Fall’s fleeting beauty

Some of the flowers in my garden beds are at their most brilliant right now. The strawberry pot has turned into a big ball of pink begonias; the hues in the copper-amethyst osteospurmum have intensified to an other-worldly glow; the flowering kale (an impulsive springtime purchase) has grown to gigantic proportions.

Even the green tomatoes on my sole tomato plant continue to, slowly but surely, advance to a usable shade of red.

But every time I go outside to water the plants — and replace the soil that has been dug out by our pesky resident squirrel — I am aware that this could be the last day my plants look this good.  An overnight frost could bring an end to the growing season at any minute, leaving the now-beautiful flowers shriveled and spent.

While I’m appreciating the season’s gardening accomplishments at home, I’m reminded that I also need to appreciate the end-of-season bounty still available at the farmers markets. It is the middle of October, after all, and often times the growing season has already been long concluded.

One of my sources at the Tuesday downtown farmers market, who preferred to remain nameless, provided these recipes that make use of the bountiful onion crop.

Ultimate Onion Rings

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray two large baking sheets with nonstick spray.

In a large zip-close plastic bag, place 1/3 cup flour. In a shallow bowl, whisk together 1 cup low-fat buttermilk, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. In another shallow bowl, combine ½ cup plain dried bread crumbs and ½ teaspoonOldBayseasoning.

Cut 2 large sweet onions, into ½-inch rounds and separate into rings. Add the rings, a few at a time, to the flour and shake to coat. Dip the rings, one at a time, in the buttermilk mixture, then coat with the bread crumbs, transferring the rings to the prepared baking sheets.

Bake until golden and crispy, about 20 minutes.

Onion Salad

In a saucepan, mix together 2 cups sugar, 1½ cups water, 1½ cups vinegar and 3 teaspoons salt; bring to a boil.

Slice 5 large onions. Pour sugar-vinegar mixture over onions; let set until cool, then drain.

Mix onions with 1½ cups mayonnaise and 3 teaspoons celery seed.

Refrigerate.

 

A new cookbook that recently came across my desk is the Gooseberry Patch “Big Book of Home Cooking” (Oxmoor House 2011). It is a page-turner, full of all sorts of appealing, easy-to-make recipes. Here are a couple that make use of the end-of-season bounty.

Tomato-Zucchini Casserole

Combine 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, ½ teaspoon dried oregano, ½ teaspoon dried basil and 1 clove garlic, minced.

Thinly slice 3 zucchini and 2 tomatoes. Spread half the zucchini and half the tomatoes in a greased 8- by 8-inch baking pan; sprinkle with half the cheese mixture. Repeat layers; set aside.

In a small skillet, melt ¼ cup butter; add 2 tablespoons onion, minced, and sauté until tender. Remove from the heat and stir in ½ cup Italian-flavored dry bread crumbs. Sprinkle over cheese layer.

Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 25 more minutes.

Ripe Tomato Tart

Line an ungreased 9-inch tart pan with a 9-inch refrigerated pie crust; press crust into fluted sides of pan and trim edges. Bake at 450 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes; remove from oven. Sprinkle crust with ½ cup mozzarella cheese; let cool in wire rack.

Combine 4 plum tomatoes, cut into wedges; ¾ cup fresh basil, chopped; 4 cloves garlic, minced; ½ cup mayonnaise; ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese; another 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese; and 1/8 teaspoon white pepper. Mix well and spoon into crust.

Reduce heat to 375 degrees; bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly.

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