Savory dishes perfect for al fresco dining, especially in a hut

Sukkot is my favorite holiday. What’s not to love about al fresco dining that lasts more than a week and culminates with singing, dancing, eating candy and celebrating the Torah with Simchat Torah?

Sukkot couldn’t come at a better time — Bay Area weather is balmy, we’ve been inscribed and sealed during the High Holy Days, and families have finally adjusted (hopefully) to the school routine.

My husband builds a fabulous sukkah, using a kit we bought 10 years ago. We love decorating the sukkah with all kinds of things, such as redwood branches, which make a fragrant roof, and palm fronds, which provide a sense of desert authenticity. We make paper chains and paintings, string light strands and attach dried flowers to the walls. I find it wasteful to hang fresh fruit or vegetables, but we do have a few dried gourds and mini-pumpkins that go nicely.

Our sukkah is so beautiful it practically cries out to be shared with a lot of company. Our guests always bring food to share. I love the late eggplants, tomatoes and peppers that are in the markets at this time of year. They are wonderful for the stuffed foods that reflect the abundance of the harvest, and the abundance of the teachings of the Torah.

Stuffed Red Peppers

Serves 6

3 large red bell peppers

1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1⁄4 lb. shredded cheese, such as fontina or Monterey Jack

4 oz. breadcrumbs or matzah meal

2 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley

1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. fine sea salt

1 tsp. pepper

4 small zucchini, finely chopped

Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove their seeds and cores.

In a large bowl, combine 1⁄4 cup olive oil, garlic, cheese, 2 oz. breadcrumbs, thyme, salt and pepper. Mix well, then add the zucchini, tossing well to coat the zucchini.

Stuff the peppers generously with the zucchini mixture.

Lightly oil the bottom of a baking dish and place the stuffed peppers in it. Sprinkle the remaining olive oil, breadcrumbs and chopped Italian parsley over the peppers. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven about 45 minutes, until the peppers are tender and the surface of the stuffing is nicely browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Pumpkin Gratin

Serves 8-10

1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, through the press

3⁄4 cup white wine

1 tsp. sugar

2 pounds tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp. fine sea salt

1⁄2 tsp. pepper

1 5-lb. pumpkin, seeded, peeled and sliced

8 oz. sliced Gruyère cheese

3 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley

Heat half the oil in a skillet; add onion and garlic. Cook 2 minutes, then add the wine, sugar and tomatoes. Cook slowly, until the sauce is thick. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the remaining oil and sauté the pumpkin slices on both sides, until tender. Drain on towels and season with salt and pepper. Cover the bottom of a clay gratin dish with the tomato sauce. Lay the pumpkin on top in overlapping layers, alternating with cheese slices. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven until the cheese is melted and the gratin is hot. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a certified culinary professional. Visit her Web site at She can be reached at [email protected].