October is a beautiful month most everywhere for it is then when nature stages her finest production. The warm days of September often linger into October, reminding us not to wait too long for another RV outing.
This is the time of year when there is an abundance of the final harvest, and gardens spill over with late tomatoes, sweet onions, squash of all kinds, and gorgeous green, red, yellow and purple peppers. On those back roads there are still stands selling these late bloomers, and in most small towns there is usually a farmer’s market Sunday mornings.
Filling these just-picked vegetables with savory stuffings and roasting them until tender and browned produces some of the most satisfying dishes of the harvest season. And it all can be done quite easily in a small RV kitchen.
The basic technique for making stuffed vegetables is surprisingly straightforward. Cut off the top, carve or scoop out the seeds to make a hollow vessel, and then fill it with an aromatic stuffing.
Stuffings should be assertive but not overwhelming. They should literally burst with flavor to highlight the natural goodness of the vegetables without overpowering them.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH CHEDDAR CHEESE AND SAGE
2 butternut squash, about 1 1/2 pounds each
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh sage
1 finely chopped tomato
4 oz. of cheddar cheese, cut into half-inch cubes
1 cup of dry white wine
4 tablespoons of maple syrup
2 tablespoons of butter, cut into small cubes
Remove the stems, cut the squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh from the cavities. Place the squash halves in a shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle each of the cavities with salt, pepper, and a touch of sage. Place 1 tablespoon of chopped tomato in the bottom of each cavity. Divide the cheese among the 4 squash halves, add 2 tablespoons of wine to each cavity, and top with the remaining tomato and sage. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the remaining wine around the squash and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for one hour, basting the squash several times. Check the bottom of the pan to make sure the liquid hasn’t cooked away; add more wine or water if necessary.
The squash should feel tender when pierced with a fork; if not, bake another 10-15 minutes. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of maple syrup on top of each squash half and top with the cubed butter. Bake another 5 minutes or until butter is melted and the syrup has formed a glaze on top. Serve hot to four.
STUFFED TOMATOES PROVENCAL
4 medium ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup of chopped parsley
1/4 cup of fresh basil, cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme
3 tablespoons of olive puree
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup of breadcrumbs
4 teaspoons of olive oil
Stem tomatoes and cut them in half widthwise. Use a small knife or a spoon to remove about 2 tablespoons of pulp from each half. Chop the pulp finely and reserve. Place the tomatoes in a shallow roasting pan.
Pour the olive oil into a medium skillet over moderate heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent browning. Add the reserved tomato pulp, half the parsley and basil, and the thyme, and cook another 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive puree, stir well, and remove from the heat. Add the remaining parsley and basil and season with salt and pepper.
Spread 1/2 teaspoon of olive puree in the bottom of each tomato. Divide the stuffing among the 8 tomato halves and top each with 1/2 tablespoon of breadcrumbs.
Drizzle the top of each tomato with one-half teaspoon of olive oil. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven 15 minutes and serve hot or at room temperature with a garnish of basil leaves.
TURKISH STUFFED PEPPERS
3 cups of cooked white rice, cooled
8 green, red, or yellow bell peppers, or a combination
2 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons of coriander
2 teaspoons of cumin
2 tablespoons of oregano
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
2 cup of walnuts, chopped
1 cup of dried currants or raisins
1 cup of chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
Dash of cayenne pepper
2 1/2 cups of tomato sauce
Extra olive oil and lemon juice
Place the cooled rice in a large bowl, stirring to separate the grains.
Cut the tops off the peppers and use a small knife to remove the ribs and seeds from inside the peppers, being careful not to pierce the skins. Very carefully, cut a thin slice off the bottom of each pepper so they sit flat.
In a large skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil over moderate heat. Add the onions and half the garlic, season with salt and pepper, and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and the remaining tablespoon of oil, and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the nuts, the remaining garlic, currants, apricots, and 1/4 cup of the mint, and cook about 5 minutes, or until the scent of the spices is released into the air.
Add the onion-spice mixture to the rice and stir well. Add the remaining mint, the lemon juice, and cayenne, and taste for seasoning.
Divide the mixture among the 8 peppers, pressing down on the stuffing to pack well. Place the stuffed peppers in a shallow roasting pan and top with half the tomato sauce. Add the remaining sauce and 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the pan. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven about 45 minutes. Baste the peppers with the sauce once or twice. If the sauce appears to be drying out, add another half-cup of water. Serve hot, or at room temperature, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, and garnished with fresh mint.
These recipes can be made ahead of time and popped into the oven just before serving. And, in true Mediterranean fashion, stuffed vegetables tend to be low in fat. So take advantage of the bountiful end of summer harvest, and try something new and exciting.
Hint of the Month: Add bits of smoked ham or sausage for a meatier taste, nuts for a crunchy texture, and experiment with your favorite herbs and spices.
Marian Platt is a food writer who lives in Sequim, Washington.