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MailTribune.com
  • Many reasons to eat with the seasons

    Season to Taste
  • Growing up on Oregon's south coast, I understood that "seasons" correspond to fishing, crabbing, clamming and hunting: all activities that persist through predictable rain and fog or — in the absence of precipitation — bracing north wind with its characteristic chill.
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    • PUMPKIN CRAB CAKES
      1/2 "sugar" pumpkin
      1/4 cup olive oil, divided
      1 cup total finely chopped carrots, onions and celery; combined
      1 cup flour
      1 teaspoon baking powder
      Peel of 1/2 an orange, finely ...
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      PUMPKIN CRAB CAKES
      1/2 "sugar" pumpkin

      1/4 cup olive oil, divided

      1 cup total finely chopped carrots, onions and celery; combined

      1 cup flour

      1 teaspoon baking powder

      Peel of 1/2 an orange, finely chopped

      Juice of 1 orange

      1 teaspoon chopped, fresh garlic

      1 tablespoon chopped, fresh parsley

      Salt and pepper, to taste

      1 1/4 cup cooked crab meat

      1 cup bread crumbs

      Using a sharp, heavy knife, split the pumpkin in half and, leaving rind on, remove membrane and seeds. Cut pumpkin into large wedges, place on a baking sheet and rub flesh with a bit of olive oil. Roast in a 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until pumpkin flesh begins to soften. Let roasted pumpkin cool completely.

      Remove rind and discard; chop pumpkin flesh to yield 1 cup. Add to a mixing bowl along with 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and all remaining ingredients except the crab and bread crumbs. Mix together gently (using your hands is best) until a slightly moist paste is formed. Mix in 1 cup crab, reserving the rest to put on top of finished cakes.

      Preheat oven to 450 F.

      Scoop 1 tablespoon mixture, roll it in bread crumbs and flatten into a patty. Repeat process until all mixture has been used. Heat remaining oil in a large saute pan. When oil is quite hot, fry crab cakes, until crisp on both sides. Quickly remove them from pan, place on a baking sheet and cook in preheated oven for about 5 minutes. Place remaining crab on top of finished cakes.

      — Source: Tom Pantley, Toscanos Cafe & Wine Bar, Puyallup, Wash., www.toscanospuyallup.com
  • Growing up on Oregon's south coast, I understood that "seasons" correspond to fishing, crabbing, clamming and hunting: all activities that persist through predictable rain and fog or — in the absence of precipitation — bracing north wind with its characteristic chill.
    Usually a hurdle for newcomers, the coastal climate also impedes most attempts at growing food. As a child, I couldn't conceive of homegrown strawberries larger than thimbles and untouched by potato bugs or backyard apples that outweighed golf balls and came in hues other than unripe green.
    So imagine my delight, after moving to the Rogue Valley, at picking an apple, apricot or cherry right off a tree in my own yard, taking more than a cautionary bite and enjoying it — not just as actual fruit — but as a prime specimen of the season. Its flavor is the essence of that single summer day when sunlight and heat culminated in peak ripeness.
    I had a homesteader to thank for the trees. For gardening, I needed help from my mother-in-law, raised near California avocado orchards and admonished by her father to "get in season."
    Over the past five years, she has steered my enthusiasm for delicious food toward the monotony of digging, planting, weeding, watering and harvesting. The reward, of course, comes in late summer and early fall when the garden fills almost all our produce needs.
    While the Rogue Valley's four seasons ensure this bounty, its deep agricultural traditions mean residents don't have to grow it themselves. Numerous small farms supply several farmers markets between March and November, locally owned grocery stores purchase locally grown produce and a new online farmers market promises an alternative to these venues, even through the winter.
    Indeed, winter with its inhospitable weather may seem a strange time to debut a column on seasonal cooking and eating. But as gardeners know all too well, winter is the time for planning. And the new year is when most of us pledge to change our diets and lifestyles.
    The reasons to eat with the seasons are many. Even if you purchase all your produce at a grocery store, it's hands-down the least expensive in season. And because it's also freshest, it represents the best value.
    Amid increased environmental awareness, it bears pointing out that off-season foods are resource-intensive: They've either used energy in refrigerated storage or in transportation. The worst offenders, of course, are items that traveled from the Southern Hemisphere and its reverse seasons. Think New Zealand apples in March and Chilean asparagus in November.
    As these off-season foods became commonplace over the decades, Americans became accustomed to cooking and eating their favorites year-round. But as locally produced foods gain prominence, growing numbers of Americans are giving tomatoes the cold shoulder in winter.
    It's not just ideology. Savvy cooks and shoppers recognize winter tomatoes as literally pale shadows of their summer counterparts and often prohibitively expensive. Hence, the utmost reason to eat in season: the taste.
    Taste buds don't lie, at least when it comes to fresh, whole, unprocessed foods. They know what's good and when. So this column will celebrate a seasonal flavor every month with tips for obtaining, preparing and savoring what's freshest right here in the Rogue Valley or least not too far afield.
    Starting now means featuring produce that isn't fresh in the strictest sense but seasonal, nonetheless. Winter squash earned its name by virtue of storing, under proper conditions, through the coldest months. An iconic member of the squash family, pumpkin is one of my favorites, particularly in soup or roasted for salads and side dishes.
    But this year — instead of the usual suspects and in deference to my culinary roots — I'm combining it with the epitome of Oregon seasonal seafood: Dungeness crab.
    Mail Tribune food editor Sarah Lemon can be reached at 541-776-4487 or slemon@mailtribune.com. For more tips, recipes and local food news, read her blog mailtribune.com/wholedish
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