My husband jokes that I am only truly happy when the air temperature sits between 64.5 and 65.4 degrees. I am a delicate flower, I remind him. Like a dahlia. Dahlias and I don’t like to be out in the elements until the soil temperature beneath their tubers and my toes is north of 60 degrees. And we don’t really do much in the heat of August, either. Rather, we bloom gloriously in the seasonably warmish days and cooler nights of September and call it quits on being outdoors for long stretches of time when the first frost bites, typically in early October.

Have you noticed this year’s dahlias still blooming? The daytime highs in Portland for the first 15 days of October averaged out to 65.3 degrees, while the average low was 49.3. And there were no frost warnings in sight at press time. Those temperatures are way up, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Historical daily highs and lows for that same period registered closer to 58 and 39 degrees, respectively.

Dahlias, like these from East of Eden Flower Farm in Bowdoinham, were still blooming in Midcoast Maine in mid October. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

I am enjoying this unexpected extended shoulder season, as it lies well within my personal comfort zone. But I am also quite pleased because cherry tomatoes, husk cherries and tomatillos are still on offer at local farmers markets. Zucchini squash is holding its own next to its winter counterparts in the market stalls. Green beans and basil can still be locally sourced. And both hot and bell peppers continue in full color. Oh, and there are still dahlias sitting on my dining table.

But just as I like my autumnal wardrobe better than my summer one come September; I prefer to adjust my go-to culinary techniques then, too. I’m done with the chopped raw salads and grilled meats of summer, and down with autumnal long-simmering pots of braised meats and vegetables when I have lots of time, and high-heat roasted meats and vegetables when time is of the essence.

As the seasons collide inside the warming climate, I am learning to love typically summertime produce both braised and roasted, cozier cooking processes more associated with colder weather. The fall crop of radishes, braised in just a bit of butter and broth, goes just as well with a pan-seared pork chop as it does roast chicken. Oven-roasted red bell peppers, peeled and pureed, are an easy main ingredient in a warm, creamy sauce for pasta.

In her 2004 book “All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking, ” Molly Stevens suggests creating a braising liquid for green beans from end-of-season tomatoes, anchovies, oregano and garlic.

“While I’ve made this with supermarket beans throughout the year, the very best green beans for braising are locally grown ones that appear in the farmers’ market toward the end of summer, when the season is winding down. It’s a great way to cook beans that are beginning to bulge and show signs of being overly mature,” she writes.

While most people associate this low-and-slow cooking method with breaking down tough cuts of meat, Stevens argues that braised vegetables have some advantages. For one, most vegetables cook more quickly than a pork shoulder or a pot roast. Secondly, since the vegetable kingdom offers so much more diversity than the animal kingdom (at least the parts of the animal kingdom we eat), a pot of vegetables – gently cooked with a bit of liquid in a covered pot until tender, infused with flavor and bathed in savory sauce – offers a wider variety of flavors and textures than a pot of braised meat.

Stevens’s 2011 book, “All About Roasting, A New Approach to a Classic Art,” walks readers through the process of roasting green beans with local shallots. When roasted, the beans lose a little crunch and the allium mellows. But tossing the lot with ginger juice (liquid squeezed from a pile of grated fresh ginger root) makes them a wholly different – but still delicious – experience than peak of summer blanched green beans finished with butter and sautéed shallots.

Most vegetables – roots like beets and carrots; crucifers like broccoli and Brussels sprouts; and late-blooming zucchini, sweet corn and bell peppers – can be roasted. Conventional advice on doing so says that you don’t want to have the heat higher than 425 degrees, and you do want to have enough fat (typically olive or vegetable oil) in play. Higher temperatures will mean a charred outside and an undercooked inside. Not enough fat, and you’ll have a hard time getting the vegetables out of the pan.

This extended shoulder season we are enjoying will eventually end in a wintery mix. But until that first frost hits, look to your Dutch oven and your roasting pan as simple ways to dress summertime vegetables appropriately for the cold weather that is coming.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport Press based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Try a fall cooking method for classic summer produce: Roast your cherry tomatoes. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Polenta with Fall Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce and Fried Curly Parsley

This recipe is inspired by one published in “Shelf Love” by the chefs who work in the test kitchen of British restauranteur and food writer Yotam Ottolenghi. The book has not yet been released in the U.S., but my in-laws brought me a copy back from their recent trip to England. I’ve changed the polenta ingredients to use my favorite local cornmeal, Fairwinds Farm Calais Flint, and the technique to employ my mom’s method. The plum tomatoes in the sauce can be fresh, frozen or canned.

Serves 4

FOR THE POLENTA:
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup whole milk
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup grated Alpine-style cheese
Salt

FOR THE SAUCE:
1 quart cherry tomatoes
4 shallots, quartered
1 small butternut or honeynut squash, peeled, seeds removed, and chopped into ¼-inch pieces
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 cloves garlic, chopped
8 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
8 sprigs of curly parsley, stems removed

To start the polenta, combine the broth and milk in a heavy-bottomed pot and place over medium heat. When the liquid simmers, slowly sprinkle in the cornmeal while whisking. Keep whisking until the liquid returns to a simmer, reduce the heat to low. Stir the pot every couple of minutes until the cornmeal absorbs all the liquid, 45-50 minutes.

As the polenta simmers, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cherry tomatoes, shallots and squash with 2 tablespoons oil and lay the vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet. Slide the sheet into the oven and roast them until the tomatoes and shallots are slightly charred and the squash is tender, 15-20 minutes. Remove them from the oven and set aside.

In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the plum tomatoes. Stir to combine and cook until the tomatoes release their juices and start to break down, 10-12 minutes. Stir in the reserved roasted vegetables and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To finish the polenta, stir in the shredded cheese and season with salt. Let both the polenta and sauce sit while you fry the parsley. To do that, place an inch of olive oil in a small pan. Warm over medium heat until when you stick a wooden spoon into the oil, it sizzles. Add the parsley leaf bunches to the hot oil (carefully as they will spatter). Cook until they stop spattering, about 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the stems to a flattened paper bag to drain. Season with salt.

Serve polenta hot, topped with sauce and fried parsley.


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