By KATE FULLAM //
The transition from summer to fall is fickle on Long Island.
A stretch of chilly mornings, high winds and rain may retreat back to heat, humidity and a lingering beach day, even as September concedes to October.
But winter is coming, and in preparation for the cold weather ahead, I highly recommend focusing on warming ingredients that will keep your body heated – and provide an exciting element to your meals.
Flavor alert: This your last call to stock up on (and preserve) hot peppers from local farms! Stop by the Sweet Woodland Farm booth at the Hampton Bays Farmers Market on Thursday evenings for super-hot cayenne peppers; order online for delivery of Amagansett-based Balsam Farms’ medium-spiced cherry bomb peppers; or pre-order some mild poblano peppers to pick up from Treiber Farms in Peconic.
Don’t worry about shelf life: Peppers can be pickled, frozen or fermented into a wonderful hot sauce, adding warmth to your winter meals all season long. Here’s a tip: The Scoville scale gives an estimation of the spiciness of various pepper types, so you know what you’re getting into.
For those who don’t enjoy hot peppers but still want something to spice up their meal, try some of Holy Schmitt’s famous horseradish. You’ll find many flavors on the shelves at grocery stores throughout Long Island, or stop by their retail shop in Riverhead.
Hearty fall and winter vegetables such as potatoes, squash and carrots can be found at local farms and provide a wonderful base to warming soups, stews and stir-fried dishes. Check out Local Harvest to search by ZIP code for local farms and Community Supported Agriculture shares in your area. Many local farms offer off-season shares of cold-storage crops and items that can be grown in their greenhouses.
There are some wonderful local producers who have created spicy blends to make your life easier in the kitchen, regardless of the season. Get all the flavor of an authentic Indian dish by stocking your pantry with Moji Masala packets, made in Southampton; I also love cHarissa Spice, blended in Cutchogue, for pre-marinating roasted vegetables – it brings a real Moroccan flare to otherwise plain ingredients!
And of course, our region produces some terrific finishing touches to heat up any meal. Try Springs Fireplace Hot Sauce with peppers grown at The Hoppy Acre in Amagansett, made with care by the farmers themselves (I love the Tesuque for its pretty color and relatively mild heat index).
Meanwhile, Amagansett Sea Salt makes a zingy Aleppo Pepper Salt that’s delicious with fish or vegetables.
However you choose to spice up your meals this winter, I encourage you to do it locally. For one-stop shopping, check out East End Food Institute’s Virtual Farmers Market, where we’re expanding offerings for this fall and winter, including home delivery throughout the East End. Now that’s hot stuff!
Kate Fullam is the executive director of East End Food Institute in Southampton.