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Don't Fear the Reaper

Local chefs David Wells and Nicci Tripp demonstrate how the seasonal transition of harvest time can yield some unique culinary innovations

By Steve Billings

Driving north on Highway 1, I find myself amid two things these days: pumpkins and mist. With the equinox behind us and the weather starting to turn decidedly colder and grayer, I feel like I should be preparing a big pot of root vegetable stock, fashioning soups and possibly even canning vegetables for the winter. I'd put things in a root cellar if I had one.

But I just can't give up that summer feeling. I still crave days long in light and a hot barbecue accompanied by the cool, bright flavors that summer provides. I'm caught between the worlds; a prisoner of desire and biology.

Our fields reflect the seasonal transition. Though pumpkins and winter squashes are ready, we still have access to late-harvest tomatoes and even some strawberries (if your farm has the perfect little microclimate). Jasmine Roohani of Everett Family Farm tells me that as of the other week, "we were still having a lot of summer crops coming, but with things cooling down, things are taking a lot longer to mature."

In addition to pumpkins and squash, she says that the produce that is "on" for them includes both bell and hot peppers, eggplants, Comice pears and their Red Delicious apples.

With all of this available harvest bounty, I asked two local chefs, David Wells and Nicci Tripp, for some seasonal recipes that could take us over the bridge into winter while still providing us with glimpses of sunnier days. These selections from two culinary luminaries are a good introduction to how to use the best of what's around.

David Wells, C.E.C., A.O.S., A.C.E.
Chef, Nutrition Instructor and Consultant

David Wells has over 24 years of experience in the culinary industry. Wells won Bon Appétit's "Restaurant of the Year" award for his menu creations at Mendocino Coast's Albion River Inn. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he has cooked for many discriminating celebrities, including Paul Bocuse, Julia Child and Ronnie Lott. He was also Steven Jobs' personal chef.

Over the last decade, Wells has focused on developing recipes and food products to help prevent--and support recovery from--cancer and other illnesses. He founded Wholearth Spice Company, which produces a line of 100 percent organic granola, spice blends and salad dressings/marinades. Wells has conducted many years of nutrition research, and also worked with molecular nutritionists and medical doctors, to design diet plans for specific illnesses.


Shrimp-Stuffed Tomatoes
by David Wells

Yield: 6 Servings
Prep time: 30 min.

6 large ripe tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
18 prawns (U-15s), peeled, deveined and diced
1 shallot, minced
1 tbsp. Garlic finely chopped
2 oz. brandy
1 European cucumber peeled, seeded and diced small
6 oz. Lemonagrette
1 tbsp. tarragon chopped
2 tbsp. parsley chopped
2 tbsp. chives chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Drop tomatoes into salted boiling water one at a time for 10 seconds each. Peel and cut tomatoes in half with a teaspoon or Parisian scoop. Remove seeds and reserve other insides for filling. Heat olive oil to shimmer. Sauté shrimp in olive oil with shallots and garlic until opaque. Flambé with brandy and let cool. Mix in other ingredients, fill tomatoes and serve.


Charred Tomato Salsa
by David Wells

Yield: approx. 3 cups
Prep time: 15 min.
Cooking time: 10 min.

6 large ripe tomatoes
1 tbsp. salt
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp, Latin Spice Blend*
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 limes, juiced
1 tbsp. cane sugar or brown rice syrup
Salt and pepper to taste
You will also need a large bowl filled with iced water.

In a 44-quart sauce pot bring three quarts water with 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Cut core of tomato out and with a pairing knife place an X on the bottom of tomato. Boil ripe tomatoes one at a time for 10 seconds and then place in iced water for approximately 20 seconds. Remove skin of tomato, cut in half and remove seeds. Season tomatoes with Wholearth Spice Latin blend. Heat skillet (cast iron skillet will work well) until very hot. Place tomatoes, cut side down and do not move for five minutes. Remove charred tomatoes from skillet and let cool, then dice or chop. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Let stand for one hour before serving.

*Wholearth Spice Latin blend may be found at your favorite grocery store. Or go to www.wholearthspice.com for more info.


Wholearth Spice Tomato Coulis
by David Wells

Yield: 3 cups
Prep time: 15 min.
Cooking time: 40 min.

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. garlic, minced
1 tbsp. Wholearth Spice Italy Blend
2 lbs. tomatoes, fresh and diced
2 tbsp. basil, chopped
1 tbsp. parsley, chopped
1 cup wine of choice (red or white)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 4-quart pot. Add olive oil. Sauté onion and garlic until translucent. Add Wholearth Spice Italy Blend. Deglaze with wine and reduce by half. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Puree and strain. Reduce to desired consistency. Finish with parsley and basil. Serve with favorite meat or vegetable dish.


Roasted Tomato Soup
by David Wells

Prep time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 1 1/2 hours
In addition to your soup pot, you will need a large roasting pan

1 tbsp. olive oil
5 lbs. ripe tomatoes quartered
2 large onions, sliced
2 large shallots, sliced
2 tbsp. Italian spice blend*
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 celery root, sliced
1 bulb garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
2 cups light red wine (Burgundy style)
2-plus quarts water to adjust consistency
Basil, parsley, chives and oregano, finely chopped, added at end of recipe as desired
Kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
*We recommend Wholeearth Spice Organix Italy blend for best results; however, you can substitute with blend of dried, organic spices such as paprika, fennel, ground orange peel and basil.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place large empty roasting pan in the oven and heat for 10 minutes. Add olive oil to pan and put back in the oven until smoking. Put onions, shallots and garlic into pan--you should hear a sizzle. Place back into oven for 10 minutes, stirring every three to four minutes. Add wine and scrape bottom of roasting pan to bring up roast flavor. Transfer into a large soup pot. Add water and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Puree in blender. Put back into pot. Adjust with more water if needed. Season with salt, pepper and fresh herbs. Simmer five minutes and serve.


Ginger-Pumpkin-Orange Soup (Bowl of Sunshine)
by David Wells

Some Nutritional Benefits
High in powerful antioxidants: Vitamins A (beta carotene), C. Low calorie source potassium and folate. High in fiber. Excellent for improving circulation, and relieving nausea and indigestion.

Makes approximately 10 12-oz. servings
Prep time: 45 min.
Cooking time: approx. 2 1/2 hours

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1/4 cup ginger, peeled and sliced
2-4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup rice vinegar or sake
1 large butternut squash, peeled seeded and rough cut
3 quarts water
3 tbsp. orange zest (orange part of skin only)
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced on bias
salt and pepper to taste

Heat soup pot on medium heat with olive oil until smoking. Sauté onions, garlic and ginger for two to three minutes until translucent. Add rice wine and simmer for two to three minutes. Add butternut squash and two quarts of water. Simmer slowly for two hours. Ladle contents into a blender and purée. (CAUTION: Always be very careful, puréeing hot food in as contents may erupt. You may want to remove the top and cover with a plate. Always leave some space for heat to escape.)

If needed, you can adjust consistency with remaining quart of water. Return puréed mixture to rinsed pot, heat and simmer. Add cilantro, orange zest and scallions. Season with salt and pepper and serve.


Pumpkin Bread
by David Wells

Wet Ingredients
1 cup pumpkin, cooked and puréed
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola, olive or grapeseed oil
1 medium banana
1 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients
1 1/2 cups organic all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups organic whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup hazelnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Cream/mash banana with fork in mixing bowl. Add wet ingredients and mix well. In another bowl, sift flour with spices, salt and baking powder. Combine wet and dry ingredients do not over mix. Fold in the nuts. Bake in lightly oiled loaf pan at 375 degrees for one hour and 15 minutes. Cool and remove from pan. Slice and serve.

Some Nutritional Benefits:
Good source of iron, beta carotene, protein and potassium. Low glycemic index.


Chef Nicci Tripp
Theo's Restaurant, Soquel

Chef Nicci Tripp is a professionally trained chef with 20 years experience creating fine cuisine. He developed his passion for food over 20 years ago while working in restaurants as a young adult. Nicci has worked in some of the finest kitchens in Cape Cod, Boston, Florida, San Francisco and most recently at David Paul's Grill in Maui. The chefs Nicci mentored under taught him the importance of using classic, French techniques and how to work with local community and farmers to guarantee the best, most beautiful product possible.


Heirloom Apple Tarte Tatin
By Chef Nicci Tripp

One 10-inch tart

3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup powdered sugar
12 oz. butter, cubed, frozen
1/2 tsp. salt
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp. cream
10 heirloom apples
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 tbsp. butter, softened
2 tbsp. vanilla extract

1. Place flour, sugar and salt in your food processor and pulse to blend. Add frozen butter and grind until butter is pea-size granules. Add the milk, vanilla and egg yolks and mix until liquid is absorbed. Transfer mixture to countertop and knead by hand one or two minutes until dough comes together. Roll out dough to 1/2-inch thickness and chill.
2. Spread granulated sugar evenly on bottom of 10-inch sauté pan and dot with soft butter. Cook sugar to light golden brown and remove from heat.
3. Peel apples and quarter. Remove the cores and arrange tightly together in the pan of sugar. Sprinkle with cinnamon and top with pastry crust, cutting around the top of pan and pushing dough down into the sides to form a tight seal. Make three small slices in crust to vent steam.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, cool for 40 minutes then invert pan on to serving plate and serve with vanilla bean ice cream

For the heirloom apples I prefer to use Tomkins King (circa 1714) they have a nice crisp texture and sweet floral overtones.

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From the October 6-13, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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