The shift from summer to fall certainly must be the most bittersweet of seasonal changes. Something happens to the light, to the air, that makes it impossible to deny autumn's ascent.
It's signaled by the calendar, certainly, and the disappearance of the summer tourist crowds, and the silence that returns as the neighborhood kids head back to school. But for me, it's those first cool nights that make it undeniably no longer summer, not yet fall, but that inhaled breath in between the two.
It's when you dip into the winter clothes, one sweater at a time. It's too warm for the comforter but too cool for the air conditioning. The garden has gone still. Leaves are yellowing and dropping. But the harvest is at full bore. Instead of wondering whether to water or weed, I wonder what I'm going to do with all those tomatoes, beans and zucchini.
Luckily for me, my husband turns into a tomato canning machine this time of year. He's picked, peeled and processed without my input on many a late summer evening.
Usually, we peel then puree the tomatoes, jar them and can them. But this year, I'm reaching back into my childhood memory banks (and into the "Ball Blue Book"), and canning some tomatoes whole and peeled, and freezing and canning a bunch more peeled and chopped. Peeled and chopped (diced) tomatoes are the ones I end up buying most often, so this year I'm hoping to save some money come winter by reaching into our larder instead of running to the grocery store.
One of our favorite, go-to recipes for eating the harvest is Company Rice with Beans from "Jane Brody's Good Food Book." Brody is a New York Times writer who published this cookbook in 1985. It's subtitled "Living the High-Carbohydrate Way," which cracks me up, because who would buy a cookbook with that subtitle these days?
This was one of my very first cookbook purchases back when we were first married. It's also one of the first cookbooks I ever read cover to cover. Brody's recipes focus on reducing fat and cholesterol and increasing whole grains. Several of them — this one and others like Polish Potato Casserole and "Grate" Zucchini Bread (see recipe at right) — have become staples for us.
As the title indicates, Brody recommends eating this over rice, but I love a big, steamy, cheesy bowl of it all on its own. I also often add some heat, just to spice it up a bit. Made and eaten this way, it sort of reminds me of chili but a much lighter, and yes, more summery version.
Company Rice with Beans
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (2/3 cup)
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely minced
1 hot chile pepper, seeds and ribs removed and finely chopped (optional)
2 medium tomatoes, finely diced
1 medium zucchini (about ½ pound), coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon oregano
1 16-ounce can beans (kidney, white, pink, black or garbanzo), drained
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, pepper jack, whatever you'd like)
If serving with rice, start that to cooking, following package directions. If you're using brown rice, you might want to cook it about half way through before starting the bean mixture so the timing works out right.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet, add the onion, garlic and chile, if using, and sauté until soft.
Add the tomatoes, zucchini and oregano. Cover the skillet and simmer for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender-crisp.
Add the beans and simmer the mixture, stirring it occasionally until it is heated through and the zucchini is cooked to your liking. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, spoon the vegetable mixture over hot rice or serve it all by itself in a bowl, sprinkling the cheese over the top.
Original recipe from "Jane Brody's Good Food Book."
Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments or recipes with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.