Monday, October 11, 2010

Eat, Drink, Cook: Squash-stuffing weather

This is when

The last sun-ripened tomatoes

Overlap with an abundance of

Winter squashes —

Seasons mingle

In the air, on the tongue.

Reluctantly it seems, the lingering summer is transitioning into fall, with air crisp as a cider apple and sufficiently chilly for stuffing winter squashes, in my case, a delicata from Venetucci Farm, with creamy mild flesh, tender and very edible skin (I never remove skins unless absolutely necessary: they contain fiber, nutrients and often flavor… plus, I’m lazy that way), festive yellow striping and made-for-two manageable size. To fill one squash, I cooked and crumbled a half pound of bulk ground beef from Ranch Foods Direct, also adding chopped onions and minced shallots, chunks of apple from a tree down the block, even a few crabapples (what can I say: it was an amazing fruit year and even the crabapples turned out plump and sweet.) After cooking the meat and transferring it to a mixing bowl, I added grated sharp cheddar, also from Ranch Foods Direct, along with hunks of a good Swiss, and seasoned it with chopped sage and rosemary along with the salt and pepper, then placed it in the cavity of the halved delicata to bake for about 30 minutes. (I baked the squash in an inch of water in the oven for about 40 minutes before assembling.) What pleasure to experience the smell and flavor of this all-in-one dish that allows you to use what you have on hand and what you especially like. (Another variation for right now: slow roasted tomatoes and the last of the season’s basil with spaghetti squash.)

This is the season of abundance, and urgency. The temperature suddenly dives, and it’s a reminder that ripeness peaks, the days of the year are numbered, darkness is gathering in each day’s corners.

There’s an antidote to seasonal angst: Preserve It! — a big, gorgeous book that describes how to use natural preservatives like salt, sugar, olive oil, vinegar and alcohol to extend the useful life of fruits, vegetables and even meats. I prefer not to stand over a heavy steaming water bath for hours (especially when it’s possible to get good quality frozen and even canned produce) but lazy cook that I am, I can still find intriguing options in these pages, for example, a red onion marmalade, oven-dried tomatoes or apple rings, basil ice cubes or candied fruit peel. It covers a broad spectrum of possibilities, from home brewing to making sausage or sauerkraut.

If nothing else, I love looking at these bright glossy pictures, imagining today’s treasures preserved like jewels and then rediscovered and celebrated while the earth is still cold and bland. Apparently, I’m not alone. During last week’s The Splendid Table radio program, host Lynne Rossetto Kasper examined the national phenomenon of group canning sessions and the emergence of “Canning Across America,” an organized effort to “revive the long lost art of putting up food.” If you are so inclined, both websites offer additional ideas, reference books and recipes.

Speaking of abundance mixed with urgency, this is the final week for the Colorado Farm and Art Market, which ends for the season on Saturday, Oct. 16. Gather together some colorful heirloom tomatoes and winter squashes and celebrate with a harvest table.