There’s a poem I love called “September Tomatoes,” by the Massachusetts based poet Karina Borowicz. In it, she evokes the feeling and details of the season change, like the fruit flies that erupt from tomato plants and the compost that cooks build from what remains of summer. It closes beautifully: “My greatgrandmother sang with the girls of her village / as they pulled the flax. Songs so old / and so tied to the season that the very sound / seemed to turn the weather.”
Borowicz captures in her poem what I try to capture in my kitchen this time of year: the palpable shift from one time of year into another. 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, toughskinned squash and pumpkins and 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 flipflops for shoes with socks). While we’re not quite yet to dinner by the fireplace, we’re on our way.
My favorite fall recipes straddle this sense of in-between:
My take includes 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 that you’ve 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.
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. You can even tuck the fritters into warm flatbread that you’ve spread with yogurt and top with some cucumbers and salad greens for a delightful vegetarian sandwich.
These can also take on so 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 do 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.
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.
While available all year, hit their peak in the fall. Besides just eating 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.
From my kitchen to yours, fall.
Consider new ways of using fall favorites: apples, grapes, squash, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
Roasted Cauliflower With Butter and Hot Sauce
This cauliflower offers a similar appeal to Buffalo chicken wings. When it’s crisp and hot, the cauliflower gets tossed with butter and hot sauce. You could serve this drizzled with blue cheese dressing.
For a cheesy sauce idea as well as a use for the vegetable’s leaves, see the variations, below.
1 large head (about 2 1/2 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)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Spread the cauliflower florets on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Use your hands to toss them until evenly coated. Roast (middle rack) for about 35 minutes, stirring now and then, until the cauliflower is softened and browned.
Whisk together the butter and hot sauce in a large bowl. Add the hot cauliflower to the bowl and toss to coat. Taste and season with more salt and/or hot sauce.
Transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with the cilantro or chives, if using, and serve right away. Serves 4.
Variations: To make Roasted Cauliflower With Cheddar Sauce, omit the butter and hot sauce step in the directions above. 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 (because 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 the sauce 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 milligrams cholesterol, 230 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 4 grams sugar
Sauteed Apples With Brown Butter and Sage
Deeply savory and a bit sweet, these apples are best served with roast chicken, pork chops or tenderloin, or on toast that you’ve slathered with either goat cheese or ricotta cheese.
For a sweeter take on this dish, see the variation, below.
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 pound apples, cored and cut into thin wedges
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook further, for about 2 minutes, until it turns light brown.
Add the sliced apples, then scatter the salt and sage over them. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the butter is dark brown and the apples are softened, reducing the heat to medium, as needed, to keep the fruit from scorching.
Serve right away. Serves 4.
Variation: To make Sauteed Apples With Brown Butter, Ginger and Brown Sugar, swap out the sage for a tablespoon of minced fresh ginger root, and add 3 tablespoons light brown sugar and a shake of ground cinnamon. Serve warm, over vanilla ice cream or on top of oatmeal.
Per serving: 160 calories, 0 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 140 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 12 grams sugar
Butternut Squash, Parmesan and Thyme Fritters
Tender and unexpected, these fritters are perfect to serve with cocktails at your next dinner party.
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and coarsely grated
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
About 1/2 cup vegetable oil, for frying
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and thyme in a mixing bowl. Add the grated squash, cheese, egg and milk, stirring until incorporated.
Line a baking sheet with paper towels, then seat a wire rack over it.
Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, drop tablespoonfuls of the batter into the skillet, without crowding them, and use the back of the spoon to press each mound into a flat pancake.
Cook the fritters until the undersides are browned, 1 to 2 minutes, then carefully turn them and cook until the second sides are nicely browned, another minute or two. Transfer the fritters to the rack to drain, sprinkling each one with a little salt.
Fry the remaining fritter mixture in batches, adding more oil to the pan, as needed.
Serve right away. Serves 4 (makes about 20 pieces).
Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.
Crunchy Brussels Sprouts With Mustard
Because the sprouts are dressed when they are fresh from oven-roasting, the dressing clings to them in a luxurious way.
1 pound Brussels sprouts (ends trimmed), each cut in half
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seed (optional)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon coarse-grain/whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place the Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the oil and then sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and all the mustard seed, if using. Use your clean hands to mix everything together. Roast (middle rack) for about 35 minutes, stirring now and then, until the sprouts have softened and browned.
Meanwhile, whisk together the prepared mustards, vinegar and the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in a large bowl to form an emulsified dressing. Taste and season lightly with salt.
Transfer the warm sprouts to the bowl and toss to incorporate. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 4.
Per serving (using 1/2 teaspoon salt): 240 calories, 4 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 230 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 3 grams sugar
Sheet Pan Sausage Dinner With Roasted Grapes and Broccoli Rabe
Sweet grapes, bitter broccoli rabe and fennel-y sausage come together in this easy, one-pan dinner.
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
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 use your clean hands to toss and coat evenly; make sure they are arranged in a single layer. Arrange the sausages on top, with plenty of room between them.
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.
Serve hot, straight from the pan. Serves 4.
Per serving: 330 calories, 29 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 45 milligrams cholesterol, 1,010 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 19 grams sugar