Fall Produce

While there’s absolutely nothing like a summer vine-ripe tomato or fresh sweet corn, have you ever considered that perhaps they wouldn’t be so special if we had them all the time? You know absence makes the heart grow fonder. Could you overload on summer produce? I’m not so sure, but I do love the transition to fall produce. It’s like a whole new playground! Pumpkins and winter squash, sweet potatoes, kale, collard, and mustard greens speak my language. I bought a rutabaga yesterday and simply cannot wait to cook it and make a comforting, savory mash.

Summer produce needs little or no cooking. The corn I enjoyed in Massachusetts this summer was so fresh and good it basically just needed a quick dip in boiling water. Fall produce means new cooking techniques like roasting and braising. Fall produce means long slow cooking. Fall produce means new flavors and textures. Fall produce means doing something different.

Change is Good

Doing something different in the kitchen can be good. Don’t you get tired of the same old-same old? But, regardless how small, change can be scary. People have expectations. Big changes create ripples and effect other people’s lives.One of the food folks I follow is Cowgirl Chef Ellise Pierce. She’s done what so many cooks dream to do — pull up lock, stock, and barrel and move to France. She made a big life change. Moving is a big break – especially when it’s far away from home. I know a little about being a displaced Southerner in France — and loving it and hating it at the same time. Being homesick hurts. Ellise and I have never met, but I think we’re kindred spirits. She has a wonderful new book out called Cowgirl Chef and I am just as proud of her as I can be and so happy for her. I know a little about blending Southern and French cooking; she’s married French and Texas! It’s Texas Cooking with a French accent – Paris, Texas in a whole new way!

She says that Cowgirl Chef is “about cooking with abandon, with a sense of adventure. Of not being afraid to try something new. Or something old in a new way.”

Don’t you love that? We all need a swift kick in the pants sometimes to change things up. Change is good. It’s good to overcome fear and not be afraid. Here’s a big welcome to fall. I love her new book and hope you do, too. We’re mixing things up. Kale is more often cooked so I am sharing a raw kale recipe. Winter squash is usually prepared as a side and she’s sharing a delicious recipe for a roast squash salad. Enjoy your weekend and your newfound sense of adventure.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Virginia’s Smoky Spicy Kale
Serves 4 to 6

You simply won’t believe your mouth when you taste these greens. They smell like bacon, and taste a lot like bacon, but there is no bacon. The flavor comes from smoked salt. The smoke permeates the salt crystals, infusing them with a rich, distinct smoked taste, and transforms their color from a light toasty brown to deep amber. I use it most often in Southern-style vegetables (and sell a pecan smoked salt in My Southern Pantry product line) to replicate that smoky taste evocative of hog jowl or bacon without the fat.

8 ounces young tender kale, washed, dried, stems removed and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon smoked salt, to taste

Place the kale in a medium bowl. Pour over oil, lemon juice, honey, red pepper flakes, and salt. Toss to combine. Let sit for about 20 minutes. That’s it!! Serve at room temperature.

Cowgirl Chef’s Roasted Butternut Squash, Spinach, and Bacon Salad
Makes 2 dinner-size or 4 first-course salads

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch/2.5 cm cubes
olive oil
sea salt and pepper
2 big handfuls (about 5 ounces/140 grams) of baby spinach
4 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
Apple Cider Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
about 2 ounces/55 grams of fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat your broiler.Put the squash pieces on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and drizzle them with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss with your hands and make sure they’re evenly coated. Slide the cookie sheet into the oven for about 15 minutes, checking and turning the pan around if necessary. When the edges of the squash turn brown, they’re done.

Assemble your salad while the squash is still warm. Just get out a big salad bowl, and add your spinach, still-warm squash pieces, and bacon bits. Add some of the vinaigrette on top and toss (you may not need all of the vinaigrette). Crumble the goat cheese on top and serve right away.

Swap It: Instead of butternut squash, roast some pumpkin or acorn squash, or even sweet potato.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Makes ¾ cup/180 ml

1 shallot, finely chopped
¼ cup/60 ml of apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of grainy Dijon mustard
sea salt and pepper
½ cup/120 ml of grapeseed oil

In an old jam jar, add your minced shallot, apple cider vinegar, and grainy mustard along with a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Give it a shake and let this let rest for 10 minutes. Add the grapeseed oil, shake again, and taste for seasonings. You can store your vinaigrette in the fridge for a few days.

Recipe reprinted with permission from COWGIRL CHEF © 2012 by Ellise Pierce, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

Kale pic by Virginia

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.