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August, 2008

Summer Meets Fall

By Mark Mulcahy

If it hasn't been said before it should be noted that autumn is the official start of the indoor comfort food cooking season. I know my thoughts turn to things like apple tarts, baked winter squash, homemade tomato soup, or even just a bowl full of mixed steamed fall greens.

Winter Squash
If it hasn't been said before it should be noted that autumn is the official start of the indoor comfort food cooking season. I know my thoughts turn to things like apple tarts, baked winter squash, homemade tomato soup, or even just a bowl full of mixed steamed fall greens. As a matter of fact, this is a perfect time for produce lovers to combine the best of two worlds, Melissa's summer and fall produce, in all of their meal planning. And man, oh man, do we have a lineup for you! Just look at this organic cornucopia Melissa's has to offer this month: all the hard squash varieties you could want, including Acorn, Butternut, Spaghetti, Hubbard, Carnival, Sweet Dumpling, Kabocha, Delicata, and Red Kuri (one of my personal favorites).

Pie Pumpkins for those of you who like to make pumpkin pie from scratch. All the cooking greens, like various Chards, Kales, Collards, Spinach and of course, lots of Fennel, Green Beans, Beets, Green and Red Bell Peppers, Leeks, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumbers, Eggplant, several types of Leaf Lettuce, and of course the essential for every pantry: Onions, from tender green to hardy red and yellow.

Now we all know that no fall produce list would be complete without everybody's favorite comfort food, potatoes, and Melissa's has beautiful Red, Russets and Yukon Gold for all of your cooking choices.

One of my favorite combinations is potatoes and corn. Here's a simple recipe for Potato Corn Chowder that I adapted for you to start your season off.

Potato Corn Chowder

1 tsp. olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 cup carrot, sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cup red potatoes, cubed
1 bay leaf
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup skim or soymilk
1 cup fresh corn kernels
Cayenne pepper to taste
Chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

In large saucepan, heat oil. Add onion and sauté ¦or five minutes. (If mixture appears dry, add 1-2 tsp. water.) Add carrot, celery, garlic, potatoes, bay leaf, and broth. Cover, bring to boil, and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add milk and corn; simmer for three minutes or until corn is tender. Discard bay leaf. Pureé ¯ne cup of soup in the blender, and then return to pot; season with cayenne. If desired, garnish with cilantro. Another nice touch I like is to add fresh chopped end-of-the-summer tomatoes just before serving.

Squash
Besides all the great cooking you can do with Melissa's organic vegetable lineup, autumn is a special season for other reasons as well, the weather, fall colors and holidays are just a few, but there should be another reason added to this list: it's pomegranate time! Yes, this fruit starts showing up in stores in late August or early September, but are really best eaten when October rolls around. And Melissa's has two of the best varieties: Foot Hills and Wonderful.

You know it's funny, even though the pomegranate holds the distinction of being one of the oldest known fruits, and has a rich history, including loads of folklore, it is just now gaining the popularity it deserves. I think its slow road to acceptance could be due to the question most people have when they see this beautiful globe that ranges in color from yellow-orange to deep reddish-purple in the store: I know it's good for me but how the heck do you eat it?

For some, it is as easy as cutting it into quarters and biting into the seed pack. That can be a little messy and unpleasant, as the white inner membranes are high in tannic acid, which can have a bitter flavor for some folks. An easier way to remove the delicious kernels is to first cut off the flower end of the pomegranate and then score it into sections. Now place your pomegranate in a bowl of water and soak it for five minutes. Break the seed sections open in the bowl of water, and separate the seed kernels from the rind and membrane and they will sink. Remove the rind and drain the kernels. Now enjoy your reward.

Want to have some fun? Next time you are eating a pomegranate with a friend, make a harmless bet on how many seeds are in a pomegranate. Here's a little secret: a pomegranate has exactly 840 seeds. I bet you won't find that fact in a game of trivial pursuit.

The next most frequently asked question is: can I eat the seeds inside the kernel? Absolutely! The seeds inside the kernels have a wonderful nutty flavor similar to that of grape seeds. Which makes them great as a salad or dessert topping.

If you are just enjoying the pomegranate kernels as they are, you may want to wear an apron or an old shirt during the eating process because the ruby-colored juice stains! So you are probably thinking, "It's fall, why go to all this trouble when you could just grab an apple?" which Melissa's has plenty to choose from. But here are some reasons to consider:

Organic Pomegranate
First, pomegranate juice has a wonderful flavor! Just look at all of the drinks on the market that have pomegranate juice in them these days. Second, it is high in antioxidants, which have been shown to prevent or reduce cell damage and can play a role in promoting cardiovascular health. It has also been shown to slow the growth of cancerous tumors and can even lessen the risk and severity of degenerative diseases. And last, it is also high in vitamin C, which in addition to all of its well-known attributes, has also been found to support healthy immune-system function. Wow, now that's impressive!

This is perfect as the weather turns cooler and colds and viruses start cropping up. Still not sure if you want to eat them raw? Check out this recipe from the September 2006 Gourmet magazine.

Pomegranate Gelato

1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups bottled pomegranate juice
1/3 cup pomegranate liqueur such as PAMA
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Special equipment:
an ice cream maker

Garnish:
pomegranate seeds Whisk together cream, milk, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a 2 1/2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan.

Bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking occasionally, then boil, whisking, 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in remaining ingredients. Transfer to a bowl and chill, uncovered, until cold, at least 1 hour. Freeze in ice cream maker, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, at least 2 hours.

Soften gelato slightly in refrigerator, about 20 minutes, before serving.

Cook's notes:
Cream mixture (before churning) can be chilled, covered, up to 1 day ahead. Gelato keeps 1 week. Makes 1 quart. Enjoy the autumn and enjoy the cooking.