September bounty

It's time for enjoying garden harvest, shopping farmers markets, planting seeds

click to enlarge Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers
Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers

September is prime season at farmers markets across the Midwest. School may be back in session and the leaves beginning to show a slight hint of ochre, but for farmers and gardeners this is the time when the bulk of summer produce is at its peak. While it's true that sweet corn and peaches are done for the season, the rest of the season's bounty is in full swing. Hot weather fruits like eggplants, tomatoes and peppers have finally had enough hot days and sunlight to really give forth, and the cooler nighttime temperatures mean that more heat-sensitive vegetables like radishes, spinach, arugula and lettuce are back on the menu. Mild weather also yields sweeter tasting root crops and cruciferous vegetables like carrots, beets, turnips, kale, collard greens and Brussels sprouts, which will begin popping up in the next few weeks. Concord grapes can be found from time to time, in addition to other orchard fruits, including apples, pears and my personal favorite – damson plums. All this in addition to the delightful deluge of winter squash that has already begun.

This summer seemed to fly by particularity fast and I'm looking forward to finally doing some canning and preserving over the next few weeks. I'm excited to try my hand at hot pepper jelly for the first time, as well as some beloved family recipes like plum jam, sweet bread and butter pickles and Nana's Chili Sauce. A friend gave me a jar of green tomato chutney last year and I enjoyed it so much that I'm going to attempt to replicate it. The Old Capitol Farmers Market is open in downtown Springfield on Wednesdays and Saturdays through the end of October. Suttill's Garden and Jefferies Orchard are open through Thanksgiving, and the Apple Barn in Chatham is open year round. Below are two market-inspired recipes that manage to be at once cozy and light, perfect for enjoying on a warm autumn afternoon.

Roasted Beet and Delicata Squash Salad

Serves two as a main course

2 medium beets, scrubbed

1 delicata squash

1-2 tablespoons olive oil, divided salt and pepper to taste

4-6 ounces arugula (two large handfuls)

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese or feta

¼ cup toasted pepitas or chopped nuts

2 tablespoons chopped chives

For the dressing:

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey

1 clove garlic, finely minced or grated

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Peel the beets and cut them into ½-inch dice. Toss them lightly with olive oil and season with about ¼ teaspoon salt. Arrange the beet cubes on half of the baking sheet and transfer to the oven for 10 minutes.

While the beets are roasting cut the ends off the delicata squash and then slice it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds in the middle then cut the squash into 1/4-inch slices. Toss the slices with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. After 10 minutes of baking, remove the beet cubes from the oven and arrange the squash slices on the other half of the baking sheet. Return to the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the beets are tender and the squash is beginning to lightly brown.

While the squash and beets finish cooking, make the dressing by combining all the ingredients in a jar along with a splash of water and whisking or shaking vigorously.

Arrange large handfuls of arugula in the center of a shallow bowl or plate. Divide the beets and squash over the top, then drizzle with dressing. (You may have some dressing left over. Reserve for another use.) Sprinkle crumbled cheese on top along with toasted pepitas or nuts and chives. Finish with an additional sprinkle of salt and fresh pepper and serve.

Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers

¼ cup olive oil, divided

2 small eggplants

1 medium zucchini

1 yellow onion

6 large or 8 medium peppers

6 anchovy fillets, chopped, or use 2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 ripe tomato, chopped

2 tablespoons each chopped parsley and basil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced or grated

½ cup fresh breadcrumbs (or substitute cooked quinoa)

½ cup grated Parmesan or crumbled feta (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. Cut the eggplant and zucchini into ½-inch dice and roughly chop the onion. Toss with two tablespoons of olive oil and season lightly with salt. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake in the hot oven for 25-30 minutes, stirring once, until beginning to turn golden brown.

While the vegetables are roasting prepare the peppers and the rest of the filling. Char the skin of the peppers over an open flame, then transfer to a bowl and cover until cool enough to handle. Remove the charred skin without tearing the pepper, then remove the stem and scoop out the seeds, keeping the pepper whole for stuffing.

Combine the chopped anchovies or fish sauce, chopped tomato, herbs, minced garlic and breadcrumbs or quinoa and mix well. When the vegetables in the oven are done, transfer them to the mixing bowl along with the tomato mixture and toss to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Stuff the peppers with the eggplant-tomato mixture and arrange in an oiled baking dish. Top with cheese if desired and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Keeps well in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Ashley Meyer lives and writes in Springfield with her husband, two kids and numerous pets. Ever the undaunted gardener, she's planning to spend the weekend pulling out failed cucumber and zucchini plants and sowing autumn veggies like watermelon radishes and spinach, with fingers crossed for a late frost.

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