot, rosemary, salt and cayenne and let stand 5 minutes. Brush over mushroom caps on both sides, then place them gill-side-down (without touching) in a roasting pan. Roast for 5 minutes, turn each cap and roast until soft (5-7 minutes). Serve hot or cold. Serves 4-6.

Roasted Portobello Soup

2 teaspoons virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fennel or cumin seed
1 onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 Roasted Portobello Mushrooms (see above), chopped
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
2 green onions, finely sliced

In a soup pot, heat oil, garlic, and seeds over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add onion, sprinkle with salt and cook for 5 minutes. Add celery and carrot, stir to coat, cover pan and cook until juices run (3-5 minutes). Add chopped mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Add broth, bring to a simmer and puree in small batches to desired consistency. Serve hot, garnished with green onions. Serves 4.

Something Good To Make With Squash

I’ve recently been asked for a recipe for Roasted Squash And Apple Soup. This very flavorful version is welcome during the holidays, when lush richness without a lot of extra fat is appreciated by all.

Roasted Squash And Apple Soup

1 butternut or acorn squash, peeled and cut in 2 inch pieces
3 Granny Smith or Braeburn apples, cored and cut in wedges
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons rice oil (or safflower oil)
6 cloves garlic, whole
2 cups unsweetened apple cider (fresh if possible)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup organic cream, whipped or sour cream (nonfat works fine)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Rub squash, apples, and onion with half the oil and place with garlic in a single layer (not touching) in a roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes, turn each piece and roast for 10 minutes. In a soup pot, heat remaining oil with roasted garlic, peeled and chopped. Chop remaining vegetables, add to pan with cider and salt and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Cover pan, reduce heat to low and simmer until squash is very tender (15-20 minutes). Add broth and pepper, bring to a simmer and puree in small batches to desired consistency. Serve hot, garnished with cream. Serves 4.

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