With the wide availability of fruits and vegetables from all over the world all year ’round, one could lose touch with the seasonality of our produce.
This time of year—from Labor Day until the snow starts to fly—offers a unique opportunity to combine the last of the late-summer harvest vegetables with early autumn varieties.
Local farmers’ markets and roadside stands are the bellwethers of seasonal foods. Flavored by the summer sun, tomatoes, corn, peppers, and other treasures have dwindling availability. In growing numbers, earthy cabbages, apples, mushrooms, squashes, and root vegetables are making an appearance.
And in autumn, our methods of cooking change as well. The segue begins: from grilling and dining al fresco to gathering around the hearth for the comfort of braises, stews, and roasts.
So, we’ve put together a few ideas to help you combine the season’s best bounty with the freshest and finest meats money can buy.
Juicy Apples: The Flavor of Fall
Apples are so delicious and versatile whether eaten fresh out of hand or baked, roasted, sautéed, mashed or juiced. And with so many varieties, the range of sweetness runs the full spectrum. Whether cooked with or served alongside, apples have a special affinity for pork, poultry, veal, and sausages. Certain varieties are the prominent choices for cooking with meat and poultry.
Among the most generally available varieties, Gala, Fuji, and Crispin (also known as Mutsu) have firm texture and a good balance of sweetness. Granny Smiths also have a good, firm texture, but they can range from mildly tart to very tart. Consequently, you should consider whether the recipe can accommodate some sugar to offset very tart apples.
When selecting apples for cooking with meat and poultry, make sure the apples are free of any coating and have a shiny surface and firm texture. Reject any with brown or soft spots, a dull appearance, or spongy texture.
Apples oxidize (turn brown) easily when the flesh is exposed to the atmosphere. Consequently, if your recipe calls for sliced apples, combine the sliced apples with a dash or two of lemon juice to forestall the oxidation.
In particular, pork and apples go hand in hand, whether you’re using the fruit sliced or shredded or its essence in the form of cider or brandy.
Here are a few of our favorite recipes incorporating apples:
Pork Tenderloin Marinated in Apple Cider
The marinade in this recipe is seasoned with warm spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and mace, giving it chutney-like flavor. The succulent pork tenderloin used in this recipe is a highly versatile cut that can be roasted or broiled; but, it’s probably at its best when grilled. At about 10 ounces each, pork tenderloins are ideally sized for managing portions and estimating quantities for any size gathering. Try grilling apple slices brushed with butter as a fitting accompaniment or serve with your favorite applesauce.
Sautéed Sausages with Bacon and Apple Sauerkraut
The sauerkraut and apples in this recipe are the perfect foils for rich-tasting sausages. Sauerkraut and apples are an open canvas when it comes to pairing just about any type of sausage you like. In addition to the sausages specified in the recipe, substitute Andouille if you want it spicy or Apple-Spice Sausage for savory and sweet flavors
Pan-Roasted Veal Chops with Applejack Sauce and Caramelized Onion and Apple Hash
This recipe features layered flavors and contrasting textures due to the tartness of the shredded apples and the bite of the applejack, an apple brandy. The veal porterhouse chop is an all-time favorite. It’s similar to a beef Porterhouse steak in that it contains a portion of the fillet and a portion of the strip, so you get two flavors and two textures in the same chop.
From Earthy to Beefy: The World of Mushrooms
Not too many years ago, the choice among mushrooms was pretty much limited to the ubiquitous white button mushroom. No doubt, these are a staple: mild in flavor, absorbent of other flavors, and all-around dependable.
But there’s a whole lot of fungus in this world that is incredibly tasty and add such dimension to any meal or recipe—from the delicate enoki to the meaty portobello and shiitake.
Mushrooms are an ideal accompaniment to a sautéed dishes or as a sautéed accompaniment on their own. They lend earthy flavors to soups and stews.
And the great news is that with the availability of fresh and dried mushrooms online, even exotic varieties, including oyster, chanterelle, and morel, you can obtain a wide variety with relative ease. But, even most grocery stores nowadays carry at least a few varieties. The most common are:
- Cremini – also known as “baby bellas” or Italian brown mushrooms. Oversized cremini mushrooms, known as portobellos, are excellent for stuffing or grilling because of their substantial size, meaty flavor, and firm texture.
- Shiitake – earthy and meaty, these mushrooms are known by a variety of names, including black mushrooms, and are found commonly in Asian dishes.
Dried mushrooms often have more intense flavors compared with their fresh counterparts. When using dried mushrooms, soak for about 30 minutes in warm water, then dry in layers on paper towels before incorporating.
Whether you are combining mushrooms with garlic, rosemary, thyme, or other seasonings, these recipes showcase the mushrooms’ varying textures and flavors, as well as their ability to adapt to a variety of preparations.
This is a creamy sauce thick with mushroom pieces that is complemented by the slightly sweet nuances of Sauterne. With the Sauterne, this sauce is well suited to accompany veal, pork, or poultry. Simply change the wine to a Cabernet or Burgundy to make it ideal for topping beef steaks or roasts.
Garlic and Mushroom Sauce for Fondue
This thickened, semi-clear sauce is abundant with mushroom pieces and redolent of garlic. It’s an all-around winner for pairing with cubes of boneless chicken thighs, chicken breasts, sirloin, or tenderloin of beef. Aside from a delectable fondue side dish, this sauce can be used for any type of broiled or sautéed meat.
Pan-Seared Veal Strip Steak with Wild Mushroom Sauce
This is an easy, one-pan dish using the drippings from sautéed veal steaks and any combination of exotic or wild mushrooms. The sauce is highly versatile and would make an excellent topping for veal chops, boneless poultry cuts, and beef cuts, from strip steak or Porterhouse steak to hanger or flat iron steak.
Tenderloin Roast with Mushroom Sauce
This dish makes an impressive appearance at the table and delivers unique flavors with pan juices enriched with porcini mushroom liquid. While this recipe calls for a whole tenderloin, you can count down the size by using either a 2-pound or 24-ounce Chateaubriand and reducing the other ingredients proportionately.
T-Bone for Two with Mushroom Sage Sauce
Here, a simply prepared T-bone steak is topped with a mushroom ragout punctuated with cream, sherry, and sage. If you prefer more fillet in the cut choose a Porterhouse steak of comparable size. Or, if you want more strip steak, substitute a 30-ounce Double Boneless Strip Steak for Two. The sauce in this recipe would also pair very nicely with Veal Porterhouse Chops.
Add Color to Your Table with Eggplant
Thoughts of autumn produce conjure images of deeply colored, earthy vegetables. And none is more vibrant than the eggplant. Its deep purple satiny skin provides colorful variety to any fall meal.
The sweet-and-sour eggplant caponata in our Loin Lamb Chops with Eggplant Caponata recipe is a fresh and colorful way to enliven tender, all-natural lamb chops. It’s packed with vegetables and flavored with capers, raisins, pine nuts, and orange.
This recipe makes more than you’ll need for four servings of lamb chops, but you’ll like having it around to enliven a selection of antipasti or a cheese tray, or to spoon alongside other meats and fish. The flavors are most distinct when freshly made, but caponata keeps well for a week or more.
Can You Dig it: Roots and Tubers
Roots and tubers are similar in that they grow underground and are great sources of fiber. Nutritionally, however, they are different. Such root vegetables as onions, carrots, and beets are high in nutrients and low in starch, while certain roots are rich in antioxidants. Containing varying amounts of starch, tubers—including potatoes, yams, and the like—are lower in nutrients and are an excellent source of carbohydrates.
Both have a high affinity for preparations of meats—think of the carrots, potatoes, and onions so common to stews and braises.
When selecting roots and tubers, look for firmness, smooth skin with a slight sheen, and good color for their type. Avoid those with spots or spongy texture. Potatoes with sprouting eyes have been improperly stored or are old.
What is your favorite fall produce to cook with? What’s your favorite seasonal fall dish to make? Do you grow any of your own produce, or do you frequent a local farm-stand or farmer’s market for the season’s freshest offerings?