It always happens, this time of year. I get anxious for fall. Fluttery. Nervous. Unsettled. Not sure what to make of summer, because I’m not sure when it will be over.
Maybe it’s school starting, even though I’m not in it. (I had that dream about forgetting to read for my first college French class again last week.)
Maybe it was the sound of my husband listening to my brother’s hard drive woes, then seriously instructing him to drop his laptop from a height of six inches. That would make anyone nervous.
No, really, I think it’s just change. Fall’s my favorite season; I must get nervous that someone will forget it, and skip right to winter. Every year, when the market peaks with peaches and tomatoes and corn, something inside me starts whaling on the panic button, incensed at the remote possibility that we might not give potatoes and pomegranates their due this year. That we’ll mourn the first half of September, and forget to revel in the second half of October. This weekend, I bought a kabocha squash at the market, and put it on my mantle, as a little reminder. Don’t be nervous. Fall will happen, and you’ll love it, again.
You’ll see the apprehension in my kitchen, too. This time of year, when the morning light no longer threatens my alarm clock’s job security, I start in on the soups and stews like summer never happened. As if we won’t get enough of those in the months to come.
Yesterday, I set out making a soup for a friend whose baby is due in a few days. It was bound for her freezer, originally, for the days when just putting the pot on the stove will be too exhausting.
The soup started toward pasta e fagiole. At least, that’s what I meant it to be, a sausage-filled version of that old Italian classic, redolent of onions, carrots, and celery, beans, and pasta (bowties, for her two-year-old). Nothing too creative. I sizzled the meat up in my big Dutch oven – oh, big red pot, I missed you! – and softened the vegetables in the leftover juices. But as I lunged toward the cupboard for a can of peeled tomatoes, I remembered the cherry tomato sauce I made last Wednesday.
A few weeks ago, I started simmering sliced cherry tomatoes (red, orange, and yellow) into a thick, bright pizza sauce. When the mother lode came in last week, heavy on the vine, I cooked up a big batch of sauce, and tucked it into the fridge for future pizza nights. I meant to share it with you that way, as a tart slather for your favorite crust.
Standing over the stove, though, with my soup-to-be begging for liquid, I couldn’t see how the canned tomatoes could possibly make a better soup base than the concentrated souls of two pounds’ worth of cherry tomatoes. Couldn’t see how the sauce’s rich tangerine shade could hurt a person, either.
In went the homemade pizza sauce, diluted with a little water. The beans and bowties came back into my field of vision, expecting to march right in, but when I rifled through my produce drawer, I found zucchini and corn from the farmers’ market, and the dry goods got shoved aside. Outside, a few straggling tomatoes begged to be used, and before I knew it, my old-fashioned pasta e fagiole had turned itself into a beanless, pasta-free stew of summery flavors. I let the zucchini and corn heat through while the tomatoes plumped and split in that great orange sauce.
I stole a bowl, before I packaged the soup up for sharing. It tasted as vibrant as it looks, one hundred percent summer.
We have a few days of summer left, still. Enjoy them. That’s what I’m going to do.
Summer Sausage Stew with Cherry Tomatoes, Corn, and Zucchini (PDF)
Heated to the peak of their flavor (but not a second longer), the tomatoes, corn, and zucchini here burst with the best flavors of summer—literally, in the case of the tomatoes. You could freeze this soup if you want, but I think it will taste best right out of the pot the day it’s made. If you want to make it ahead of time, save the zucchini, corn, and cherry tomatoes until just before serving, and stir them in as you reheat the soup.
If you don’t have time to make the cherry tomato sauce, substitute 1 (28-ounce) can peeled tomatoes, crushed, for the sauce and water.
TIME: 35 minutes start to finish
MAKES: 2 to 4 servings
3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pound hot Italian sausage (removed from casings)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4” rounds
2 stalks celery, sliced into 1/4” half moons
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups Simple Cherry Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
2 cups water
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4” half moons
About 3/4 cup corn kernels, from a cob of sweet corn
1 cup whole cherry tomatoes
Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add 1 teaspoon of the oil, then add the sausage. Cook for 5 minutes or so, using a wooden spoon to break the sausage up into small pieces as it releases from the pan. When fully cooked, transfer the sausage to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
Simple Cherry Tomato Sauce (PDF)
There’s no reason to wait for big tomatoes to ripen to make tomato sauce – and with virtually no core and thin skins, cherry tomatoes make the whole process so much quicker. Simmer for the full 45 minutes to make a sauce thick enough to spread on pizza, or for less time, if you intend to use the sauce on pasta, or in soups. (You could also blend the sauce right up with a little milk or cream for cherry tomato soup!)
TIME: 45 minutes, start to finish
MAKES: About 3 cups sauce
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 pounds cherry tomatoes, stems removed, very roughly chopped (any color)
Heat the oil and garlic over medium heat in a large skillet until the garlic begins to sizzle. Add the tomatoes, season with salt, and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the sauce reaches the desired consistency (30 minutes for pasta sauce, 45 minutes for something pizza-friendly). Season to taste with salt, if necessary.