- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I love the fact that Indian summer — the few days of unseasonably warm weather just before winter — is named in honor of the American Indians whose agriculture contributed so much to what we eat.

These foods, indigenous to the Americas, include tomatoes, squash, corn, certain beans, potatoes, chocolate and chilies. What better way to celebrate Indian Summer than with a light casserole featuring several of the foods for which we have the Americans to thank?

In this main dish, ordinary vegetables from the tail end of the season are boldly seasoned, then combined with olives, chilies and cheese and baked in custard.

While the casserole bakes, prepare a simple salad of peppery watercress and sweet currants with earthy walnuts. This will contrast beautifully with the casserole.

A basket of warmed corn tortillas will round out the meal perfectly.

Indian summer casserole

Nonstick cooking spray

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups corn (fresh, if possible, but frozen will also work)

3 large bell peppers, mixed colors, chopped or sliced

1 Anaheim or poblano chili (seeded to minimize the heat, if desired), minced

2 medium-sized hard tomatoes (greenish or any degree of not-yet-ripe), diced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt, divided

2 to 3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 cup minced scallions (including white and green)

½ cup chopped, pitted olives (any kind)

1 tablespoon fresh oregano or marjoram, minced (or use 1 teaspoon each dried)

1/4 cup minced fresh basil

1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley

Freshly ground black pepper

Cayenne

3/4 cup packed, grated Monterey Jack cheese

4 large eggs

½ cup milk

Paprika

Mist a 6- by 9-inch pan (or its equivalent) with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, swirl to coat the pan and add the corn, bell peppers, chili, tomatoes, cumin and ½ teaspoon salt.

Increase heat to medium-high and saute quickly for about 5 minutes. Add garlic to taste and saute for a minute longer, then remove from heat.

Stir in scallion, olives, oregano or marjoram, basil, parsley, remaining salt and black pepper and cayenne to taste.

Sprinkle in cheese and stir until it melts.

Spread mixture in prepared pan.

Beat together eggs and milk, and pour this mixture over the top.

Dust lightly with paprika and bake on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until set.

Serve hot or warm. It’s also good at room temperature. Makes 4 servings, but recipe is easily doubled.

Watercress salad with currants and walnuts

This is a subtle and elegant salad, lightly dressed directly in the bowl and with small touches of flavor and texture that really hit home.

If you clean and dry the greens ahead of time, the salad will take just minutes to prepare.

This tastes best when made with a very flavorful walnut oil but it is also fine with extra-virgin olive oil.

Prepare this salad just before serving.

It will not hold if it sits around for any length of time.

1 medium-sized head Boston lettuce or a similar soft, sweet lettuce

2 bunches watercress

1 scallion

3 to 4 tablespoons walnut oil (an aromatic kind) or extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Small handful of dried currants

½ cup minced walnuts, lightly toasted

1 tablespoon balsamic or champagne vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper

Clean the greens and dry them thoroughly, then tear lettuce into a salad bowl. Tear or mince the watercress and add it to the lettuce.

Finely mince scallion with a very sharp knife and toss into salad bowl.

Drizzle with oil and toss. Sprinkle lightly with salt and toss again.

Keep tossing as you add in currants, walnuts, vinegar and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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