Fall is officially still a few weeks away, but you may have noticed there's already change in the air. September is what we like to think of as Bridge Month -- we've got one foot in the summer harvest, the other putting on rain boots in anticipation of wetter, shorter and darker days. A quick look at the market, and you'll see that September is an amazing window of opportunity; there's more fresh fruit and vegetables than at any other time of the year. So before life gets busy again with school and the return of a regular schedule, here's some food for thought: Take some time to prolong this feeling of summer with a few easy kitchen projects. As we know all too well, Mother Nature has other plans, so let's seize the produce moment!
- Snap beans: Become your own Green Giant and freeze. Trim, blanch (parboil) in salted water for 3 minutes, transfer to an ice bath, drain and into freezer bags. Date and label.
- Cherry Tomatoes: Slow roast. Cut in half and toss with finely chopped fresh rosemary, dried lavender, thyme, oregano and salt, a little big of olive oil, then roast them in a 275-degree oven. Let them hang out for about 90 minutes, until they've shrunk and dried a bit. They'll keep in the refrigerator for at least a week and are terrific additions to salads, sandwiches, eggs or as a mid-afternoon snack.
- Larger meatier tomatoes, like Roma, Amish Paste, Granadero or Stupice: Make sauce and put it in the freezer
- Sweet Walla Walla onions: Caramelize. Slice a few pounds' worth into crescent or half-moon shapes, and put them in a wide skillet with a few tablespoons of olive oil or unsalted butter. Turn the onions until coated with the fat and cook over medium-low heat until the onions are soft and jammy, at least 45 minutes. Season with salt, pepper. Cool and store in an airtight container and use as a flavor zipper upper for a few weeks.
- Corn: Part One: Freeze the kernels. Cut the kernels off the cob. Blanch the kernels for about 30 seconds, drain under cold water, then measure out in 1 or 2 cup portions for freezer bags. Date and label. Will last for several months. Part Two: Make corn stock. Place the cobs in a soup pot, add water until just covered, plus a handful of peppercorns, a parsley sprig if you like, an onion skin, and bring up to a boil. Lower heat, cook for about 45 minutes. Strain, and you've got a wonderful base for soups, stews and curries. Freeze in jars or ice cube trays.
- Basil: Make pesto. Put washed leaves in boiling water for about 30 seconds, drain under cold water, then with your hands, squeeze as much water out as possible. (You'll want at least 2 heaping cups of basil leaves to make this worth your while). Blend with a small handful of walnuts or hazelnuts, a garlic clove, then add at least 1/4 cup of olive oil, more as needed, and salt. Add cheese as you need when serving. Pesto will keep for weeks in the refrigerator, months in the freezer.
- Sweet peppers: Roast a bunch and have them on hand for weeks. Place peppers in a single layer on a tray in a 400 degree oven (or on the grate of a grill). Cook until the skins are blistered on all sides, at least 30 minutes. Transfer to a bowl or container, then cover with plastic so that skins can "sweat" and come off easily. Remove skins and seeds (resisting temptation to rinse as this will remove flavor), then pack in small jars, with some olive oil and refrigerate.
- Blueberries: Freeze them. One of the easiest fruits to freeze, in fact. Unlike strawberries and raspberries, blueberries do not clump in the freezer. Rinse, dry, then portion into freezer bags. Date and label.