Monday, October 12, 2009

Last gasps of summer, first winds of fall

Today is one of those rare fall days in Portland where the sun is shining, the leaves are brown, and the nippy wind brings not rain but pleasant, subtle shivers. Wearing a jacket isn’t so bad today–it doesn’t need to be waterproof or have a hood. It’s almost real fall. But, as the weathermen keep reminding us, it will probably start raining tomorrow, so pull out your rainboots and umbrellas now.

Harrumph. I like real fall, one filled with dry piles of leaves, warm sunshine piercing through the chilly winds, and wool pea coats–a fall when you can still spend time outside without catching hypothermia or water-logging your cell phone. But there are bonuses to our never ending rain. There are coffee shops and bookstores, fireplaces and hot chocolate.
Oh, and a great excuse to spend all day in the kitchen. I love all of the seriously slow food that comes with the cooler weather–rich braises, roast chickens, apple pie, and, above all, soups, soups, soups. I’ve worked up a batch of chicken stock already waiting in the freezer for the first rain-soaked day. I’ve armed my pantry with dried beans and grains, and I’ve bought boat-loads of garlic. I’m totally ready.

But first, in one last homage to the crisp salad days of summer, here is what I like to call a transition salad: Filled with the early-fall bounty of my final CSA shipment, this salad blends the best of both seasons with sweet, raw Zephyr squash and musky, rich mushrooms. I added shaved fennel for crunch and served it up with a local aged gouda, crusty bread, and thin slices of a yellow Bartlett pear. It may match the yellow leaves outside, but each crisp bite was almost enough to trick me into believing it was still September.

Transition Salad

Serves one

5-10 Cremini mushrooms, sliced thin
1 small zephyr squash (or any other fresh summery squash), sliced thinly, on a bias

½ bulb fennel, shaved thinly

1 scallion, white and light green part only, sliced thinly
olive oil
sesame oil

about ½ lemon
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Combine the veggies in a serving bowl. Drizzle a small amount of both oils (you just want enough to thinly coat each component). Toss. Squeeze as much lemon juice as you need to brighten the flavor (the only way to know for sure is to taste). I used the juice of half of a not-very-juicy lemon. Toss and season with salt and pepper. Serve with your favorite cheese, bread, and a thinly sliced pear (or apple). I recommend building a bite with all of the components together.

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