Hot and cool — the recent weather makes me happy.
On these cool mornings I sit on the porch with a cup of hot coffee and my cat Scout and I listen to the rowdy birds.
The bright sunshine of the afternoon takes me outside to walk with dogs, Murphy and Sophie, or to pull a few weeds. The latter is not my favorite thing to do, but I am better on these less temperate days.
But the best is having dinner on the porch as I did for my niece-in-law Beverly Dearborn’s birthday Sunday evening. Our plates were filled with those great garden vegetables still available at the Farmers Market.
Cool weather crops are already beginning to appear at the Farmers Market — leafy greens, beets, turnips, winter squash and pumpkins are already there in abundance.
Often considered the dreaded vegetable by children, but the vegetable that always gave Popeye his terrific stamina, spinach can be found in almost every steak house. Chefs have realized it’s delicious when paired with red meat. Plus it can be sautéed as quickly as the steak is placed on the grill.
There is also delicate baby spinach that can be incorporated into a beautiful salad, but remember it is happier in a light dressing.
Think about this salad the next time you are having a pork chop.
1/2-1 pound of baby spinach
1/4-cup of shallots, finely diced
Sautéed apple rings
Slice any apple into rings. Gently remove core trying not to slit apple ring. Melt two tablespoons butter in a sauté pan or small skillet. Place rings into pan. Sprinkle each ring with brown sugar and a bit of cinnamon. Cook uncovered until rings become slightly tender. Remove from skillet.
Take the same skillet and bring it back to warm and put in the walnuts. Sprinkle just a bit of salt and cayenne pepper. Watch so the walnuts do not burn — about three to five minutes to toast. Remove from skillet.
Toss the spinach and shallots in a dressing of 1/3-cup olive oil and several tablespoons of either rice vinegar or balsamic.
Plate spinach mixture and add two or even three apple rings and sprinkle walnuts over top.
This is about as easy as it gets for adding a green vegetable.
For four, you will need about two pounds of spinach — mature spinach works the best because it will stand up to the heat; the baby spinach has a tendency to disappear. Rinse the spinach and rough chop. Keep spinach damp.
In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons olive oil. Chop a large clove of garlic.
Just as you are getting ready to add the spinach to the heated oil, put in the garlic. The wet spinach will pop when adding it to the hot oil, plus it may look like you are not going to have enough room for all of it, but you will, just keep adding it and tossing.
Add salt, pepper and a few red pepper flakes.
Turn the spinach several times in the oil. Cook about two minutes until wilted and remove from heat. I often add a tablespoon of wine vinegar at this point.
You can also apply this exact same technique to fresh kale. If you want to add a richer flavor, put the kale in a skillet where bacon has been fried — grease removed — add the olive oil.
You can chop the bacon and put it on top the kale or just eat it as you cook.
For this dish you need some chopped bacon; making it in a skillet where bacon has been fried adds great flavor. You can garnish with the bacon.
2 pounds fresh spinach, stems removed and coarse chopped
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 small sweet onion or shallot finely chopped
Melt 1/4-cup of butter with two tablespoons of olive oil.
Add spinach, onion and garlic to hot skillet where butter and garlic oil have been heated together.
Toss several times and spinach will reduce.
Add 1/2-teaspoon of salt and 1/2-teaspoon of coarsely ground pepper.
Stir in 3/4-cup heavy cream and a 1/4-teaspoon of nutmeg.
Check for seasoning. Add if you think more is needed.
Let mixture come to slow boil and thicken.
Remove to bowl and garnish with bacon (optional).
Growing up my mom always peeled and chopped turnips and put them on to boil with some kind of pork. While I ate them, eventually as I got older, I wasn’t truly fond of the greasy turnips.
Then while I was working at the Governor’s Mansion, chef Fatemeh Salehi taught me to bake turnips. I fell in love with them.
For the big turnips, cut them in half. For smaller turnips leave them whole.
4-8 turnips, washed and scrubbed.
With your hands cover the turnips with olive oil. Again, if they are large, cut in half and rub with the olive oil and place cut side down.
Place on a baking sheet.
Fatemeh put sprinkles of kosher salt and coarse pepper on them. I use seasoned salt and black pepper.
Bake at 350 degrees until tender; check with a fork.
These squash are readily available now. Select a firm one.
Scrub and cut in half, placing on a sheet pan that has been covered with a baking spray. Rub shells of squash with oil.
Bake at 350 degrees until shells appear soft.
Remove from oven and allow to cool until you can work with it.
With the tines of a dinner fork, scrape squash into a large bowl. It should shred and look somewhat like spaghetti.
Now you can do anything you choose with simple things like butter, salt and pepper or olive oil, salt and pepper and shredded parmesan cheese sprinkled over it.
Or you can make the fresh tomato sauce I have previously written about. I tried it and loved it. I’ll repeat it here just so you have it if you want to try it on the spaghetti squash.
Any variety of ripe, red tomatoes
1 large onion chopped
2 ribs of celery chopped plus about ½ cup of inner leaves
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
Fresh or dried basil and oregano
Salt and pepper
Wash tomatoes; if there’s a bad spot, cut it out. If there’s too much core, cut it out as well. Quarter large tomatoes, leave cherry and grape tomatoes whole.
Put tomatoes in a food processor or blender.
Add 1/4-teaspoon salt. I added a half dozen fresh basil leaves from my outdoor plant.
Pulse about four to five times. Done.
Chop an onion, celery and leaves (if you like celery in your sauce). Warm several tablespoons of olive oil, put onions and celery in the skillet and let it begin to cook, add a chopped clove of garlic or some garlic powder and another quarter teaspoon of salt and black pepper.
Add the tomatoes and a little oregano. Dried oregano is fine.
This sauce will take about 10 minutes to cook. Taste for seasoning remembering it is going over the squash, so you may need more salt or pepper.
Toss this with the spaghetti squash and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.