This past week, I spent my evenings making and freezing pots and pots of ratatouille for the winter. This peak-of-summer dish freezes perfectly and makes a delicious respite from winter produce come February.
My annual ratatouille-making frenzy always marks the transition from summer to fall. It’s a gentle reminder to enjoy these last breaths of summer.
October on the farm feels like coming up for air after months of swimming through a sea of produce. We are no longer harvesting in more than 100-degree weather, we don’t have thousands of pounds of melons to pick each week, and the fall crops are all planted and growing. In the evening, we even have time to appreciate the slanted fall light on the hills surrounding the Capay Valley, golden with baked grass and dotted with valley oaks.
It is also that magical moment when we are still harvesting the summer squash we planted in May, the last succession of melons and the newly cured winter squash. I love that all these different Cucurbit-family fruits represent a different season yet meet together for a few weeks in September and October. Here’s some shopping advice from a farmer: Don’t buy a melon after Oct. 15, and eat winter squash now before their sugars start turning to starch.
This past week, I also made one of my grandmother’s summer dishes. My grandmother was a farmer in rural France who cooked daily for more than 10 people. She was the best cook that ever graced this planet, and so much of what Robert and I do on our farm is in imitation of her and my grandfather.
Her style was to never cook from a cookbook, to use fresh ingredients and to always make a balanced meal centered on seasonal vegetables. When I miss her, I try to recreate one of her dishes, which is never truly possible because it’s me cooking and not her.
This dish is a perfect way to enjoy the last of summer produce, including late- season tomatoes (which is when they are sweetest). I make this dish as the center of a meal, or as a side dish with baked chicken. If you make it, you can channel my grandmother’s spirit and add a twist to the recipe to make it your own.
Mamie Galinou’s Squash-Tomato-Pancetta Gratin
Pancetta or bacon, cut in small pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 to 5 summer squash, cut in rounds
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Salt and pepper
6 tomatoes, diced
Emmental or Gruyère cheese, shredded
Cook the pancetta or bacon in a pan until the edges are barely crisp. Remove from the heat.
In a separate large pan, heat the oil (or use the rendered fat from the bacon) on medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent. Add the squash and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook until the squash is slightly brown but not fully cooked, about 3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, mix well, and add more salt if needed. Lower the heat and cook until the vegetables are soft, another 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the cooked pancetta or bacon and remove from the heat. Sprinkle the cheese on top and cover for a few minutes to melt the cheese. Serve as a side with meat or as a main dish with rice.
Serves 3 to 4
Kids activities at the Napa Farmers Market
Bring your youngsters to the market’s Education Station on Tuesday and Saturdays for Story Time at 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. There might be coloring, matching games or other fun activities, too.
On the KVYN Music Stage
On Saturday, Oct. 12, Stewart Degner will be performing.
Harvest of the Month
Through October, enjoy a comparative tasting of apples and cucumbers at the market’s Education Station at 11 a.m.