Sure, most people associate pick-your-own farm activities with spring or summertime. But in most places, there’s still plenty to pick in the fall. And the cooking possibilities from the autumn harvest are practically unlimited.
Last weekend we took a trip to Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark, a Southern California pick-your-own staple for generations. We found some of our favorites ripe for the picking: raspberries, blackberries, tomatoes, beets, fennel, carrots, cilantro, squash, and at least five varieties of peppers. The kids were delighted – and perhaps went a little bit overboard – with the pickings. After lugging home pounds and pounds of produce, the real work began. Here’s a little story about what we cooked when we got home:
We started with the candy cane beets. These rugged-looking root vegetables are hiding a beautiful secret inside: an amazing pink and white circle pattern. Sadly, most of the color and lines get lost in the cooking. But the bright, fresh taste more than makes up for the color that is lost.
For the first beet dish, we peeled and sliced them, then put them in a roasting dish with chopped onions, fresh fennel bulbs, fresh carrots, and extra-virgin olive oil. We roasted it all at 400 degrees for about one hour, giving it a good stir at about the 30-minute mark.
Next we prepared some jars to make pickled beets. We followed this pickled beets recipe from the Food Network’s Alton Brown. Note: Ours turned out more pink in color because we were using the candy cane beets. Also worth noting: It took much longer to roast the beets than the 40 minutes he says in the recipe. Maybe our beets were bigger? We had them roasting for about 90 minutes until they were ready.
Next, with the enormous quantity of bell peppers we picked, we thought we should make a little comfort food, just like Mom (or Grandma) used to make. This one requires a fairly decent time commitment, and in fact we did it over two nights. First we made some Homemade Tomato Sauce with the fresh-picked tomatoes, and then the next night we used it as a base to make our Sausage and Peppers to serve over pasta. The key here is quality: If you’re going to use those beautiful peppers and tomatoes that you picked at the farm, please, please, please make a special trip to the butcher or your local Italian food purveyor to buy some high-quality Italian sausage. In other words, skip the supermarket brand if you’re going to invest the time into making this recipe.
Last, we had to do something monumental with all of those remaining peppers. We had jalapenos, pasilla chiles, and Anaheim chiles in the mix (and possibly a few others that we couldn’t identify). Our best solution was to make an Epic Roasted Pepper Salsa out of the whole pile.
We started by roasting about 10 of the peppers, using a good mix of all shapes and sizes. With protective gloves on (don’t burn your hands, people!) we cored, seeded, and peeled them all. Then we popped them in a food processor with some tomatoes, lime juice, onion, and fresh-picked cilantro. The result? A spicy salsa with a smooth, slow burn. A perfect match with our favorite chips and creamy guacamole.
Some people say there’s nothing worth picking on the farm in the fall besides pumpkins. To that, we reply: Would you like some pickled beets? Or sausage and peppers in fresh tomato sauce? Or how about some salsa? Bon appetit!