fall flavors

  • Sauteed Apples With Brown Butter and Sage. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post. Goran Kosanovic—For The Washington Post

  • Creamy Squash Soup With Pimenton. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post. Goran Kosanovic—For The Washington Post

  • A dinner cooked on a sheet pan features sausage with roasted grapes and broccoli rabe. Goran Kosanovic photos / For the Washington Post

  • Roasted Brussels Sprout Leaves With Pecorino. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post. Goran Kosanovic—For The Washington Post

  • Crunchy Brussels Sprouts With Mustard. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post. Goran Kosanovic—For The Washington Post

  • Shredded Sprouts Slaw With Gorgonzola + Hazelnuts. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post. Goran Kosanovic—For The Washington Post

  • Goran Kosanovic—For The Washington Post

  • Goran Kosanovic—For The Washington Post

  • Roasted Cauliflower With Butter + Hot Sauce and Roasted Cauliflower With Cheddar Sauce. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post. Goran Kosanovic—For The Washington Post

  • Butternut Squash With Saffron. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post. Goran Kosanovic—For The Washington Post

  • Though grapes are available year-round, they are esspecially good in the fall. Try them in Concord Grape Shrub.

For the Washington Post
Tuesday, October 24, 2017

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 great-grandmother 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, tough-skinned 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 flip-flops 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:

Apples: 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. But for days when fall doesn’t quite feel like fall, you can do the cold, crunchy apple salad with fish sauce and cilantro, a nod to Southeast Asian green mango salad. A fall fruit that can be dressed in warm-weather clothing, an apple is a versatile thing. 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. 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. While 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. Serve the mash as a side dish for nearly anything, including – but not limited to – braised lamb, roasted salmon or chicken thighs.

Brussels sprouts 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. 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. And don’t forget the leaves that hug your cauliflower. If you buy a cauliflower as fresh as possible (at your local farmers market, for example), chances are the leaves that protect the cauliflower will be bright green and crisp and entirely edible. Do not discard them. Instead, roughly chop them and saute them with olive oil, minced garlic and a pinch of dried red chile flakes like you would any other green. Serve as a side dish, mix with pasta or any cooked grain, or turn them into a frittata.

Grapes, 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. 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 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.

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 2½ pounds) cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets (about 8 cups)

3 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

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 ½ 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.

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 ½ cup whole milk; cook for about 1 minute, until thickened. Add two 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.

To make Sauteed Cauliflower Leaves with Garlic, look for heads of cauliflower at the farmers market that have bright green, crisp leaves hugging the exterior. Coarsely chop them and add to a large skillet with olive oil, minced garlic and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (all to taste). Cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat, until just wilted. Season lightly with salt and sprinkle with fresh lemon juice (to taste).

Shredded Green Apple Salad with Fish Sauce and Cilantro

This is crunchy, bright and surprisingly complex in flavor.

Serve with grilled pork, fish or chicken, or atop a bowl of rice with a fried or poached egg.

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

4 tart green apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled

1 small shallot, minced

Large handful cilantro leaves and tender stems, chopped

Whisk together the fish sauce, vinegar and sugar in a mixing bowl.

Grate the apples on the large-holed side of a box grater over that bowl; discard the cores.

Add the shallot and cilantro, tossing lightly to incorporate and coat with the dressing. Serve right away.

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 (½ stick) unsalted butter

1 pound apples, cored and cut into thin wedges

½ 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.

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.

Butternut Squash, Parmesan and Thyme Fritters

Tender and unexpected, these fritters are perfect to serve with cocktails at your next dinner party.

½  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

¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 large egg, beaten

¼ cup milk

About ½ 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 ¼ 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.

Creamy Squash Soup with Pimenton

It has become easy to find butternut squash that are just the right size for this recipe. A bit of Spanish smoked paprika elevates the soup and enriches its color.

A small pour of heavy cream or a spoonful of sour cream on each portion would not be unwelcome.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton; sweet or hot), plus more for optional garnish

4 cups no-salt-added chicken broth

One 1½-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion; cook for about 5 minutes or until softened, then add the garlic, 1 teaspoon of the salt and the paprika. Cook for a minute, then add the broth and squash.

Once the liquid starts to bubble, cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until the squash is tender.

Remove the center knob of the blender lid, so steam can escape. Working in batches, puree the soup mixture until smooth, holding a paper towel over the lid opening to avoid splash-ups.

Taste and add some or all the remaining salt, as needed.

Serve hot, with a sprinkle of paprika, if desired.

Butternut Squash with Saffron

This makes an excellent side dish for just about anything.

Make ahead: The prepared squash can be refrigerated for up to three days.

Large pinch saffron threads

2 tablespoons boiling water

1 pound peeled butternut squash, cut into chunks

¼ cup heavy cream

Kosher or sea salt

Place the saffron in a small bowl and pour the water over it. Let steep for at least 5 minutes.

Place the chunks of squash in a steamer basket; cover and steam over several inches of boiling water in a saucepan (medium-high heat), until they are tender.

Transfer to a food processor; add the saffron and its water and the heavy cream; pulse to form a puree. (Alternatively, you can use a potato masher to break down the tender squash in a mixing bowl with the saffron mixture and heavy cream, for a coarser texture.)

Season lightly with salt and serve warm.

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

Kosher salt

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 ½ 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.

Roasted Brussels Sprout Leaves with Pecorino

With a final squeeze of lemon juice over them, these leaves are irresistible.

1 pound Brussels sprouts

Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher or coarse sea salt

1 or 2 ounces pecorino Romano cheese, freshly and finely grated, for serving

Lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Peel the leaves off each sprout, which is tedious but meditative, placing them on a rimmed baking sheet as you work.

Drizzle with oil and season lightly with the salt, then use your clean hands to toss until evenly coated. Roast (middle rack) for about 20 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the leaves become crunchy.

Top with the cheese (to taste). Serve right away, squeezing the lemon wedges over them while the leaves are still warm.

Shredded Sprouts Slaw with Gorgonzola and Hazelnuts

Keep this in mind as an easy/last-minute holiday side dish.

Make ahead: The Brussels sprouts can be prepped (without dressing) and refrigerated in a zip-top bag for several days in advance.

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)

Thinly slice the Brussels sprouts, placing them in a mixing bowl as you work. Drizzle with equal parts oil and lemon juice (to taste). Use your clean hands to scrunch them, so the Brussels sprouts soften a bit. Season lightly with salt.

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.

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

½ 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.

Concord Grape Shrub

5 to 10 servings (makes 2½ cups)

Drink this straight up, stirred into cocktails or with seltzer water.

Make ahead: The grape and sugar mixture needs to refrigerate for 1 day, and the shrub needs to cure in the refrigerator for a day before serving. Once completed, it can be refrigerated for up to one month.

3 cups Concord grapes, stemmed and rinsed

½  cup sugar

1½  cups apple cider vinegar


Combine the grapes and sugar in a large, clean jar. Use a wooden spoon to gently muddle the mixture. Seal the jar and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer, into a separate large, clean jar, pressing down firmly to extract all the juice you can from the grapes. Discard the solids. Seal and refrigerate for one day.

Add the vinegar, stirring to incorporate. The shrub is ready to use, although it will mellow, and perhaps be more drinkable straight up, if you let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours.