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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Farmers' Market: Fall Harvest

Throughout the entire growing season I have stopped by the farmers' market every Tuesday morning on my way to work.  Some days I had particular things in mind to purchase, while other days I simply strolled through the stalls for inspiration.  I made occasional trips to the crazy, vibrant, and bustling Saturday market, but Tuesday mornings were  always my market time.  It's been interesting watching the seasons morph into each other as the fresh produce changed over time.  Beautiful fresh locally grown vegetables would come in for a short stay before overlapping with newly arriving vegetables until gone.  Change.

Lately, the bright colors of tomatoes, plump blackberries, raspberries, summer squash, melons, and cantelopes have been replaced with the muted autumn hues of winter squash, potatoes, kale, turnips, pole beans, roma beans, okra, hickory nuts, and garlic.  The glorious fresh bursting plentiful piles of  corn  now have tall bundled proud corn shocks in thier place.   The autumn vegetables are all glorious and beautiful in a melancholy way. 

With crisp cool air erasing  memories of long gone stifling summer heat under a steel blue sky, I made my weekly pilgrimage yesterday morning amid long cast morning  shadows.  Serene.  Quiet.

The venders have dwindled to a few, slowly dropping away from the grounds. The ones still remaining exude hopeful exhuberance and, as usual, I was entranced.  Delicata squash, striped acorn squash, Casey County turnips with greens, tender tiny collard greens, baby bulbous eggplant, and orange fleshed sweet potatoes caught my eye yesterday morning. 
An autumn harvest meal was in the making and I was happy.

I ripped open my morning haul when I got home from work.  I needed to get the striped acorn squash in the oven because of the long braise it required.  I halved the squash, scraped out the seeds, and salted it before laying it cut side down in a covered  casserole dish with juiced oranges to braise for 1 1/2 hours.

I prepped the beautiful tender tiny collard greens by washing them before slicing them into 1/2 inch ribbons.  Late season collards can be large and tough.  The greens were picked that morning from a Casey Country farmer trying to avoid the possible early frost that had been predicted. They were  like  baby collard green leaves with tender slim central stems that did not require removal.  Just gorgeous. After slicing them into ribbons, I set them aside to work on the chicken.
After rinsing two organic chicken breasts under cool water, I carefully slid a very sharp knife into the thickest part of the meat and gingerly sliced pockets into each breast before stuffing them with herbed goat cheese.  Once stuffed, I dipped them in egg wash, rolled them in panko bread crumbs, and placed them in the refrigerator to set up before dinner.

With mise en place while the squash braised away, I joined Michael in our 130 year old victorian parlor for wine, music, and our daily catch-up conversations. Comfort.

After the squash had braised into buttery goodness, I heated a skillet until screaming hot, added olive oil until it sizzled, and carefully placed the panko breaded goat cheese stuffed chicken breasts into the pan.  When both sides had fried to a golden luxurious brown, I removed them to rest while I whipped up a quick white wine sauce.

At the very last minute, I sauteed sliced bacon in a tad of olive oil until crisp, tossed in 2 minced garlic cloves to caramelize, and feathered the ribbony collard greens into the garlicky bacon fat to cook for exactly 4 minutes before pulling them off the heat.  A final splash of balsamic vinegar bathed the bright green bacony garlic greens.

I inverted the striped acorn squash onto our plates, added a knob of butter, a drizzle of pure maple syrup, a sprinkling of sea salt, and finger torn parsely.

I tonged the collard greens next to the squash, topped them with the crisp chicken, and ladled the translucent  white wine sauce over the chicken before sprinkling with finely sliced scallions.

I nestled traditional sliced boiled eggs into the collard greens as a nod to southern heritage.

Usually, greens   are cooked for hours with smoked ham hock until greyish brown.  Tasty and familiar.  Old school.

Our new school greens were vivid green, fresh, and had body. They were bold and flavorful.  They tasted, smelled, and snapped like fresh collard greens. 

When sliced, the golden crisp chicken unleashed the tangy goat cheese filling, allowing it to spill onto the plate and into the greens. The combination of white wine-sauced crackingly crisp chicken, tangy soft melted warm goat cheese, and earthy garlicky sauteed collard greens was unbelievable.  Really unbelievable. We were undone. Totally.  Think about it.

The rich velvet squash oozed with butter and maple syrup.  Gutteral goodness.  Spoonable heaven.  Calming and comforting.

The bright freshness of summer vegetables may be on hold until next year.  We'll have to wait and yearn for their return.

But, right now there is bountiful beautiful harvesting to be enjoyed. 

Fall.  I welcome you with open arms.

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