We had a few whispers of fall earlier this month: cool evening breezes, brisk mornings, and consistently overcast morning skies; but summer had a few more tricks up its sleeve, and we had a couple of weeks of the kind of weather that one ordinarily sees in July. Now, at long last, it seems that fall is finally settling in, and not a moment too soon. As I told Katie recently: I love summer--summer produce is my favorite--but I'm delighted with the cool breeze coming in my window just now, and the change in weather that it heralds. Of course, as any foodie knows, it's not just the change in weather but the change in what's on our plate. We're moving into the season of apple pies, gingerbread, cranberry everything, rib-sticking stews, and luxurious fruit compotes.
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Tuesday, September 30, 2008
First, though, there is the matter of saying auf wiedersehen to summer's delightful produce, and I am happy to say that I seem to have found a perfect way to honor both summer's bounty and the cooling of the weather: pisto. Not pesto, and not pistou, both of which (in my mind, anyway) belong squarely in summer and spring, respectively, but pisto, a delicious combination of summer squash, sweet pepper, tomato, onion, a bit of garlic, and--in this non-vegetarian's version--chorizo, all simmered together into awesomeness.
To be very authentic, apparently one uses eggs: whether cooked in the pisto itself, hard-boiled and then added toward the end, or scrambled and served alongside. You're welcome to try the eggy version if you like, but it's not for me. Below is my incarnation of it, which I like to think is mostly authentic, with the exception of the missing eggs. The quantities are approximate--this seems like a very forgiving recipe. A good crusty bread, a nice Spanish red wine and maybe a green salad round out the meal nicely.
Pisto (con chorizo)
Serves 3-4 as a main dish, probably 5-6 as a side dish.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small or medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
a few good-sized garlic cloves, minced (2 tablespoons)
1 pound summer squash, diced (maybe 2 cups?)
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved (alternatively, use fresh tomatoes peeled, seeded, and chopped; juice still reserved)
2 sweet peppers, diced (about 1 cup)
1-2 links chorizo (optional)
2 tablespoons sugar
~1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
Fish out one of those heavy pots you've kept shut up in a cupboard for the last six months. I highly recommend cast iron if you have it--it just seems suited to the task. (Personally, I used this as an opportunity to continue my love affair with my 5.5 quart enameled cast iron pot. It did not let me down.)
Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is just starting to soften.
Add the diced pepper. Cook until both are just barely tender, then tip in the garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant.
Stir in the squash and a bit of the salt, and cook for a few minutes. The veggies should be coated with oil and all of them should be starting to soften.
Add the tomatoes, the chorizo if you're using it, the sugar, and the rest of the salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly.
A note on the chorizo, if you're using it: I bought mine raw, removed the casings, and pinched off small pieces to add it to the veggies and let it all cook together; alternatively, you could cook it separately, slice it or dice it, and add it at this point or later. The latter method strikes me as neater, but this isn't meant to be a neat and tidy dish, and I think the mixture benefits from steeping in whatever seasonings are in the sausage.
Add the reserved tomato juice plus 2-4 tablespoons water, stir, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook at a simmer, uncovered and stirring often, until the vegetables are very soft (you should be able to mash them, but it's nice if they still hold their shape when being mixed about) and almost all of the liquid has evaporated or been absorbed. You can add water as needed, a few tablespoons at a time, to make sure that everything cooks adequately. Adjust seasonings and serve.