Oct 262008

You may be sad because summer has come to an end, taking with it delightful foods like nectarines, plums, berries, and locally grown vegetables like greens, cauliflower, chard, beets, and carrots.

But don’t fret! Fall has its place in a foodie’s heart because it brings delights like root vegetables, butternut squash, pumpkins, an untold number of apple varieties, Bartlett pears, and pomegranates.

I recently celebrated fall by having a harvest dinner (suggested by my most wise and venerable husband). On the menu was a roasted pear salad with candied walnuts, blue cheese, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, cabernet-glazed shallots, butternut squash risotto with wilted spinach and toasted pine nuts, sauteed pork tenderloin with an apple-sage sauce, and stuffed baked Jonagold apples with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. I love this menu — it’s so autumn-y with its warm, subtle flavors and unifying themes. Sage and apple are present in many of the dishes but are different and subtle enough to not get old or tiring. And as my guests pointed out last night, there’s plenty of booze in every dish! So dig in and get to love autumn as much as I do, and share it with some good friends too.

Savory, delicious flavors star in this sumptuous autumn feast
Nikon D50

A Fall Harvest Feast
Originally posted in 2007 – updated 26 October 2008 with improved recipes and photos
Consists of:

Serves 4

This meal is not a one-woman or -man show. The risotto, while not difficult, is labor- and time-intensive and you will need one other person in the kitchen with you that is dedicated to that dish.
You probably already knew I was going to say this, but make your own stock. It’s really quite important for the risotto – you don’t want it to be unpalatably salty. Just make a big pot of it that week so you have it all for the dishes that require it.
Much of the prep for this can be done the day ahead. Here’s what I did the day before: prepped and cooked the squash and the stock for the risotto, poached the pears, made the salad dressing, stemmed the spinach, made the apple filling, trimmed and pounded the tenderloin, candied the walnuts, toasted the pine nuts, chopped the olives, and shredded the Parmesan. I probably should have made the Cabernet shallots the day before too. The only ingredients I didn’t prep ahead of time were the ones that would suffer: the herbs, apples, onions, garlic, and shallots. It saved me such a headache. Also, before I started actually cooking the day of, I did the mise en place thing and measured everything out and grouped ingredients for like dishes together. This is especially handy if a guest is helping you cook!

Olive-rosemary yeast bread
From the March 2007 issue of Cook’s Illustrated

Almost any variety of brined or oil-cured olive works in this recipe, although those who developed the recipe prefer a mix of both green and black olives. I personally love manzanillo olives in this bread.
Instant yeast is commonly labeled rapid-rise or bread machine yeast.
Use a spray bottle filled with water to mist the loaves.
The bread will keep for up to 2 days, well wrapped and stored at room temperature. To recrisp the crust, place the bread in a 450-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes. The bread will keep frozen for several months when wrapped in foil and placed in a large zipper-lock bag.
1 3/4 cups water (14 ounces), room temperature
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons honey
3 1/2 cups bread flour (19 1/4 ounces), plus extra as needed for dough and counter
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (2 3/4 ounces)
2 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 cups pitted olives (6 ounces), rinsed, chopped rough, and patted dry
Whisk water, yeast, and honey in bowl of standing mixer. Add flours and mix on low speed with dough hook until cohesive dough is formed, about 3 minutes. Cover bowl with a lid, damp towel, or plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Remove plastic wrap; make well in center of dough and add salt and rosemary. Knead dough on low speed (speed 2 on KitchenAid) for 5 minutes (if dough creeps up attachment, stop mixer and scrape down). Increase speed to medium and continue to knead until dough is smooth and slightly tacky, about 1 minute. If dough is very sticky, add 1 to 2 tablespoons flour and continue mixing for 1 minute. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and pat into 12 by 6-inch rectangle. Press olives evenly into dough. Starting at long side, roll rectangle into tight log, pinching the seam shut. With seam side facing up, roll log into a spiral. Transfer dough, spiral side up, to oiled container or bowl, at least 2 quarts in volume, and cover as before. Let dough rise in warm, draft-free location until it increases in size by 50 percent, about 1 hour.
Fold partially risen dough over itself. Turn bowl 90 degrees; fold again. Turn bowl again; fold once more. Cover with as before and let rise 30 minutes. Repeat folding, replace cover, and let rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface, being careful not to deflate. Divide dough in half, loosely shape each piece into ball, and let rest 15 minutes. Flip each ball over and, starting from top, roll into tight oval shape. Using palms, roll each oval from center outward until 12-inch loaf is formed. Poke any olives that fall off into bottom seam, then pinch seam closed. Transfer each loaf, seam side down, to 12 by 6-inch piece of parchment and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours (dough is ready when it springs back slowly when pressed lightly with finger). Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, place baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 450 degrees at least 30 minutes before baking.
Slide parchment sheets with loaves onto peel or back of inverted baking sheet. Starting and stopping about 1 inch from each side, use razor blade or sharp knife to cut 3 1/2-inch-deep slashes on diagonal along top of each fully risen loaf; spray loaves lightly with water. Carefully slide parchment with loaves into oven using jerking motion. Bake 15 minutes, spraying loaves with water twice more in first 5 minutes, and then reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Continue to bake until bread is deep golden brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center of loaf registers 210 degrees, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to wire rack, discard parchment, and cool loaves to room temperature, about 2 hours.

Poached pear salad with candied walnuts, blue cheese, and homemade balsamic vinaigarette
Adapted from The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook. Pear recipe is courtesy of Katy at Sugarlaws

3 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese or goat cheese
Red leaf lettuce, washed and torn into smaller pieces (you won’t use the whole head here!). A bag of mixed greens works well too.

For the nuts:

2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped and toasted walnuts or pecans

For the pears:

2 firm but ripe bosc pears, peeled but with stem intact (Note: two pears is what you will need for the salads, but you can poach many more – up to eight – in the liquid)
2 1/2 cups red wine
2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
Bring the wine, water, and sugar to a boil in a large saucepan or dutch oven. Add the pears and boil for 15 minutes. Remove the pears from the liquid. If you want to serve the pears as a dessert, continue to boil the wine mixture until reduced by half and serve it as a sauce over the fruit. For best results, poach the pears a day ahead.
Set aside a sheet of parchment paper. In a small frying pan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, water, and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the walnuts and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and quickly spread the nuts across the parchment paper. Set aside and let cool.
Slice the pears. Arrange the salad on individual plates by putting down the lettuce first and then topping with pear slices, cheese, and candied nuts. Serve with the balsamic vinaigrette.

Cabernet-glazed shallots
Adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Vegetable cookbook

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 lb shallots, trimmed and peeled
1 1/2 cups dry red wine, preferably Cabernet
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock
A splash of balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground salt and pepper
In a small, heavy saute pan melt half of the butter over low heat. When it foams add the shallots and saute until slightly softened and evenly coated, about 6-8 minutes.
Add the wine, stock, vinegar, and the sugar, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are cooked through and almost translucent, about 45 minutes. The liquid should be thick and syrupy. If it cooks down too much and becomes too dark it will be bitter, so adjust the heat if it seems to be reducing too quickly.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining half of the butter, stirring briskly with a fork or small whisk to incorporate the butter and give the sauce a nice gloss. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Alternatively, you could make the shallots a day ahead to let the flavors develop and re-heat over the stove immediately before serving.

Butternut squash risotto with wilted spinach and toasted pine nuts
From the September 2005 issue of Cook’s Illustrated

This will make a lot of risotto. You could probably comfortably serve this to eight people as a side dish.
2 tablespoons plus one tablespoon olive oil
1 butternut squash (medium, about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded (fibers and seeds reserved), and cut into ½-inch cubes, about 3½ cups (save the excess)
¾ teaspoon table salt
¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup water
4 ounces baby spinach, stems trimmed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small onions, chopped very fine (about 1½ cups)
2 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
2 cups Arborio rice
1½ cups dry white wine
1½ ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about ¾ cup)
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
¼ cup pine nuts , toasted in small, dry skillet over medium heat until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes
Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add about 3½ cups squash in even layer and cook without stirring until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes; stir in ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender and browned, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer squash to bowl and set aside.
Return skillet to medium heat; add reserved squash fibers and seeds and any excess diced squash. Cook, stirring frequently to break up fibers, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to large saucepan and add chicken broth and water; cover saucepan and bring mixture to simmer over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low to maintain bare simmer.
While broth mixture is simmering, add 1 teaspoon olive oil to now-empty skillet and swirl to coat. Add 4 ounces baby spinach and cook, covered, over medium heat, until leaves begin to wilt, about 2 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring constantly, until fully wilted, about 30 seconds. Transfer spinach to mesh strainer; set aside.
Melt 3 tablespoons butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat; when foaming subsides, add onions, garlic, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and remaining ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add rice to skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until grains are translucent around edges, about 3 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring frequently, until fully absorbed, 4 to 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, strain hot broth through fine-mesh strainer into medium bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Return strained broth to saucepan and discard solids in strainer; cover saucepan and set over low heat to keep broth hot.
When wine is fully absorbed, add 3 cups hot broth and half of reserved squash to rice. Simmer, stirring every 3 to 4 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and bottom of pan is almost dry, about 12 minutes.
Stir in about ½ cup hot broth and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 3 minutes; repeat with additional broth 2 or 3 more times, until rice is al dente. Off heat, stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter, Parmesan, sage, and nutmeg; gently fold in spinach and remaining cooked squash. If desired, add up to ¼ cup additional hot broth to loosen texture of risotto. Top individual servings of risotto with toasted pine nuts; serve immediately.

Sauteed pork tenderloin with apple-sage sauce
From the September 1997 issue of Cook’s Illustrated

2 teaspoons table salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pork tenderloins (about 2 pounds), silver skin removed, cut into 1-inch slices, each pounded to 3/4 inch with flat side of chef’s knife blade
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Granny Smith apples or other firm apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 24 slices
1 medium onion , sliced thin (about 1 cup)
2/3 cup apple cider
6 tablespoons applejack or brandy
4 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup heavy cream
Table salt and ground black pepper
Sprinkle salt and pepper over both sides of pork slices. Heat oil until shimmering in heavy-bottomed pan, at least 10 inches across bottom, over medium-high heat, swirling pan to distribute oil. Working in batches of no more than six slices to avoid overcrowding, sear medallions without moving them until brown on one side, about 80 seconds (oil should sizzle, but not smoke). Turn medallions with tongs to avoid scraping off the sear; sear until meat is mostly opaque at sides, firm to the touch, and well browned, about 80 seconds. Transfer pork to plate and keep warm.
Melt butter in pan in which pork was cooked over medium-high heat, swirling to distribute. Add apple and onion; sauté until apple starts to brown, about 4 minutes. Add cider and applejack or brandy; boil, scraping pan bottom with wooden spatula to loosen browned bits, until liquid reduces to a glaze, about 2 1/2 minutes. Increase heat to high; add stock or broth, sage, and any accumulated pork juices; boil until liquid reaches consistency of maple syrup, about 3 minutes. Add cream; boil until reduced by half, about 2 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium; return pork to pan, turning meat to coat. Simmer to heat pork thoroughly and blend flavors, about 3 minutes. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Transfer pork to serving plate and spoon sauce over meat. Serve immediately.

Stuffed baked Jonagold apples with vanilla bean ice cream
Adapted from an epicurious.com recipe

The choice of apples is very important. Select an apple that will hold its shape when baked, such a Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Rome Beauty, Jonathan, or Jonagold apple. Apples such as Gala, Fuji, or Red Delicious will not do well in the recipe.
4 six-ounce apples suitable for baking (I use Jonagold)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup dried cherries or currants
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg, ginger, and cloves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (1/2 tablespoon softened and 1/2 tablespoon cut into 4 pieces)
1/2 cup unfiltered apple cider
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Enough good-quality vanilla bean ice cream (Tillamook if you live in the Pacific Northwest) for four people
Preheat oven to 350°F. Core apples. Stand apples up and make 4 evenly spaced vertical cuts starting from top of each apple and stopping halfway from bottom to keep apple intact. Brush inside of apples with lemon juice and stand apples in a 9-inch ceramic or glass pie plate.
Toss together apricots, cherries, pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg in a bowl. Rub softened butter into dried-fruit mixture with your fingers until combined well, then pack center of each apple with mixture. Put a piece of remaining butter on top of each apple. Pour cider and vanilla around apples and cover pie plate tightly with foil.
Bake in middle of oven, basting once, until apples are just tender when pierced with a fork, about 40 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until apples are very tender but not falling apart, 20 to 30 minutes more.
Transfer to serving dishes and spoon sauce over and around apples. Serve with ice cream.

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