Cooking with autumnal produce means getting the final breath of the summer's harvest while also inviting all that comes with cooler weather. It means juicy grapes and crunchy apples, tough-skinned squash and pumpkins, tender heads of cauliflower, and, my favorite, tall stalks thick as branches dotted with Brussels sprouts.
Fall cooking comes with small trades (like the charcoal grill for the stovetop and flip-flops for shoes with socks). Though we're not quite yet to dining by the fireplace, we're on our way.
My favorite fall recipes straddle this sense of in-between using the season's bounty in a variety of ways.
Apples are versatile, a fall fruit that can be dressed in warm-weather clothing. My takes include warm wedges cooked in brown butter that can veer savory with sage or sweet with brown sugar. You can serve the savory ones alongside roast chicken or pork chops, or on toast slathered with goat cheese or ricotta. The sweet ones can be offered in the morning to make usual oatmeal less usual, or for dessert over ice cream. But for days when fall doesn't quite feel like fall, you can do a cold, crunchy apple salad. Use crisp, firm apples for all these preparations.
Butternut squash, or any winter squash for that matter, offers similar versatility. You can grate the flesh and mix it with Parmesan, thyme, a bit of flour and egg and fry the mixture into irresistible fritters that are perfect to serve with cocktails at your next dinner party. Though it's delicious made crisp, squash is also wonderful rendered soft. Try it in a simple, creamy soup spiked with pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika) or pureed into a mash with a bit of saffron.
Brussels sprouts can also take on many forms and lend themselves well to strong flavors. One of my favorite techniques includes mustard in three forms: mustard seeds that add crunch and pop (these are optional, but try them if you can find them); Dijon mustard, creamy but sharp; and grainy mustard, sort of a cross between the first two. Combined, they transform plain roasted sprouts into a side dish with an incredible depth of flavor. Serve with bratwurst or roast pork loin. Or peel the leaves off each sprout, roast quickly, and top with salty pecorino cheese and bright lemon juice. These are incredibly good and can be served on their own as a snack (like kale chips, but better) or as a side dish. You could even toss them with cooked pasta and call it a day. Or you can skip cooking altogether. Just combine thinly sliced raw sprouts with crumbled Gorgonzola and chopped, toasted hazelnuts for a rich, satisfying and unexpected salad.
Cauliflower, with its sturdy florets (and, incidentally, now available in a range of colors), can also stand up to big flavors. I like to roast a whole head broken into pieces until they're browned and crisp at the edges and toss with butter and hot sauce, like chicken wings sans the chicken. Or roast and drizzle with a simple cheddar cheese sauce (like nachos sans the chips). Both of these remind us that vegetables can be just as satisfying as anything else.
Grapes, available all year, hit their peak in the fall. Besides just eating them out of hand, try cooking with them. I like to throw them on a sheet pan with bitter broccoli rabe and fennel-scented Italian sausages and roast the whole tray. The grapes get soft and concentrated, almost like cherry tomatoes. Or make a shrub, the delicious and versatile vinegar-based fruit syrup. You can mix it with sparkling water for an alternative to soda or mix with gin and serve over crushed ice.
To make it, all you need is a jar and a little patience. Just crush grapes with sugar and let them sit for a day before straining the mixture and adding an equal part of apple cider vinegar. The shrub can sit in your fridge for up to a month. It's a great thing to bring to someone's house if you're invited for dinner. And the easiest way to make grapes last longer? Throw them in your freezer and pull them out whenever you want a healthy, refreshing snack. They're my go-to, especially when I'm writing. In fact, I'm eating some right now.
From my kitchen to yours, fall.
Turshen is the author of Small Victories and the more recent Feed the Resistance (Chronicle Books, 2017).
Makes 4 servings
1 large head (about 21/2 pounds) cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets (about 8 cups)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon of your favorite hot sauce, or more as needed
Large handful coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or chives, for serving (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Spread the cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss until evenly coated. Roast (middle rack) for about 35 minutes. Stir now and then, until the cauliflower is soft and browned.
3. Whisk together the butter and hot sauce in a large bowl. Add the hot cauliflower and toss to coat. Taste and season with more salt and/or hot sauce.
4. Transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with the cilantro or chives, if using, and serve right away.
Variations: To make Roasted Cauliflower with Cheddar Sauce, omit the butter and hot sauce step. Combine 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon flour in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking until light brown. Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup whole milk; cook for about 1 minute, until thickened. Add 2 large handfuls of coarsely grated mild cheddar cheese (mild cheese will be creamier than sharp). Taste and season with salt and/or pepper and hot sauce; whisk in more milk, a tablespoon at a time, as needed to create a more pourable sauce. Drizzle over the just-roasted florets and serve hot.
Per serving: 220 calories, 4 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 20 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 25 milligram cholesterol, 230 milligrams sodium, 4 gra,s dietary fiber, 4 grams sugar
Makes 4 servings
1 pound Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh lemon juice
Kosher or sea salt
Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Toasted, chopped hazelnuts (see note)
1. Thinly slice the Brussels sprouts, placing them in a mixing bowl as you work. Drizzle with equal parts oil and lemon juice (to taste). Scrunch them so the Brussels sprouts soften a bit. Season with salt.
2. Serve at room temperature, topped with crumbled cheese and the chopped, toasted hazelnuts.
Note: Toast the hazelnuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for several minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool before using.
Per serving (using 2 tablespoons oil and lemon juice; 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt; 2 ounces cheese, and 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts): 210 calories, 8 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 180 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 3 grams sugar
Makes 4 servings
1 pound broccoli rabe, tough ends trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 pound seedless red grapes, stemmed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 fresh Italian sausages, preferably with fennel seed
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the broccoli rabe and grapes on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with the salt, then toss to coat evenly; make sure they are arranged in a single layer. Arrange the sausages on top, with plenty of room between them.
2. Roast (middle rack) for about 30 minutes, turning the sausages over and giving the broccoli rabe and grapes a stir halfway through, until the broccoli rabe is tender, the grapes are nearly jammy, and the sausages are cooked through and browned.
3. Serve hot, straight from the pan.
Per serving: 330 calories, 29 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams fat, 45 milligrams cholesterol, 1,010 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 19 grams sugar