The cusp of fall has got me breaking out the suede boots and cooking up a feast filled with lashings of seasonal fruits and veggies. Homegrown figs and apples whipped up into pastes and naked tarts along with market squash and mushrooms to create earthy soups, and, of course, salad, with a decadent dark chocolate and balsamic dressing. Yes, it’s always hard to say goodbye to summer, but this menu will have you craving fall’s bounty.
Sparkling Cider Cocktail
Fill a glass with equal parts fresh apple cider and Champagne. Pop in a cinnamon stick, and garnish with thin apple slices cut with a decorative star. Tip: Brush the apple slices with lemon juice to prevent browning.
Create a subtle autumn welcome with a simple fresh hydrangea wreath and hand-carved apple votives. Hydrangea blooms (some clipped from my garden) are tucked into an aqua foam wreath form, which helps the fresh flowers last for days.
Naked Apple Tarts
When our garden espaliers apples are at their peak, I create quick and easy “naked” apple tarts. It’s all about the apples! I roll out my pâte brisée dough base; toss the apple slices with a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and a pinch of cornstarch; and then fan out the slices onto the pie crust base and dot the apples with bits of sweet butter and a smattering of scraped vanilla bean. Bake in a 375-to-400-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the apples are tender but still a bit firm.
Spinach Salad with Roasted Squash, Beets, and Goat Cheese
This sublime salad practically screams fall! It combines many of my favorite seasonal flavors: roasted acorn squash and beets, toasted walnuts, squash and pomegranate seeds, and torn goat cheese. It’s topped with a sinful dark chocolate and balsamic dressing that is sweetened with pomegranate juice. If beets aren’t your thing, sub in roasted carrots.
How to Roast AcornSquash and Beets
Roasting fresh squash is easy. Slice an acorn squash in half, and scoop out the seeds. Cut into rings, drizzle with olive oil, and hit it with fresh thyme and salt. Roast the squash on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 400 degrees for approximately 20 minutes, or until tender and the squash begins to caramelize. Cool, then cut the rounds in half.
Peel and quarter 2 to 3 golden beets. Place in an aluminum foil pouch, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and add a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Seal the pouch, and roast alongside the squash for 25 to 30 minutes until fork tender.
Save the Seeds
Meanwhile, rinse and dry the squash seeds, and place on an ovenproof pan. Sprinkle with salt, and roast at 400 degrees for approximately 5 minutes, until golden brown. Roast the walnuts in a dry pan at 375 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes.
Build the Salad
Fill a nice bowl with baby spinach, and layer on the squash, beets, and roasted walnuts and squash seeds. Toss with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle on pomegranate seeds, plenty of torn goat cheese, and a few arugula microgreens. Then drizzle on the dark chocolate balsamic dressing to taste.
Dark Chocolate and Balsamic Dressing
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup pomegranate juice (I use the reserved juice from frozen pomegranate seeds)
2 tablespoons sugar
11/2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1/8 cup olive oil
A pinch of salt and pepper
In a small bowl over a pan of simmering water, heat and whisk the balsamic vinegar, juice, and sugar until the mixture begins to thicken and reduce. Whisk in the dark chocolate. Once the chocolate is melted, pull pan from the heat and add the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste, and whisk. Cool a bit, then drizzle liberally over the salad.
I’ve been a big mushroom fan ever since my first fall mushrooming trip as a young kid. I remember holding tight to my grandma Nettie’s hand, clutching my small bucket and butter knife, and trailing into the damp Pacific Northwest forest in search of a taste of the earth.
Tips: To thicken and add a bit of creaminess to this soup, I add a leftover rind of Parmesan to the soup pot as the soup simmers, discarding it before serving. For added flavor and gloss, I also add olive oil and herb ice cubes just before serving. Chop up fresh parsley and pop into ice cube trays, cover the parsley with olive oil, and freeze. The cubes can be used in soups all fall long.
1 large sweet onion, peeled
3 tender stalks celery, peeled
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
Zest of half a lemon
Red pepper flakes
3 cups chopped mixed mushrooms for the soup base
32 ounces organic vegetable broth
2 additional cups mushrooms for soup topper
Additional fresh parsley, thyme, and rosemary, red pepper, salt to taste, and 1 teaspoon truffle salt
Parmesan cheese and parsley
Sauté the onions, celery, herbs, lemon zest, salt, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and chopped mushroom base in a soup pan with enough olive oil to coat ingredients. Once tender, add the stock, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add a nice glug of olive oil to a small fry pan and sauté the additional chopped mushrooms, along with a sprinkling of fresh herbs, red pepper, salt, and 1 teaspoon truffle salt.
Ladle the soup into a bowl, and top with the fresh sautéed mushroom mixture, shaved Parmesan cheese, and a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley.
Tipsy Fig and Blackberry Paste
This fig paste is a delicious addition to any cheese platter. To a small stovetop pan, add four chopped figs, a nice handful of fresh blackberries, a glug of good whiskey, a splash of vanilla, and the zest of half an orange. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the mixture is combined and creamy. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture right in the pan until it forms a thick paste. Chill and serve.
At the Front Door
Garden and market apples bob in a big metal tub. Carve out the tops of the apples, and tuck in inexpensive votive candles for a warm fall welcome.