In his book ‘Six Seasons,’ Portland chef Joshua McFadden offers dishes that highlight the Northwest’s calendar-defying harvests.
WHAT SEASON are we in right now?
Once it’s past Labor Day, we think of it as fall. By the calendar, it’s still summer.
But if you go by Joshua McFadden, lauded chef-owner of Ava Gene’s and Tusk restaurants in Portland, it’s a more specific time. We’re currently enjoying “late summer,” when the days are growing shorter, but, “Just about everything is going crazy” in the fields after months of sunshine and warmth.
In his new book, “Six Seasons” (Artisan, $35), McFadden and co-author Martha Holmberg note that the calendar year doesn’t really fit the timelines of our harvest seasons and our kitchens. Instead, the authors plan menus thinking of spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer, fall and winter.
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The more-than-four-seasons theory makes sense to anyone who’s walked into the Seattle farmers markets at the beginning of spring, hungry for a fresh bite after months of chill and rain, only to learn Washington’s signature spring asparagus won’t be ready for a few more weeks. Early spring here means radishes and cress — if you’re lucky — and the last of the overwintered carrots and beets and hardy kale. Similarly, peaches are a summertime fruit, but don’t look for them in June or early July. Our “June-uary” brings arugula and chives at the beginning; even June-bearing strawberries sometimes aren’t ready until the end of the month. It isn’t until the end of August and the beginning of September that we hit what some chefs call our peak, where every meal seems like a potential symphony of juicy peaches and ripe tomatoes and sweet corn.
McFadden, who has a farming background, considers more than just what’s available in the fields; he’s aware of the changes within the same vegetables from season to season. Early summer, he writes, is “a seesaw between warm and cool weather,” and a time when you’ll find vegetables in both young and mature stages. The “true young carrots” sprouting up then call for a light hand, he writes, while their overwintered cousins are denser and more firm. Midsummer, with its assurance that cold snaps have passed, is “a state of mind” rather than a point on the calendar, one that shows up at different times in different parts of the country.
His beautifully seasoned — no pun intended — recipes change with each season, and even within them, favoring raw vegetables as each becomes ready for harvest to appreciate them at their peak texture, then turning up the heat as the weeks go by. And, while it’s good to appreciate what every season offers, the one we’re in now is hard to beat. These golden days of late summer, McFadden writes, are “like Eden.”
Israeli-Spiced Tomatoes, Yogurt Sauce and Chickpeas
Makes 6 servings
1 teaspoon ground sumac (available in Middle Eastern groceries and well-stocked grocery stores)
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried chile flakes
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
6 small or 3 big tomatoes, cored and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
¾ cup plain whole-milk or low-fat yogurt (not Greek)
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded (if necessary) and chopped
2 cups lightly packed mixed basil, mint and flat-leaf parsley leaves (half roughly chopped and half torn or left whole)
Freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce, such as Sriracha
1 cup cooked chickpeas (canned is fine)
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil
Flatbreads, preferably freshly cooked and still warm
1. Mix the sumac, coriander, cumin, chile flakes, 1 teaspoon salt and the garlic in a little bowl.
2. Lay out the tomatoes on a baking sheet, and sprinkle the spices all over them. Let them sit for up to 1 hour while you fix the rest of the dish.
3. Stir together the yogurt, cucumber and mixed fresh herbs. Season generously with salt, black pepper and a few dashes of hot sauce. Let the sauce sit for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour, if you can, then taste and adjust the seasoning so the sauce is nicely savory.
4. Toss the chickpeas, red onion, vinegar and parsley leaves. Season with salt and black pepper, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Add a glug of olive oil, and toss again.
5. Arrange a layer of the marinated tomatoes on a platter, and pour any accumulated juices over the tomatoes. Drizzle or dollop the yogurt sauce onto the tomatoes, and tumble the chickpea salad on top. Serve with freshly grilled flatbreads.