I Love Fall.

Call it what you want — fall, autumn, I love it.

Today was the kind of November day that makes me want to loop my favorite scarf* around my neck, wiggle my fingers into my gloves and take the dog out on a long walk, maybe to get some hot chocolate from Burdick’s.  Then maybe we, the dog and I, would walk down to the river and sit amongst the fallen leaves crunchy like potato chips — which the dog would probably eat — and read a book while the sun sparkles all golden and champagne-y.

(Do you know what I mean, about the autumn sun, and how everything gleams so radiantly when it’s shone upon?  It’s like almost every daytime frame in All the Real Girls.)

The sad thing is that while I do have a favorite scarf, some awesome gloves and a great love of Burdick’s hot chocolate, and while I am almost done with an incredibly well-written book, I am lacking the dog.  And the sun is setting now, so that candlelight brilliance is fading for today…  Alas.

Part of the reason why I love food so much — aside from its potential to taste so damn good — is how it makes me feel and what it makes me remember.  Char siu bao, for example, makes me think about my mother’s father, and his ferocious appetite, and how our trips together were structured around meals.  Hazelnut makes me think of Regensburg, and how when Keith and I visited, the entire city smelled of sugar because of all the gelaterias, and how I had the best cup of coffee one evening at our hotel‘s restaurant.

Fall and its cool air matches comforting food so well.  The warmth of that sunshiney sparkle comes through in my choice of food during these months: mashed potatoes, chicken soup, mac and cheese, shepherd’s pie, my mother’s spaghetti — which is actually her version of my Armenian grandmother’s bolognese, and a recipe I’ll share with you at another time.

Technically speaking, a bolognese is a ragù, so this dish is a great nippy night recipe.  You can use lots of different meats, if you like; I love lamb, but beef, veal, chicken…  pretty much anything would work.

Again, skipping taste, one of the nicest things about this is how most of the work is done by your oven.  While it’s in there, you can take the dog for that long walk in the clear, crisp early night, and when you return, with roses blossoming on your cheeks, you can step into a home that smells inviting and feels as snug as my favorite scarf.

Rich + Meaty Lamb Ragù, from the kitchn
Makes eight servings

2 pounds stew lamb, cut in chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 onions
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons fresh sage
8 cloves garlic
1 big carrot, peeled
Olive oil
2 cups red wine
1 28-ounce can peeled whole plum tomatoes

  1. Pat the lamb chunks dry with a paper towel. Liberally coat the lamb chunks with salt and pepper and set aside. Peel and coarsely chop the onions, and chop the garlic. Chop the carrot into thin rounds.
  2. Place an oven-proof Dutch oven or heavy stockpot over medium-high heat, and add olive oil to cover the bottom thinly. When oil is hot, add the lamb and brown deeply. Do this in batches if necessary. Don’t worry about drying out the meat — you want it browned darkly for good flavor. (I usually brown each batch for at least 10 minutes, taking care not to crowd the pan. You want the meat to brown, not steam-cook.)
  3. When the meat is thoroughly browned, add the onions. Lower the heat, and cook slowly over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the onions are golden. Add the rosemary and sage, garlic, and the carrots. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add wine and continue to simmer until liquid has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Crush the tomatoes in the can with a fork or back of a spoon, then add them and their juices to the pot. Bring to a simmer, then cover and place in a 275° oven for 3 to 4 hours. Alternately, put everything in a slow cooker and cook for 4 hours on high or at least 8 hours on low. (I have cooked this on low for up to 16 hours; it’s sublime when cooked that long!) The longer it cooks the more tender it will be. When ready to serve, go through with two forks and shred any remaining chunks of meat. Taste and season if necessary with additional salt and pepper.
  5. Serve over pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.**
* This changes by the day, and the season.  Today is a fine-knit mulberry merino day.
** I like egg noodles here.

Another Unseasonal Dish, or What To Do With Leftovers.

Okay, here’s a confession.  I try to be as good as possible with leftovers, but reinventing a dish — or using the components in a different way — is an area where I’m not so skilled.  It bothers me, this failing of mine, but at least I’m aware of it, right?  And at least I’ve got friends to help me out.

Melissa was helping me tidy up after Saturday night’s dinner when I asked her, “Is this basil worth saving?”  I had a small bundle of basil ribbons left, but not so small a bunch that I could chuck them without thinking.

“Yes,” she said emphatically.  “There’s so many things you can do.  Toss it with some greens tomorrow, or some pasta.  Or,” she said slowly, an idea clearly forming in her head, “you could make a corn salad.  Use some dressing, some tomatoes, cheese…”

As Melissa spoke more about corn and basil, I began thinking of corn’s sweet crunch and how each bright bite automatically brings to mind the glorious, lazy days of summer — days of humidity as thick as honey, days of sun flowing through densely-leafed trees like lemonade from a pitcher.  Then I turned to the window and looked out into the dark, the glow cast from my well-lit kitchen reflected back at me, and through that I saw the falling powdery snow.

made-up-corn-saladI’m not much for summer or winter — I’m more of a spring/fall girl myself — but right then and there I wanted something to remind me that the cold isn’t around forever.  Since we had just eaten I knew I’d have to wait, so last night I eagerly unloaded my fridge.  Out came a crumbly piece of goat cheese, out came the teeny fistful of shredded basil, out came the leftover vinaigrette Melissa emulsified, out came a lonely unseasonal tomato, out came a slug of butter.  From the freezer I unearthed a small bag of sweet corn, which went into a sauté pan after the melted butter.  Soon corn was all I could smell.  A few short minutes later, I was folding myself into a blanket (which I secured in place with a binder clip, how chic!) and wrapping my cold hands around the corn’s still-toasty bowl.  If I closed my eyes, I could have fooled myself into thinking it was the sun keeping me warm.

Made-Up Corn Salad
Makes two portions

2 cups cooked corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 medium tomato, cored, seeded and chopped
fresh basil chiffonade
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ tablespoon honey
2 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. If you’re using frozen kernels, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat; add corn and hear until warmed through.  Set aside to cool.
  2. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, honey, and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in olive oil until mixture is completely emulsified.
  3. In a larger bowl, combine corn, tomato, basil and goat cheese; drizzle the reserved vinaigrette over the salad, toss and serve.

Apologies.

This month has not been my friend, which is sad to write — October has always been my favorite of the year’s twelve.  This has nothing to do with the fact that my birthday is in it, happily waving to me from the end like a finish line’s shiny ribbon.  No, I like October because it’s the autumniest of the autumn months: the leaves haven’t yet fallen and still cling to their trees like gobs of glorious confetti; it’s cool enough for scarves but not cold enough for mittens; and even on rainy days everything still seems so colorful and lush.  Come November the leaves all but give up, crashing to the ground with an almost audible bang; I spend half my mornings looking for my left glove, only to find that it’s somehow got a massive hole in the thumb; and from the corner of my eye I can see the dreadful gray winter approaching like a conquering army.

Still, this October has caught me unawares and bewildered — I’ve got an unprecedented amount of just plain stuff going on, swirling around my knees and feet like my beloved leaves caught in a chilly breeze that’s threatening to flip up my skirt.  Both professionally and personally my life’s got entangled in a bit of upheaval; while I try to sort it all out I promise to write as often as I can.

CSA 2008, Week Seventeen.

There is simply no denying that fall is upon us at last.  I honestly couldn’t tell you why I’ve been in such seasonal denial, especially since autumn is my favorite season: back to school; falling leaves; winding scarves around our necks; orange, yellow and red everywhere.

Of course, there’s more to fall than the trees’ change of apparel.  I haven’t even gotten to the food yet — apples, apples, apples; soups and stews; chili; squash; game — so as the last few weeks of our CSA with The Food Project looms, I’ve found myself anticipating the arrival of our box more and more.  This week’s held the following:

  • Apples
  • Carnival winter squash
  • Carrots
  • Garlic
  • Hakurei turnips
  • Herbs
  • Hot peppers
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Purple-topped turnips
  • Spinach

The first thing I do when I get home on CSA day is go through my loot, put the leafy greens through a cycle in the salad spinner, and think about all the possible meals and snacks I can produce from all the, well, produce.  For example, I knew I would get a good salad out of the spinach, carrots and lettuce, especially if I threw in some chickpeas from my pantry and whisked together a simple dressing of lemon and oil.  Immediately before eating, I would crumble Parmesan over everything.

The squash, on the other hand, awakened in me my culinarily indecisive nature.  Did I want to roast it, mash it, stuff it?  I decided to go with the roasting, but I didn’t want that to be the end of the line for my sqaush.  I still had last week’s Kabucha on hand, and thought a roasted squash soup would be a particularly fitting way to usher in the fall.  While the following recipe takes a bit of time, most of that is because of the roasting process.  Aside from that, the soup itself is very easy to make, and very delicious to eat.

Roasted Pear-Butternut Soup with Crumbled Stilton, from Eating Well
Makes six portions

2 ripe pears, peeled, quartered and cored
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks (I used a Carnival and a Kabucha)
2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 large leek, pale green and white parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced and washed thoroughly
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt, divided
Freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cups vegetable broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
2/3 cup crumbled Stilton or other blue-veined cheese
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh chives or scallion greens (I used scallions, since I already had some in the fridge)

  1. Preheat oven to 400°.  Combine pears, squash, tomatoes, leek, garlic, oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper in a large bowl; toss to coat. Spread evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, forty to fifty-five minutes. Let cool slightly.
  2. Place half the vegetables and two cups broth in a blender; purée until smooth. Transfer to a large saucepan. Purée the remaining vegetables and two cups broth. Add to the pan and stir in the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt.
  3. Cook the soup over medium-low heat, stirring, until hot, about ten minutes. Divide among six bowls and garnish with cheese and chives (or scallion greens). Cover and refrigerate for up to three days or freeze for up to one month. Add more broth when reheating, if desired.