Cooks must transition with the seasons — summer to fall

Adrienne Freeman Originally Published September 5, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 4, 2013 at 2:27 p.m.
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Adrienne Freeman

Summer, winter and “keepers” are all terms used for squash varieties, but they are based on current usage, not on the growing season. Zucchini and yellow, or crookneck, are called “summer squash,” yet they are on the market virtually year-round. Acorn, butternut (shown), spaghetti and other more gourd-like varieties are referred to as “winter squash,” yet they are marketed in late summer and fall, as well as winter. These types are also called “good keepers,” referring to vegetables that will “keep” through the cold winter.

Did you get the memo? Summer is over. Labor Day has come and gone. The calendar page tells us that students in new shoes are fresh-scrubbed for class, football season is at its ever-hopeful start, and some merchants have early displays of goblins and ghosts that signal the next celebration. But the message to Mother Nature seems to be marked “Return to Sender.”

This time of year is often a difficult one for cooks. We can be so tired of all the limited summer meals that don’t overheat the kitchen or the constitution. Another piece of grilled chicken? Another salad? Here are several tips that can help the transition into fall and make use of the delicious vegetables in season, while still keeping an eye on the waning days of an overheated thermometer.

Apples, pears and winter squash are some of the seasonal ingredients appearing in produce bins. The term “summer” and “winter” for squash are only based on current usage, not on actuality. “Summer” types are on the market all winter; and “winter” types are on the markets in the late summer and fall — as well as winter. Thus, the terms “summer” and “winter” are deceptive and confusing. This terminology dates back to a time when the seasons were more crucial to man’s survival than they are now. “Good keepers” became known as “winter” vegetables, meaning they would “keep” until December.

Pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut and spaghetti squash, as well as the more familiar zucchini and yellow squash, are in abundance. Actually, every piece of the squash can be eaten. Small tender varieties can be roasted, seasoned and eaten whole. The large, sometimes intimidating spaghetti squash, after being oiled and baked in the oven, yields a succulent, noodle-like texture, has an excellent flavor and can be served either as an entrée or as a side dish.

A big, warm bowl of soup certainly hits the spot when there is a nip in the air, but even lighter soups can seem too heavy for the transition period from summer to fall. Instead of serving heavier versions, simply start by serving a small cup as an appetizer, or partner soup with a salad. Pumpkin, sweet-potato and winter-squash soups are a good start, and as the heat begins to wane, lean toward chicken and wild rice, broccoli and potato, and beefy varieties. Eventually, cradling that bone-warming bowl will satisfy all your cravings.

PARMESAN ROASTED ACORN SQUASH

Ingredients:

1 2-pound acorn squash—halved, seeded and sliced 3/4 inch thick

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 sprigs fresh thyme or 2 tablespoons dried thyme

Kosher salt and black pepper

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Directions:

Heat oven to 400 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with the oil, thyme, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle with the Parmesan.

Roast the squash until golden brown and tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

This velvety soup has no cream and just a small amount of butter. Buttermilk adds richness and complexity, and brightens the sweetness of the squash.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 ½ cups chopped onion (about 1 medium onion)

3 large cloves garlic, minced

5 ½ cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

8 cups peeled butternut squash, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 pounds)

1 ¼ teaspoons dried rubbed sage

1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled

1/3 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon light-brown sugar

Directions:

Melt the butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; then season with salt and pepper. Cook until onion is tender, but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the broth, squash, sage and thyme, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until squash is very tender, about 20 minutes.

Puree with an immersion blender, or puree in a regular blender, working in batches, until smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan and reheat gently. Stir in the buttermilk and brown sugar, and bring to a simmer. Do not boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

FRESH APPLE CAKE

A reader, Mrs. Skinner, wrote in from Jacksonville about the great flavor and versatility of Arkansas Black apples. They are great “keepers” and get their name from the fact that they are dark on the tree and take on a dark burgundy or almost black color when stored.

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons sugar

3 cups sugar (divided use)

3 teaspoons cinnamon (divided use)

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

3 eggs

3 cups Arkansas Black apples (or other tart baking variety)

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup chopped pecans

½ cup raisins, soaked

¼ cup rum or 2 tablespoons rum extract mixed with ¼ cup hot water

1 can commercially prepared frosting (Vanilla, coconut or spice flavors work great.)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Soak raisins in rum or rum-extract mixture.

Grease a 10-inch tube pan, and combine 3 tablespoons sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon; coat pan with sugar mixture.

Mix flour, soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon; set aside. Beat oil and sugar until blended. Beat in eggs, one at a time; then stir in apples and vanilla. Add flour mixture until blended; stir in pecans and drained, soaked raisins.

Pour into prepared pan. Tap pan on the counter to release bubbles.

Bake 90 to 100 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on rack 15 minutes, remove from pan, and frost as desired.

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