I’m always conflicted about September. I’m more than ready for the 90-degree days of summer to be gone, yet I’m not mentally ready for all the stuff that has to be done this month.
Whoever thought fescue was the perfect grass for this region should have to reseed everybody’s lawns, especially with a full month of home football games and tailgating to attend every Saturday.
Wait. I’m beginning to sound like a grumpy old man. I really love September. The blessing of this region is that summer foods will hang in there and it’s my last chance to fill my belly with fresh produce.
It’s no surprise to readers that I love shell beans, corn and tomatoes. I’ve made a steady diet of the three all summer. Many years ago, John Toler, chef-owner of Raleigh’s Bloomsbury Bistro, introduced me to a ragout that combines all the flavors of summer in one pot. At the end of August, I dust off the recipe and make a weekly pot until I can no longer get the fresh ingredients to make it. I’ll even freeze a batch or two to remind me in November what I’m missing.
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It really is a simple recipe. The key to success is to follow the order in which you add the ingredients so that each one shines while still becoming part of the whole. If you dump everything in at the same time, some items will overcook and the result is a muted rather than bright finish.
Pancetta is Italian cured but unsmoked bacon. You can find it already diced in most major supermarkets now; just check the deli section. I like pancetta because it adds porkiness without overpowering any of the individual flavors with smokiness. I’ve used regular bacon in a pinch and it works pretty well but will mask the vegetables a bit. Please don’t let being unable to find pancetta stop you from making this dish.
I’m also lazy and buy shelled field peas. Pull them from the bottom of the coolers at the markets and get them home in a timely manner.
September is really a good month. My grandson was born in September and my calendar says Sept. 13 is Grandparents Day. Forget the chores. I’m going to eat well and play with the grandbaby.
Fred Thompson is a Raleigh cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont magazine. His latest cookbook is “The Kamado Grill Cookbook.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summer Bean Ragout
Weekend Gourmet columnist Fred Thompson says the success of this dish depends on cooking the veggies in the proper order.
1 cup finely diced pancetta, or 4 slices diced bacon
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
4 cups no-sodium or low-sodium chicken broth or stock
2 cups assorted fresh summer peas that have been shelled, such as purple hulls, butter beans, Dixie Lee or Lady Cream peas
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 cup fresh uncooked sweet corn kernels
2 cups assorted summer beans, cut into pieces, such as snap beans, pole beans, or Roma beans
2 cups diced, peeled and seeded tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cook the pancetta or bacon in a large pot over medium heat until most of the fat is rendered and the meat becomes crisp.
Add the onion and cook until the onions pick up a little color, about 5 minutes. Stir the onions often to pick up the “brown bits” from the bottom of the pot.
Add the chicken broth or stock and bring to a simmer. Add the peas, starting with the hardest, like the crowder; end with the butter beans and Dixie Lees if using. Simmer the harder peas for 8-10 minutes. Add the butterbeans or Dixie Lees and cook for 10 minutes.
Stir in the thyme, chili flakes, corn and fresh beans. Bring back to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and parsley and heat through, about 3-5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and freshly grounded pepper. Serve.
Yield: 8 servings.