As the heat of summer slowly subsides, the autumn change of weather begins to offer those amazing crisp mornings, and colder nights.One of the greatest months when it comes to kitchen creativity, September is also conveniently Organic Harvest Month, the time when organic availability is at its prime. Take a stroll through a farmer’s market or the produce section of your local grocery store, and you see the incredible variety and abundance of the autumn harvest. As a chef, having all that fresh produce and sweet fruit right at my fingertips -- heirloom tomatoes, pears, apples, grapes, late summer stone fruits, hearty greens, potatoes and other roots, wild mushrooms and so much more -- inspires me to reap the rewards of the season.
I was raised in New England and that means the fall still brings a nostalgia and craving for heartier dishes. We all have a few of those dishes that we just emotionally connect with from childhood; now the challenge is to grab those memories and put a healthy twist on them, highlighting the best of the season.
Here are some recipe ideas and peak-season ingredient highlights that are a delicious way to welcome autumn.
Hearty salads – Take your traditional greens then toss in some marinated veggies or slow roasted roots, add some beans or grains and then a handful of fresh chopped herbs. Top with a light dressing to round it out.
Mash – We all love mashed potatoes; why not mix it up a bit and use a combination of other roots such as celeriac, parsnip, swedes, sweet potato, and squashes. Give whatever you’re mashing a healthy twist but using veggie stock instead of dairy and adding in roasted onion and garlic puree.
Soups – You know the summer is basically over when soup is on the stove. Broth based, tomato based and puréed are some of the basic categories to build from.
Slow cooked – Slow cooking melts flavors into your meal. Pull that crockpot back out for some slow-cooked bean and veggie stews. Add some of your favorite seasonal roots and beans, tomatoes, handfuls of herbs and spices, some veggie stock, set it and forget it. For something a little different, you can even slow cook rice and apples for a hearty fall-flavored pilaf. When you come home from work, your meal is ready.
Gratin – Combine thinly sliced root veggies with a savory cashew or non-dairy cream and layer in a casserole dish. Top with whole grain breadcrumbs mixed with your favorite spices and herbs or shredded coconut flakes. Bake for a comforting hearty side dish. I love the combo of celeriac, parsnip and potato; these flavors pair perfectly.
Rice bowls – These are always a great way to highlight raw and cooked veggies whatever the season! Choose your favorite rice or other grain, add chopped raw or roasted veggies, steamed greens, a whole food fat such as avocado, nuts, seeds or olives and then top with your favorite oil-free dressing or hot sauce. It’s my go-to quick meal.
Dried – What do you do if you can’t eat up with the autumn abundance fast enough? Invest in a small dehydrator. Dried heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms and herbs come in handy during the colder months and add such a depth of flavor when the fresh stuff is not readily available. Blend your excess fruits and dehydrate into an amazing dried fruit-leather snack for the kids.
Canned – Enjoy the fruits of autumn later in the year. Heirloom tomato sauces, salsas, poached fruits, vegetable pickles, pickled garlic, and fruit sweetened jams are some of my staple go-to recipes to preserve the season.
What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate the abundance of autumn’s fresh fruits and veggies?