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A bounty of fall crops and festivals

  • Sweet Potato Curry, left, and Carrot and Mint Pilaf. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • This carrot and mint pilaf is shown Sept. 8, 2017 at Claire Hopley's Leverett home. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • This Sweet Potato Curry is shown Sept. 8, 2017 at Claire Hopley's Leverett home. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • This carrot and mint pilaf, at back, and Sweet Potato Curry are shown Sept. 8, 2017 at Claire Hopley's Leverett home. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • This carrot and mint pilaf, at back, and Sweet Potato Curry are shown Sept. 8, 2017 at Claire Hopley's Leverett home. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



For the Bulletin
Friday, September 22, 2017

The paint-box colors of fall’s burly vegetables and curvaceous fruits now blaze from farm stands and produce counters. Think vivid pumpkins, red-cheeked apples, yellow corn and green-skinned winter squashes. Most of these crops are orange. Inside their dun skin, sweet potatoes are as brilliant as pumpkins, and once rid of its green or beige peel, winter squashes range through every sunshiny shade of orange. Then we have red-orange carrots, coral cantaloupe and apricot-colored peppers and tomatoes.

These vibrant shades tell us they are rich in beta-carotene. Kenneth Samonds of Amherst, formerly a professor in the University of Massachusetts Department of Nutrition, explains: “Beta-carotene is a precursor. of vitamin A. It is a quirk of nature that something that is a coloring in plants can be made into a vitamin by our bodies.” He wrote his dissertation on the functions of Vitamin A and notes, “One classic function is night vision. It’s not carrots that help us see at night; it’s the vitamin A we make from their beta-carotene. Vitamin A also has to do with cell division, both in embryos and in adults when we restore damaged cells.”

Perhaps we know instinctively that carrots, sweet potatoes, squashes and other fall fruits and vegetables are good for us, or perhaps their eccentric shapes catch the eye. They certainly draw us to them — and not only at mealtimes. Cornucopias spilling squashes and apples, and pumpkins guarding porches, are icons of fall decorating.

Often they also carry symbolic freight when cooked. Thanksgiving pumpkin or apple or sweet potato pies are more magical than the same pies served on ordinary days. Bobbing for apples is extra special on Halloween. On October 4, Jews celebrate Sukkot, a week-long holiday marking both the Jews’ liberation from Egypt and the abundance of the harvest. At this time, families build temporary shelters called sukkahs adorned with apples, cornstalks, pumpkins and other seasonal produce so they can eat, entertain friends, and even sleep close to the bountiful land.

Seasonal crops also inspire many regional festivals. Among them is the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange at Forster’s Farm, 60 Chestnut Hill Road, on September 23 and 24. Sometimes called “the festival that stinks” because it highlights garlic, it’s actually one of our most varied celebrations with lots of local food producers, and local musicians and artists.

On Thursday, September 28, the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) is holding their annual fundraising feast of local foods Taste the View at Quonquont Farm in Whately from 6.00 to 9.00 p.m.

Looking further ahead, Family Outreach of Amherst (FOA) hosts its annual Warm Up the Night feast on October 19 at the Lord Jeffrey Inn. The highlights are a pig roast and dishes from more than 20 local restaurants and caterers.  

Here are some recipes to welcome fall.

SWEET POTATO CURRY

Serve this hearty dish as a main dish with a rice pilaf such as the one below. It’s full of flavor and color — and just packed with beta carotene.

2 tablespoons peanut or coconut or other vegetable oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

Thumb-size piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated or finely chopped

4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped or 1 cup canned diced tomatoes

1-2 tablespoons (or to taste) Thai red curry paste

2-3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter or cashew butter

14-ounce can light coconut milk

1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1½ pounds total), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

½ teaspoon salt or more to taste

3 cups loosely packed baby spinach, washed and dried

4 (or more to taste) torn Thai basil leaves or ordinary basil leaves, plus a sprig or two for garnish

Juice 1 lime

1-2 teaspoons sugar (if needed)

2 tablespoons roasted peanuts for garnish

Heat the oil in a sauté pan or casserole over moderate heat. Stir in the onion, and let it cook without coloring for 4-5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute, then add the tomatoes followed by a tablespoon of curry paste and 2 tablespoons peanut (or cashew) butter, and about a quarter of the coconut milk. Stir to combine everything and then drop in the sweet potato chunks, the rest of the coconut milk, and the salt. Stir to blend, bring to simmering, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little water, one quarter cup at a time. When the sweet potato pieces are tender, stir in the spinach and basil leaves. Cook for 2 minutes, add the lime juice, then taste. You can stir in sugar, more salt, curry paste or lime juice if you think necessary. Serve garnished with sprigs of basil and the roasted peanuts or cashews.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND CHEDDAR CRISP

Hard-skinned winter squash taste similar, and many can be used interchangeably. Butternut is especially good. It supposedly got its name because it’s as smooth as butter and as sweet as a nut. Not only tasty, it’s easy to peel, too. Serve this as main dish with other vegetables. It’s also a terrific side dish with chicken or casseroles. Be sure to choose a sharp or extra-sharp Cheddar or aged Gouda to give a zesty flavor, and enjoy the way the velvety squash plays off the crisp buttery topping.

1 butternut or other winter squash weighing about 2½-3 pounds

Salt and black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons sherry or rum (optional)

½ cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons butter

½ cup rolled oats

1½ cups coarsely grated extra-sharp or sharp Cheddar cheese

⅓ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the butternut squash in half and discard the seeds and fibers. Place the pieces cut side down on a lightly greased baking dish and bake until tender, which takes roughly 40 minutes. (If you have something else to bake at a different temperature you can put the squash in the oven at the same time, though it will take longer or shorter to bake depending on whether the temperature is lower or higher.) Test for doneness by poking it with a skewer. It should be tender and the skin should be wrinkly.

Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Let the butternut cool for a few minutes then scoop the flesh from the skin and mash it with salt, black pepper, the sherry or rum (if using) and one tablespoon of the butter. Put it in a greased 8-inch deep-pie dish or any other dish of similar capacity.

To make the topping, put the flour in a bowl and rub the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter into it. Stir in the oats and then the grated Cheddar. Sprinkle on top of the butternut. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is golden. Scatter on the chopped walnuts during the last 4-5 minutes of cooking. (If you add them sooner they could scorch.) Serve hot. It’s also good at room temperature.

CARROT AND MINT PILAF

Versions of this aromatic pilaf appear in many regions of the Middle East, and in India. The spices vary, as do the proportions of rice and carrots. This version gives equal play to both ingredients, and adds a New World note by including wild rice, a North American native. Its blackness complements the orange carrots to give this dish traditional Halloween colors — worth remembering if you are planning a Halloween get together in October. This is a good side dish with both the Sweet Potato Curry and the Butternut and Cheddar Crisp in the recipes above.

⅓ cup wild rice

Salt to taste

¾ cup basmati rice

4 medium-large carrots (about 10-12 ounces)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoons chopped onion or shallot

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

Seeds from 2 cardamom pods, or substitute 2 cloves

1 bay leaf

3-4 sprigs of mint plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

Put the wild rice in a saucepan and add 2 cups water and ¼ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until a grain of the wild rice is tender — roughly 35-45 minutes. Add more boiling water if the initial water evaporates away. Drain and set the wild rice aside.

While the wild rice is cooking, put the basmati rice in a bowl and cover it plentifully with cold water. Set aside. Also peel the carrots and cut them into matchsticks about one and half inches long.

In a shallow pan, warm the butter and oil over low heat. Stir in the onion or shallot, and let it gently soften for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the cumin seeds and the cardamom seeds or cloves, then stir in the carrot matchsticks and cook for 2 minutes. Now drain and stir in the basmati rice until it glistens with the butter. Finally pour in 1¾ cups water, and add the bay leaf and a sprig of mint plus ¼ teaspoon salt or to taste. Increase the heat, and cook quite briskly for about 10 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed and the surface is pitted with holes. Tip in the drained wild rice, then cover the pan tightly, and let it sit on the turned-off burner for about 10 minutes or until the rice and carrots are tender and all the water has been absorbed. Discard the bay leaf and mint sprig. Gently fork in half the mint mix it in along with the wild rice. Transfer to a heated serving bowl. Garnish with the remaining chopped mint and the leftover sprigs.

SAUTED PUMPKIN WITH BOK CHOY AND CHINESE SPICES

Five-spice powder, ginger, oyster sauce and bok choy give Chinese flavors to this colorful pumpkin dish. Serve it with rice, orzo or quinoa as a main dish, or as a side dish with chicken or pork.

3 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

2-3 tablespoons coconut oil or peanut oil about

About half a sugar pumpkin (about 1-1½ pounds) or an equal amount butternut squash

1 large or 2 small baby bok choy

1 tablespoon finely cut strips of fresh ginger

1 clove garlic, minced

8-10 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

1 tablespoon snipped chives or garlic chives

1-2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted

In a small bowl, mix the oyster sauce with the five-spice powder and 3 tablespoons water. Set aside.

Peel the pumpkin or squash, discard the seeds, and cut the flesh into 1-inch chunks.

Wash the bok choy and separate the leaves. Cut off and discard any ragged bits at the leaf tips or root end. Cut the white stalks diagonally into half-inch strips. Coarsely chop the leafy bits. Keep stalk and leafy bits separate.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large wok or sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the pumpkin cubes and sauté them, stirring often for 6-7 minutes or until they are just beginning to soften. Now add the white stalk strips of bok choy and cook for another two or three minutes. Remove from the pan. If necessary, add another tablespoon of oil then add the ginger and garlic and sauté for 1 minute, then add the leafy strips of bok choy and the tomato, along with the oyster sauce mixture. Cook for 2 minutes, then return the pumpkin mix back to the pan. Raise the heat to high and mix the vegetables for about 2 minutes. At the end stir in half the chives. Use the rest and the almonds as a garnish and serve immediately. (To toast the almonds, either heat them in dry nonstick frying pan for 2-3 minutes, or put them in a shallow dish and microwave for 1 minute or until golden.)

EVE’S PUDDING

It’s not hard to see why this apple cake is named after Eve, but why is it called a pudding? The answer is that in England, where this recipe originates, “pudding” is a general word meaning dessert rather than a term for the milky desserts called puddings on this side of the Atlantic. It’s easy to make and easy to vary. For example, if you feel that apple desserts must have cinnamon, simply add some. Other possible options include flavoring the apples with cloves, or adding raisins or cranberries to them, replacing them with pears, or substituting orange zest and juice for the lemon.

For the base

2 -2½ pounds Paulared or McIntosh apples, peeled and sliced

½ cup sugar

1 lemon

For the top

1½ sticks butter at room temperature

¾ cup sugar

1½ cups cake flour or all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

About 2- 4 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar

To make the base, put the sliced apples in a saucepan with about half a cup of water and half a cup of sugar. Simmer over moderate heat for 6-7 minutes or until some slices have completely softened while others are still a bit firm. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated zest of the lemon and a tablespoon of its juice.

Grease a 9-inch deep dish pie plate or a shallow baking dish of similar capacity with butter and pour the apples in it.

Put it in the fridge to cool. (You can complete this step several hours ahead if more convenient.)

For the top, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl or the bowl of a food processor and mix until they are thoroughly combined and look pale and fluffy. Mix the flour and baking powder together and add a tablespoon to the butter-sugar mixture along with one egg. Beat until they are mixed in.

Repeat this step with another tablespoon of flour, the other egg, and the vanilla extract. When these are mixed in add the rest of the flour mixture and beat just until thoroughly blended. Stir in a tablespoon of milk to make a batter that is easily spreadable. If necessary, add more milk a tablespoon at a time until this consistency is reached. Spread the batter evenly over the apples. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown on top. To test, poke a skewer into the topping. If it comes out clean, it is ready. Serve warm or at room temperature with the confectioner’s sugar dusted on top. Whipped cream or ice cream are great accompaniments.