I could easily set the calendar by what I want for dinner.
If you live in the northern hemisphere, especially in the northeast where the frost often arrives first, some fruits and vegetables are at their best in September and early October. That said, sometimes the early fall brings heavy rains which can take a toll on our farmers. All the more that given the choice, please try to buy your produce at Greenmarkets and farmer's markets because they really need the income.
The fall is the time to enjoy the best apples, carrots, grapes, beets, potatoes, radishes, greens (spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens, kale), cauliflower, onions, and a repeat of the lettuces and salad greens we enjoyed in early summer, before all that wilting heat.
The fall is also a time of delicious transition when we can cook with the widest variety of local, in-season ingredients, some of which are best eaten more cooked than raw, including in the first braises we'll cook since the spring.
Here are some of my favorite fall foods that I'm looking forward to either cooking again or trying for the first time:
- Warm gougeres, which are baked cheese puffs, served with a glass of kir, a fall and winter favorite. To make a kir, mix a teaspoon of black currant liqueur, also called crème de cassis, into a class of cold, dry white wine. I find that it is perfectly balanced when you've added enough cassis to have the wine take on the color of iced tea when it's been diluted with too much ice. A Sauvignon blanc would be a good choice. Add more or less cassis depending upon how sweet or dry you prefer it, so start with a teaspoon and add from there.
- Cheese Wafers. With a slightly less complex flavor but easier to make than the gougeres, you need little more than a 1/2-pound piece of inexpensive sharp cheddar and a box grater, plus a little butter and flour. These are also excellent with a chilled kir. See our recipe.
- Tomato Chili Jam. Spicy, slightly sweet, and robust, this jam goes well on cold meats and chicken, as an alternative to catsup, or as a spread on shards of cheese. See our recipe.
- Greek Avgolemon Egg-Lemon-Chicken Soup. I've never made it and it's on my learn-how list after years of ordering it in NYC coffee shops.
- Hot Borscht made with beef short ribs. Likewise -- something I plan to make for the first time so to please my beet-loving husband.
- Baked Spicy Spaghetti from On Top of Spaghetti by Joanne Killeen and George Germon who own Al Forno Restaurant in Providence, RI. This recipe is wonderful for company because it is easy to make, is more special than a simple tomato-sauced pasta, and can be baking while you finish the rest of dinner. The sauce has gusto from a mix of flavors: combine a big pinch of red pepper flakes, 4 minced anchovies, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 or 2 cloves of minced garlic, all of which are added to about 2 cups of puréed tomatoes (I try to always use a 28 or 34 oz. can of good San Marzano tomatoes -- whole ones so I know how good they are -- that I purée myself using my immersion blender).
This mixture is poured into a large baking dish, one that is big enough to contain the sauce with room to spare for the pasta that will be added later. Bake at 350° F for about 25 minutes. In the meantime, in salted water cook a pound of spaghettini or spaghetti (I prefer the slightly thinner spaghettini and usually use DeCecco's #11) but don't cook it completely -- only for 5 minutes. Drain the pasta and add it to the baked sauce; also add a 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Use a pasta fork to carefully give it a mix to coat the strands, adding another 1/4 cup of the cooking water if it doesn't seem to have enough moisture. Continue to bake for 5 more minutes. The recipe says to serve the pasta with homemade bread crumbs, but I don't do this, preferring the slightly crispy surface that the baking gives the top spaghetti strands. If you serve this with a green salad and pieces of baked chicken (which can be cooking right alongside the sauce at 350° F), it makes a wonderful dinner that is good for family or company.
- Chicken Pot Pie. At the end of last winter I made this using a new recipe from the April 2011 issue of Fine Cooking magazine and while it's a bit of an effort, it's not difficult -- just a lot of steps -- all of which are totally worth it. We've added a link below for the recipe.
- Duck breasts served with the green olive sauce from Allard, the legendary Parisian restaurant. The recipe for the sauce was published by Patricia Wells in her book, Bistro Cooking, and it's also been shared in Saveur Magazine (search Saveur.com for the recipe). I make the sauce (using only chicken wings and leaving out the duck pieces), which is entirely worth the trouble, and serve it with two pan-cooked sliced duck breasts instead of a whole roasted duck, which is far easier and to my thinking, even more satisfying. But you could as easily partner it with chicken or turkey. If you can't find good pitted green olives, buy ones from an olive bar that are stuffed with pimentos and just remove the pimentos. But don't skip the steps on the sauce -- it is one of the greats and you will think very well of yourself once you've made it.
- Mixed Mushroom Rice Pilaf -- my usual rice pilaf to which I add a big skillet-full of sliced and sautéed mushrooms. See our recipe.
- Baked sweet potatoes with unsalted butter and cracked black pepper.
- Apple pie. I like mine best with McIntosh apples because they become soft and jammy in the pie as they cook and their flavor isn't overly sweet.
- Pear crisp with honey ice cream.
- Pound Cake. Either the one from America's Best Lost Recipes that's baked in a cold oven; I love it because it comes out of the oven very tender but with a crispy surface. Or else the classic version from Fine Cooking which I've made often with a perfect result every time.
- Chocolate Crackle Cookies -- search at MarthaStewart.com for the recipe which won a national competition at Martha Stewart and in my hands was the best cookie I ever baked.
External Link: Fine Cooking's Chicken Pot Pie (link will open in a new window)
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