26 September 2011

Hot & Cold

Article & Photos by Elizabeth Miller
It’s happening.  The mornings are growing chillier, the sun is setting earlier.  The beginning of the day may require you to throw on a sweater over your short-sleeved shirt, but by the afternoon you’d be hard-pressed to remember why you ever picked up said sweater in the first place.  Perhaps most tellingly, today at the farmers market, I spotted pumpkins and pears sitting companionably amongst the tomatoes and cucumbers.  It is autumn.

Short Stack of Sorts

I will admit that when I saw the autumn vegetables at the market, my first thought was that no, this could not be happening.  The air is warm.  It has only rained once in the past couple of weeks.  Get those pumpkins out of here.  But it’s inevitable, the arrival of cold weather.  Living in a place like Portland, especially, it’s best not to fight the arrival of cold, wet weather.  It’s taken me well over a decade to learn, but in the end, I have found that when summertime starts its slow decline into fall, the best thing to do is move forward, enjoy the last bits of sunshine, and exploit whatever warm weather spoils you can find.
My farmers market meal this time around was an exercise in exactly that frame of mind.  There were plump ears of corn sitting near basket after basket of lovely peppers at the Gathering Together Farm stand, which seemed like an apt metaphor for the exchanging of a warm season for a cold.  Spring Hill Farm had a beautiful display of salad greens, but none pulled me in more than the big, showy heads of frisee, one of my favorite bitter greens.  As if sensing the theme I had in mind for my meal, the Packer Orchards farm stand was conveniently located right in front of me as I was turning around, tucking my wild-looking bunch of frisee into my grocery bag.  I had hardly even begun to take in the sheer volume of the Packer Orchards pears when the fellow manning the pears caught me looking at a bin of gorgeous red fruit.  He told me that the pears in question were called Starkrimson, and they were, hands down, his favorite pear.  Fully aware that there was no better recommendation for which to ask, I didn’t hesitate to plunk some pears into my bag.
Back at home, it was obvious when I unpacked my bag that, weather aside, the signs of fall are starting to trickle in everywhere we look.  The dark crimson skin of a pear against bright yellow kernels of corn are a harbinger of nature’s colors to come.  At the farmers market, where sweet corn can mix with spicy poblano peppers and juicy pears with sharp, chicory-flavored greens, you can ease your summer into fall a bit more delicately, and, of course, deliciously.
Fresh Corn and Roasted Poblano Cakes
2 cups fresh corn kernels (from 4-5 ears of corn)
2 medium poblano peppers
1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
olive oil

This is the Hot Part

Place peppers on a baking sheet and roast, turning every minute or so, on the highest shelf of the oven, under the broiler set on high.  When the skin of the peppers has blistered and turned black all around, remove from oven, cover tightly with foil, and set aside to allow the skins to steam off a bit, and the peppers to cool.

Place the corn kernels in the bowl of a food processor or blender, and pulse until the kernels are slightly chopped, but still retain much of their chunky texture.  Remove to a large bowl.
When the peppers have cooled slightly and the skins have started to become loose, gently pull the stem of the peppers to remove the core and most of the seeds.  Gently peel the skin off of the peppers, then finely chop the flesh.  If you want your corn cakes to be less spicy, discard all pepper seeds before chopping.  If you don’t mind the spice, leave the seeds with the peppers while you chop them.
Combine chopped corn, chopped peppers, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and beaten eggs.  Combine gently with a spatula or fork, mixing until ingredients are incorporated and uniformly wet, but not completely smooth.
Heat a skillet over medium low heat.  Brush the skillet with olive oil.  When a small drop of corn cake batter sizzles when placed on the oiled skillet, drop batter onto the skillet, 1/3 cup at a time, making sure not to crowd the cakes.  Cook cakes for 2-3 minutes on each side, until dark golden and nicely risen.  Brush skillet with more oil in between cooking each batch of corn cakes.
Makes 10 large corn cakes.
Pear and Frisee Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
2 large, ripe pears
1 large head of frisee, washed, trimmed, and patted dry
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Core and slice pears in half, then slice each half into long thin slices.  In a large bowl, combine pears with frisee, then gently toss to incorporate.
In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, honey, and mustard.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking vigorously as you pour.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour dressing over entire salad and toss to coat evenly, or place undressed salad portions on each person’s plate and then lightly drizzle each portion with a bit of dressing.
Makes one gigantic salad that can serve many, many people.