Wholefood nutrition with Jude Blereau
It seems sometimes as if summer senses that the season is turning, and, breathing deeply and digging in, gives it one last final fling. This is the season of capsicum and eggplant going nuts on the bush, the zucchini you missed hiding under all those leaves and grown to enormous size, of pumpkins that will never be as cheap or delicious as they are right now, of basil, corn and the last slightly imperfect tomatoes, of plums, figs and early apples. This is the season of harvest, as nature fills our baskets to overflowing.
With all this abundance, March can be a busy and rewarding time in the kitchen. Bottling and preserving those large zucchini, imperfect tomatoes and plums all make exceptional chutney for the year ahead. Tomatoes can still be bottled for the winter months - a pantry full to brim will never be enough once the year moves on. If all that seems too much work for you, the basil can be quickly whizzed or pounded into a pesto and frozen - a bright spark of flavour when all has died on the bush, there to find in the freezer on a cold winter's day. This is the season for corn chowder, of pumpkin and capsicum stuffed, simply roasted, souped or pied, of crispy apples with a chunk of cheese for a snack, of plum tarts and crumbles, or simply stewed and served with custard, cream or ice cream. This is the season of flavour and one of the best seasons to be a vegetarian. Just look at all that abundance of choice and flavour there in the garden or at the market.
This is also the season of nightshades. This vegetable family includes the potato, capsicum, tomato and eggplant, and is high in alkaloids that affect the way we absorb calcium. When you look at most traditional dishes made with these vegetables they generally include a rich calcium source, most often dairy. When you cannot include milk or cheese, make sure you provide plentiful calcium in other ways, such as sea vegetables, and bone (including fish) stocks. In a vegan diet especially, or a dairy-free diet, nightshades should be eaten with caution, if you have no rich calcium source to pair them with.
Oh, and a word on eggplants - so many people are a little bit afraid of them and don't like them. I've never known an eggplant, when picked as soon as it is ripe, to taste bitter or nasty. Eggplants such as this, and grown in sweet, mineral-rich organic soil, are delicious and rarely need salting. Sprinkle the draining area of your sink with salt, lay the slices of eggplant on it and sprinkle the top of the slices with more salt. Leave to sit for 30 mins, and then wash the salt off. An eggplant also needs to be thoroughly cooked to reach its true deliciousness potential, soft and melting. In regards to salting, as they sit on the bush, seed develops - that's when they need salting. A good eggplant should have a bright (but almost translucent) and thinnish skin and be firm to the touch. As they age, your finger can easily make a slight depression in the flesh, and it's a sure indication they've been off the bush for a while - again, they will then need salting. The best eggplant is most likely to be the one that is available now because it's in season and available. This is the same for all the fruits and vegetables noted above - it are worth taking a moment to celebrate and savour them.
If we were living in the Northern Hemisphere, late summer/early autumn would equate to Thanksgiving and that's exactly what I'm suggesting you might like to do now. Don't leave all the fun to nature - get out there yourself and have yourself a fling (no, not that kind of fling) - you can go a little nuts, too. Go through the linen cupboard and find a tablecloth and fling it over the outside table and celebrate and give thanks for all there is.
I would start with the classic nightshade dish Caponata. It will serve beautifully at that table with good cheese (goat cheese please for me), great bread and a good wine. That would be the nibbles course. I'd go on to serve a slow roasted leg of lamb with a big green salad, then pumpkin pie. I'm a sucker for pumpkin pie, and you'll find the recipe for this in the Recipes archive on our website at www.novamagazine.com.au. But I could be equally tempted with a Plum Crumble or Tart. Oh, and cream. Definitely cream and if you are able to culture that cream, all the better.
Don't hold back either (that's what going nuts is all about). Make plenty of Caponata - it keeps well in the fridge and is easily used as a base for other dishes. Heat it up and serve it over some polenta (with a good blob of pesto) or grain, with fish for dinner or as a base for a frittata. You could even fry up some tempeh, pour the Caponata over it and bake it in the oven. And don't forget the other classic eggplant and tomato dishes, Moussaka, Parmigiana and Ratatouille. All blindingly delicious, and keep well.
Find Jude's classic Caponata in our Recipes Archive.