Fall fell, yesterday, as my mother likes to say. I’d say that it didn’t fall as much as it galloped into town like a folk hero, delivering the townsfolk from the big bad bully of a summer. It calmed us with steady showers and actual daytime temperatures in the 60s.
After coffee, and the routine morning check of e-mails and daily calendar, I did what I’d always longed to do on rainy days when I was employed full time. I took a light blanket and pillow, opened all the windows on the back porch and stretched out on the couch with a cat. The cool, moist air blew over us and even the caffeine couldn’t keep me from slipping into an hour-long doze, the sounds of pattering rainfall staying just at the edge of consciousness.
We hear that it’s supposed to be a cold winter. I’ll believe it when it happens. When I first moved to San Antonio 20 years ago, I remember days in December or January that were in the low teens. That seems to be happening far less often now. We think it’s global warming, but I wonder how much of it is simply cyclical.
I won’t pretend to be a weather expert, but as fall comes in I do know what is happening in my garden, and what will soon be happening in my kitchen.
The garden is recovering now from the heat, and herbs like the Mexican mint marigold, lemon grass, basil, thyme and oregano have perked back up. It’s time to replant nasturtiums, though I have a few little survivors from early summer that might catch hold.
A friend gave me parsley seeds to plant and I have a packet of mesclun seeds, or field greens, that I’ve been saving a patch of ground for.
Sitting outside at night recently, we noticed that a fig tree had decided to put on some more fruit. Though the figs are small, they're ripening. One okra plant is still staunchly producing; an eggplant and zucchini plant that started blooming in the worst heat of summer are now looking like they might try again. I wish them luck.
For some reason my Meyer lemon did not fruit at all this year. Nor will the pecan trees produce an amazing crop such as they did last year.
But, I have five tomato plants that look promising, several of them heirlooms. I planted them a few weeks ago, putting their stems down deep in the soil, as a friend had shown me. Even the patio tomato that provided so many little red grape-shaped fruits earlier this summer is blooming, and a small cluster of tomatoes are ripening.
As for the kitchen, I’m looking forward to soup weather. I know, it will warm up again and the real cool weather won’t hit until late October, maybe November. Still, I might start early with the soup, bread and glass of wine for a perfect, casual fall dinner.
The following soup-as-a-meal recipe is adapted from a book published 27 years ago by the editors of Consumer’s Guide, called the “Italian Cooking Class Cookbook.” What the name lacks in cleverness, the book makes up for with lots of excellent recipes. Try the soup below with slices of buttery, toasted garlic bread.
Italian Meatball (Polpetti) and Pasta Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large carrot, peeled and cut in small dice
2 (6-inch) ribs celery, trimmed and cut in small dice
1 medium onion, peeled, cut in small dice
1 large egg
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided use
1 teaspoon salt, divided use
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon dried marjoram, crumbled
¼ teaspoon dried thyme, or ½ teaspoons fresh, chopped thyme
¼ teaspoon black pepper, divided use
½ cup soft breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, with more for garnish
1-pound ground beef (90 percent lean)
6 cups beef stock, or combination beef and mushroom stock (available in stores)
1 bay leaf
½ cup small pasta, uncooked, such as short macaroni or small shells
1 (14-ounce) can whole, peeled plum tomatoes
Put oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet and put the olive oil into it. Let warm over medium heat, then add the carrot, celery and onion. Sauté the vegetables slowly so that they become crisp-tender, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by oiling it lightly. Make meatballs by combining the egg, two tablespoons of the minced parsley, ½ teaspoon salt, minced garlic, marjoram, thyme, ½ teaspoon of the pepper, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup of cheese and ground beef. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Shape into small balls, about a heaping teaspoonful each. Place each meatball on the pan. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and springy to the touch. (You also may fry the meatballs in an oiled skillet, if you wish.)
Put the cooked carrot, celery and onion into a soup pot. Add the broth and bay leaf. Put the soup pot on a burner over medium-high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Drain the tomato juice from the can into the stock. Cut up the rest of the tomatoes into a small-to-medium dice and add to the pot. Pour off any fat on the pan and add the cooked meatballs to the pot. When the stock has simmered another 5 minutes, add the pasta and cook for about 10 minutes. When pasta is tender, add the rest of the parsley, adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaf before serving.
Pass more Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top of the soup.
Adapted from the “Italian Cooking Class Cookbook”