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The Full Yield Blog

September: A Great Time for Vegetables

August 29, 2011 | Tags: Deborah Madison , Food , Vegetables | Post comment

September: A Great Time for Vegetables

Usually, local foods and their seasons vary from place to place, with warm winter states like Arizona and California leading the charge and Alaska coming in last. But September is a month when we’re all pretty much in synch and enjoying the same foods no matter where we are. It’s a great time for vegetables.

During September, and even into October, produce is abundant and delicious.  Hot weather vegetables, like tomatoes, eggplants, summer squash (actually fruits) are at their best. Summer potatoes, freshly dug with paper skins, are nothing like winter storage potatoes. Corn is in season for part of that time and this is when it’s going to be really worth enjoying.  Carrots are big and colorful, not just orange, but purple skinned and yellow. Peppers and chiles too are at their sweet and crisp prime. In the herb department, fragrant basil is plentiful. Garlic is hard and not yet sprouting. And there are usually those perennial greens on hand, like chard, and as the weather cools a bit, spinach and lettuce should be returning.

While you’ll find these foods in your supermarket, this is one time you want to get to a farmers’ market. Why? Because in general, these foods don’t like to travel, nor do they like to be chilled. The nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) are essentially tropical fruits and they don’t want to go in a refrigerator.  Potatoes, like the unusual but delicious butter-yellow fingerlings, should be eaten shortly after you get them. In fact, they’re hard to store. After even a week in a paper bag in a dark drawer they begin to turn green (and you don’t want to eat the green parts.)  Local peppers aren’t going to be waxed, and the same is true of all the different kinds of cucumbers you’ll find at the market. (Most produce that is shipped long distances is treated with something to retard sprouting and greening and general spoilage.) And purslane, which is relatively high in omega-3s  (and which makes a very nice salad with cucumbers and a lemon-olive oil dressing), is something you may well find at your farmers market, but not the supermarket. Another bonus is that you’ll find varieties of tomatoes, peppers cucumbers, potatoes – whatever – that may be new and exciting for you to try.

If you have a garden (or are a farmers market shopper), you might be drowning in eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers. (I know that I am.) The good news is that there are hundreds of ways to put these vegetables together. A ratatouille is but one of many traditional dishes that combine these vegetables in one dish. You can also mix them up in gratins, pastas, sandwiches, and soups—even salads. Eggplant rounds might be grilled (indoors or out) then stacked with rounds of tomatoes, layered with slivers of garlic and basil leaves.  All these vegetables can be grilled, arranged on a platter, and served with any number of green-herb sauces (salsa verdes) or just a few drops of vinegar. But of course, they are also beautiful to serve singly. A platter of grilled eggplants or roasted onions in their skins makes a handsome side dish. Throw an eggplant on the grill and let it char and wither, and you have the makings of a spectacular smoky baba ghanoush. Stuff a red or orange pepper with black quinoa for a striking main dish. Sliced tomatoes of different colors with torn basil leaves, sea salt and olive oil make one of the prettiest salads you can imagine.

These varied and colorful vegetables make it quite easy to eat a health supporting diet, at least where vegetables are concerned. And most can be eaten in the simplest ways –grilled, sliced, sautéed.  Partly because my garden is going crazy right now, my husband and I eat four or five vegetables in one form or another every night. It’s hard not to, actually.

Summer vegetables easily become side dishes to pair with grilled meats, fish or tofu—add a fresh herb-based sauce or grate a zucchini or sauté a pepper and combine it with eggs to make a frittata and you have a more protein dense food. Spread some ricotta cheese on toasted whole wheat bread and top it with sautéed summer squash or a chopped tomato and cucumber salad and it’s suddenly something more substantial than a side dish. This is the time of year to make a pasta with all the different tomatoes you can find, chopped, halved, quartered and cooked only by the heat of the pasta. And if you get a cool day, slice and layer eggplants, potatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions and tomatoes (interspersed with some ricotta or fresh mozzarella cheese), bake and enjoy as more complex mix.

Over the next few weeks I’ll offer a number of recipes that use some of this beautiful, end-of-the-summer produce in different ways— zucchini roasted with fingerling potatoes and cherry tomatoes, a pepper frittata, and a Labor Day spaghetti dish. A big late summer soup will bring all the players together.

Certainly, this is one of the best and easiest times for indulging in vegetables.

 

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