And POOF! Just like that, summer was gone. The telltale signs are all around us: Breath is foggy in the morning, cozy socks are back at the front of the sock drawer, scarves and jackets are shaken out of storage, and the produce at the farmers markets is taking a definite pumpkin-y turn. This, my friends, is fall.
That giant growl you just heard came from my ever-optimistic beloved husband who views the turning of the leaves as a personal metaphor for mortality. This is the same man who spends the first official day of summer in mourning because it means that the days will grow shorter until the year ends. Poor guy. Don't feel too badly for him, though. He lives with a compulsive baker and we all know that bread makes everything better.
Some of us, though, are not-so-secretly rejoicing. I've rustled up my fingerless gloves and my woolen caps for my morning strolls. I'm thrilled that I'm no longer sweating buckets near (not over, perish the uncouth thought) my canning pots. In fact, I'm upping the canning program in order to help keep warm until my husband finally acknowledges that summer has flown the coop and fires up the woodstove.
In the meantime, I will keep filling jars with little tastes of summer for my hibernating husband to put on his fresh bread. Jams and jellies are wonderful, but nothing beats cracking open a vibrant, ruby-hued jar of savory garden goodness when the brisk wind is blowing and the sky is gun-metal grey. Roasted Red Pepper Spread is just the thing to banish chills to the body or soul. You can't help but smile when you see the bright red jars with flecks of basil peeking out at you. And when you open it? It's everything wonderful about summer encapsulated in one little jar. The silky smooth, thick red pepper spread with the full taste -- courtesy of tomatoes, garlic, onion and red wine vinegar -- is at home dolloped on fried eggs, spread on toast, as a pizza sauce, or as a dip (either alone or stirred into mayonnaise or softened cream cheese).
My poor husband may never recover from the suggestion that winter is soon to follow, but I would be remiss if I didn't offer the following tip: If you tie a simple gold, silver or raffia ribbon and gift tag around the top of the jar, it makes a beautiful and tasty (and perfectly colored) Christmas gift.
The recipe yields around five eight-ounce jars, but can easily be doubled or tripled. I recommend an automatic doubling of this recipe if you intend to give it as gifts, because once you taste it you won't want to part with it.
Roasted Red Pepper Spread
5¾ lbs. sweet red bell peppers
¼ lb. fresh cayenne peppers (or other red-hued hot peppers) (If you don't like heat, use an additional ½ pound of sweet red bell peppers.)
1 lb. plum tomatoes
1 small onion, unpeeled and uncut
3 large cloves garlic, unpeeled and uncut
½ c. red wine vinegar
2 T., packed, thinly sliced (chiffonade) of fresh basil
2 t. sugar (I prefer raw)
1 t. salt
Preheat the broiler in your oven. Spread the peppers, tomatoes, onion and garlic cloves in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast under the broiler, turning frequently, until the peppers are softened and blackened all the way around, and the tomatoes, onion and garlic have some black spots on them.
Transfer the peppers and tomatoes to a paper bag, fold the top down three or four times to seal it, then let cool about 15 minutes, or until the produce is cool enough to handle. Set the onion and garlic on a cutting board to cool as well.
When the peppers and tomatoes have cooled, use your hands to rub the skins off as well as you can. Don't panic if a bit of the skin remains. Cut the peppers open in order to remove their stems and seeds. Rip the peppers into strips and put into a blender or food processor (in batches if necessary) and process until smooth. Pour into a stainless steel stockpot and repeat the process with the tomatoes.
Peel the onions and garlic then finely chop both. Add this and the remaining ingredients to the purees in the stockpot and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Lower the heat to medium low and continue a gentle boil, stirring often, for about 20 minutes, or until the spread can be mounded on a spoon.
You may either refrigerate the red pepper spread at this point, or can it to make it shelf stable.
To can the spread for long-term storage:
Ladle the hot spread into prepared 8-ounce jars leaving ½-inch of headspace (For information on how to do this, visit www.foodiewithfamily.com). Use a stainless steel chopstick or butterknife to remove any air bubbles. If the level of the spread lowers after air bubbles are removed, you can add more hot spread.
Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp cloth, put the lid in place, and screw on the rings until fingertip tight. Place on a rack in a canner, cover with hot water, and bring to a boil with the lid on the canner. Once the water reaches a full rolling boil, begin a 10-minute timer (15 minutes for pints). When the timer is done, remove the lid from the canner, turn off the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes before carefully transferring the jars to a towel or rack on the counter to cool, undisturbed.
When the jars are completely cool, remove the rings for storage, wipe the jars clean and label. Store in a cool, dry place for up to a year.
-- Adapted from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Gardener's Delight Eggs
Ingredients per serving:
1 T. butter
1 flour tortilla, cut into quarters or rounds (with a biscuit or cookie cutter)
2 T. Roasted Red Pepper Spread (see recipe above)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Fresh basil, thinly sliced (chiffonaded)
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Crack the egg and slide it onto the skillet near one edge. Place the tortilla rounds or wedges along the other side of the skillet. Flip the tortilla rounds when they begin to lightly brown. Toast the other side and transfer to a serving plate.
Cook the egg, flipping once if desired, to your preferred doneness. Use a spatula to place the fried egg on top of the toasted tortillas. Top the egg with the Roasted Red Pepper Spread. Sprinkle with fresh basil, if desired.
Boiled Cider (Apple Molasses) Milkshake
¼ c. Boiled Cider (see www.foodiewithfamily.com for the recipe)
3 c. rich vanilla ice cream
1 c. milk
Optional: ground cinnamon for garnish
Add the cider, vanilla ice cream and milk to a blender and process until smooth. Pour into a tall glass and garnish with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon, if desired.
For a heartier helping of Foodie With Family, go to www.foodiewithfamily.com or Rebecca's new blog, www.icouldeatthat.com. Write to Rebecca at email@example.com to share your adventures and favorite recipes.