This transitional time of year is one of my favorites in terms of the produce we see at the markets. There are still so many options to choose from, so many satisfying recipes to tackle, and beautiful rich color schemes everywhere you look. We thought a few photos of such bounty would be a good homage to the season.
Eggplants always draw me in with their incredibly shiny purple hues, and various shapes. I also love how root vegetable are just starting to sit next to items like zucchini and eggplant, signaling the change of the season.
Produce or art? I see it as both, and try to approach home cooking with that same philosophy.
Pears and apples are plentiful, especially in places like Washington State, where we grow some of the very best in the country. I’m always ready for hot apple cider, or a pear tart with vanilla ice cream.
After perusing the markets and gathering produce that has caught my eye, the next best part is planning out dishes I can create at home. Last year I received the cookbook, “Vegetable Literacy”, by Deborah Madison as a wedding gift. I absolutely fell in love with it, as it feels very much like Madison is in my kitchen, teaching me how to look at vegetables in new ways. She’s a real expert when it comes to vegetarian cooking, with years of experience and so much helpful information to impart. The recipes feel new and fresh, but the ingredients are simple and quite healthy.
One of my favorite that I’ve tried, is her version of a Gratin. It literally melts in your mouth, and uses up all the gorgeous eggplants I tend to stockpile this time of year.
Eggplant, Tomato, and Zucchini Gratin, from “Vegetable Literacy”
For 2 as a main dish, or 4 as a side dish
Even though these vegetables come into season in mid summer, I think of this an an autumn dish. It’s a good way to use the last vegetable-fruits before a freeze puts an end to them. The vegetables are cooked first until they are soft, then they are baked under a cover of bread crumbs. It’s something of a two-part dish, which has its advantages. Once you have cooked the vegetables, you can finish the dish when the time is right for you, whether it’s right away or a day later.
Late season vegetables don’t necessarily gain their full size, so you might end up using a few eggplants, rather then just one, and smaller tomatoes – or possibly one last big one. This recipe isn’t at all about precise amounts.
1 Rosa Bianca or other oval or globe-shaped eggplant (1 pound or larger)
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the dish
1 large onion, sliced crosswise
3 plump cloves garlic, smashed with a knife
5 tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and quartered
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
freshly ground pepper
3 or 4 smallish zucchini (about 12 ounces), sliced on the diagonal about 1/3 inch thick
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 large clove garlic
2 tablespoons chopped oregano, or a scant teaspoon dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
Quarter the eggplant lengthwise, then cut each quarter crosswise into slices about 1/3 inch thick. Unless the eggplant is very fresh, salt the slices lightly and set aside while you prepare the other vegetables, then blot dry.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil an 8 by 10 inch or 10 inch oval gratin dish.
Heat the oil in a wide skillet with a lid over medium high heat. Add the onion, garlic, eggplan, tomatoes, parsley, and oregano and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan, turn the heat to high, and when the vegetables begin to sizzle, turn the heat to low. Lay the zucchini over the top of the vegetables, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. By this time, the vegetables should be soft. Using a slotted spoon, turn them into the prepared gratin dish. Stir the tomato paste into the liquid remaining in the skillet, then pour the liquid over the vegetables.
To finish the gratin, pound the garlic with a few pinches of salt in a mortar until smooth. Add the basil, oregano, and oil, and work together, forming a paste. Spoon the paste over the vegetables, and then intersperse the cheese among them. Cover the surface with the bread crumbs.
Bake until the bread crumbs have browned and the vegetables are hot and bubbling, about 35 minutes. Let the gratin settle for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
All photos by Carlton Canary, styled by me.