Anyone who enjoys gardening, cooking, or just enjoying plain ol’ straight from the farm seasonal Hudson Valley eating has a fall 2014 dilemma, the dizzying local harvest! The shift from summer into fall typically has an overlap, but this year it is especially profound. After a punishing winter, we were gifted with a lovely, slow, gradual summer. The rains came, and they were torrential, the sun graced us more days than not, but the heat never fully turned on.
Finally tomatoes and peppers and in full swing, but so are harvest squash, onions, dark leafy braising greens, and cruciferous or “cabbage family”, vegetables (bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage)! All are among the natural superstars of New York’s Hudson Valley harvest. The delectable combinations that present are, without question, different from year to year. As I prepare catering menus weeks, if not months, in advance, and the Gigi Trattoria Team and I shift from summer to fall menus, I’m always thinking about what will really be at peak on a particular date in the future. A huge advantage about moving into fall harvest and related cooking decisions is that the tea leaves can be read by the season that passed. Being flexible in your ingredient selections and cooking techniques can help you adapt to the gifts of never ending variables in working with the local/seasonal harvest.
Olivia Kirby, co-manager of the Farm at Locust on Hudson, tells me that the summer’s heavy down pours mixed with drier cooler sunny days has led to a mix mash of harvests. Too much water all at once has shortened the tomato harvest – they’ll be pulling the last in the upcoming weeks to prevent rot. Megan Reynolds, a Woodstock ‘Green Girl’ and committee member of the Woodstock Farmer’s Market adds, “The slow season has resulted in shorter spans to enjoy fruits like local cherries, which came and left in a blink, but some harvest fruit more typical of August is trailing into fall.” Think about combining peaches and plums with the apples, pears, and Concord grapes that just now hitting harvest.
And hail to Kale! It’s just one of the delights of early autumn that can be thrown into the stew pot. Yes, you hear me, turn of the grill and turn on the stove top! It’s time to sauté, steam, braise, stew, and roast! So what to do with the crossover harvest? It’s not yet time to fully embrace winter cookery – heavier dishes that pair well with substantial red wines. Contemplate a mixture of late summer peppers, end of season tomatoes, harvest squash and garden herbs…
Some pantry staples can help enhance the flavor, texture, and nutritional profile of this unique season of cooking. Delicate braising beans, local meats, including sausage from Towne & Country in Hudson, NY, and no-nitrate bacon from Mountain Smokehouse in Lagrangeville, NY, as well as savory herbs like the sage and rosemary help layer the flavors. The nutritional profile of cooking in this season is well rounded, too. Here are the highlights: the vibrant golds and oranges of harvest squash provide huge levels of beta-carotene as well as innumerable other carotenoid antioxidants, deep dark leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses filled with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, peppers lend enormous quantities of vitamin C with every bite, and the cabbage family vegetables serve up substantial amounts of fiber, vitamin C, folate, as well as isothiocynates and glucosinolates, natural compounds, that tamp down inflammation, serve as antimicrobials, and offer up cancer fighting properties.
Late Summer Butternut, Poblano and Sausage Stew
I’ve been cooking this stew from onions, peppers, butternut squash, and herbs from my garden. The sausage is optional – this can easily become a vegetarian, or even vegan, dish. Add the last bit of butternut squash towards the end of cooking for great color and texture. The earlier addition will have ‘melted’ and added creamy flavor to the stew.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
4 poblano peppers, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 pound Towne & Country Merguez sausage, removed from casing, crumbled
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into approximately 1-2 inch cubes
½ pound cannellini or navy beans (dried)
2 to 3 fresh rosemary springs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
7 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
2 ounces shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
In a medium-large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and peppers, and cook, stirring often, until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring frequently, for another 2 to 4 minutes, or until fat is released, juiced reduced, and the sausage begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add three quarters of the butternut squash, the beans and herbs, and cook another 3 to 4 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until most liquid is reduced/evaporated. Add the broth or water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer until the beans are tender and the stew is thick, about 1 ½ hours. If necessary add a bit more liquid, ½ cup at a time, to continue cooking and keep stew moist until beans are fully cooked. During the last 20 minutes of cooking add the remaining butternut squash. Remove the rosemary stems and serve topped with shaving of Parmesan if desired.