I love summer in Humboldt County for a number of reasons, including the amazing produce our farmers bring to the markets and the fog that keeps us cool ("Get Out into the Fog," Aug. 26). Hence, I usually enjoy my favorite season in my favorite place. This year, however, after almost two years of not visiting my native country and my family, I traveled to Italy in late August.
As a result, I missed a month of tomatoes, sweet peppers, melons, figs, peaches, pluots and sweet corn at the farmers markets. I missed riding my bicycle on the Avenue of the Giants on Sunday morning and stopping at the farm stands there at the end of the ride ("A Bicycle Ride Among the Giants," Sept. 10, 2020). And no amount of catching up since I returned can give me back what I missed. On the other hand, I enjoyed shopping for food and cooking in Italy and Switzerland. While there, I implemented my usual approach: I looked for local products, searched for ways to buy what was in season directly from producers, then got creative in the kitchen with what I purchased.
In Val Venosta, an alpine valley on the western side of South Tyrol (Alto Adige), near the Swiss and Austrian border, surrounded by acres of apple orchards laden with almost ripe fruit, we ate pears from the new crop, freshly harvested cabbage, lots of mountain-grown strawberries and my first zucca (winter squash) of the season.
The internet helped me to find places to visit, like farms that sell directly to customers, but keeping my eyes open helped. For example, in Prato allo Stelvio, the town in Val Venosta where we stayed, knowing some German helped me realize that what looked like a house was also a farm stand twice a week. There, I purchased homemade flatbread, cabbage and their formaggio di malga.
In the days we spent in the Alps, we tasted various types of formaggio di malga, cheese made during the summer months, when cows, sheep and goats graze on rich, high-altitude pastures. Not all the cheese I bought was excellent, but a cheese that's only so-so on the plate may still perform well once melted, so I experimented with adding cheese to cooked vegetables just before serving.
We bought pears and apples from a farm stand, a trailer parked along the path that brings cyclists among the apple orchards, through old towns and the Stelvio National Park, away from the busy highways. The self-service stand also offered fresh apple juice, and dried apple and pear slices.
My husband loved the pears, which inspired me to add the fruit to cabbage. The first winter squash seemed like a nice addition, so the recipe I am sharing here was born. When I got back home to Humboldt, all the ingredients were waiting for me at the first farmers market I visited, so I have continued making it. When I taste it, it brings back sweet alpine memories.
Cabbage with Winter Squash, Pear and Cheese
Choose varying types of squash, pears and cheese for a dish that tastes slightly different every time.
8 ounces winter squash, like honeynut, butternut or delicata
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces red onion, diced small
1 pound green cabbage
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon harissa spice mix
¼ cup lukewarm water
4 ounces firm, thin-skinned pear or Asian pear
¾ -1 teaspoon fine sea salt, to taste
1 ounce freshly grated cheese of choice
Remove seeds and strings from the squash (a grapefruit spoon is my favorite tool for this). Use a sturdy swivel vegetable peeler to peel the squash, then cut it into cubes no larger than ½ inch.
Warm the olive oil in a 10-inch deep sauté pan or large skillet on medium heat. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add the onion, stir well and cook for 2 minutes. Add the squash, stir well and cook for another 2 minutes. Cover the pan and cook on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring often.
In the meantime, quarter and core the cabbage. Slice each quarter into ¼-inch-thick ribbons.
Add the garlic to the pan, sprinkle the harissa on the vegetables and stir well. After 1 minute, add the cabbage and the water, stir slightly (this will be a bit awkward, given the volume of the raw cabbage) and cover. Cook over low heat until the cabbage is almost ready (18-20 minutes), stirring often.
In the meantime, quarter, core and dice the pear.
Add the pear to the cabbage and stir well. Cover and continue cooking for 4-5 minutes, stirring often. The cabbage and squash will be tender, the pear slightly crisp.
Sprinkle ¾ teaspoon of salt, stir, taste and add more salt if needed. Remove the pan from the heat.
Distribute the cheese over the vegetables and cover the pan again for a couple minutes to let the cheese soften. Serve immediately.
Simona Carini (she/her) also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog www.pulcetta.com and shares photographs on Instagram @simonacarini. She particularly likes to create still lives with produce from the farmers market.