AUTUMN ELEGY by Leonid Afremov

Does autumn find you missing summer’s sweet corn and juicy peaches? Nature has shifted gears. Hardy and slow-growing fall crops have come into their own. Some of these foods are grown from coast to coast; others are more regional.

Apples

There’s certainly an apple variety for every need, from snacks to stuffing. Some of the best-known and easiest to find are multitaskers, good for both eating and baking. These include Rome, McIntosh and Golden Delicious.

Pears

Anjou, Bartlett or Bosc, ranging from deep red to pale green to golden in color, are produce-department staples. Their firm texture is equally suited for eating fresh or cooked.

Grapes

Grapes fall into three main color types: red, green (also called white) and black (or blue-black). Each group includes seeded and seedless varieties, but the latter are most often found in supermarkets.

Citrus Fruits

Whether sectioned, sliced, juiced or zested, these fruits are a kitchen staple. Choose firm fruits that have smooth skins and are not moldy. Don’t worry about brown patches on the skin; this does not indicate poor quality.

Leafy Greens

Some leafy greens cope with cold weather better than most people do. Temperatures near freezing slow plant metabolism. Using fewer carbohydrates — that is, sugar — for maintenance, results in sweeter leaves in the cold weather.

  • Spinach
  • Chard
  • Collards

Leafy greens should be crisp and fresh-looking. Avoid those with brown speckles, large, tough stems and wilted edges. Collards absolutely must be cooked, but other greens can be eaten fresh in salads, quick sautéed as a side dish or simmered in soups. Cook chard stems separately from the leaves, as stems are more fibrous and take longer. Greens will keep refrigerated in a plastic bag, damp-dry, for three to five days. Wash them very well just before using.

Parsnips

Pale yellow and slightly bumpy, the parsnip resembles a large carrot. Compared to carrots, parsnips are less sweet and more nutty. They respond well to the same culinary treatments (except being eaten raw). As a side dish, parsnips take well to roasting and also hold their own in baked casseroles and slow-cooked stews.

Potatoes

Of the thousands of potato varieties known, only a few varieties have gone mainstream. Fall is the ideal time to try some lesser-known varieties in your market.

Sweet Potatoes

Look for sweet potatoes that feel solid and nick free. For cooking success, try to pick those that are uniform in shape, since fat bodies with tapered ends can lead to overcooked ends and semi-raw centers.

Winter Squash

With so many different shapes and sizes and colors, fall is definitely the time to cook with squash. The varieties described below barely scratch the surface:

  • Acorn can be small, round and ridged and they might have variegated orange and green skin; its deep orange flesh is sweeter than pumpkin.
  • Butternut is typically long-necked and pot-bellied with creamy beige skin. The orange flesh is mildly sweet and slightly nutty.
  • Spaghetti –  when baked and scraped out with a fork, the flesh forms golden strands that look like spaghetti and taste like zucchini.
  • Sweet dumpling has yellow flesh that looks and tastes something like sweet corn.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Consider some of these diverse examples:

  • Round-headed cabbage has flat leaves of pale green or reddish-purple; Savoy cabbage has frilled leaves.
  • Cauliflower has stalks that are topped with bunches of florets.
  • Turnips, a rounded, cream-colored root, are most flavorful in autumn.
  • Rutabagas, a round root with pale orange flesh, is thought to be a cross between a turnip and wild cabbage.

Cruciferous vegetables have assertive flavors and can take strong seasonings. Cabbage pairs well with vinegar. The sweeter rutabaga can be spiced with cloves. Try turnips with garlic and onions. These veggies have a reputation as being smelly when cooked. Actually, it’s overcooking that releases their unpleasant aroma. If steamed or braised until just fork-tender, not limp, they actually smell lightly sweet.

Here are some healthy fall family recipes that make use of some these seasonal foods:

Italian Cabbage and Bean Soup

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • Two 19 ounce cans cannellini beans ( or 5 cups home cooked) divided
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups green cabbage, (1/2 medium head)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced, plus 1 clove garlic, halved
  • 6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Thick slices day-old Italian country bread
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella or Italian fontina cheese

Directions

Mash 1 1/2 cups beans with a fork and set aside. Thinly slice cabbage.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or soup pot. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened and lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add cabbage and minced garlic; cook, stirring often, until the cabbage has wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add broth, mashed beans and whole beans; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover and simmer until the cabbage is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Shortly before the soup is ready, toast bread lightly and rub with the cut side of the halved garlic. Place bread in a soup bowl. Ladle soup over the bread and sprinkle with cheese. Drizzle a little oil over each serving.

Frittata with Chard and Feta Cheese

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups swiss chard, washed and stems removed
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 6 large egg whites (or egg substitute)
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons fresh chopped oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 6 small potatoes, cooked and halved

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in an  8″ or 10″ ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chard and season with salt and pepper. Toss quickly until leaves are wilted. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

Whisk the eggs, egg whites, cheese, oregano, salt and pepper together in a bowl until thoroughly combined.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Turn the heat to low and add the chard and halved potatoes (cut side down).

Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables in the skillet (do not stir) and cook over low heat until the eggs are set, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Place the skillet under the broiler for 30 to 45 seconds to finish cooking the top of the frittata. Serve with a tomato salad.

Baked Stuffed Acorn Squash

Servings: 6

  • 3 acorn squash, halved and seeded
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey breast
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Place squash halves cut side down in baking pans. Fill pans with about 1/2 inch water. Bake squash 40 minutes or until tender.

While squash bakes, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the onions and celery and cook until tender. Stir in the ground turkey, garlic powder and dried herbs. Cook and stir until evenly brown.

Remove squash from the oven and carefully scrape the pulp from the rinds. Set rinds aside on a baking sheet. Place the pulp in a bowl and mash with a potato masher. Mix in the cooked turkey mixture, egg, bread crumbs, parsley, salt and pepper to taste.

Fill the reserved rinds with the stuffing mixture and bake 25 minutes or until heated through.

Citrus Fish Fillets

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces white fish fillets, such as tilapia, flounder, halibut, etc.
  • 1 medium orange, peeled, sectioned and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 cup peeled, diced mango or pears or apples
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped green or red bell pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2-1 fresh hot chile pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

In a small bowl combine orange pieces, mango, the 3 tablespoons orange juice, the bell pepper, the parsley and the chile pepper. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

In a medium shallow nonmetal bowl stir together the 1/2 cup orange juice, the oil and cayenne pepper. Place fish in the bowl; turn to coat well. Marinate fish in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Drain fish, discarding marinade.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place fish in a small baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Bake about 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Top fish with the fruit sauce and serve. This entre goes well with brown rice.

Lasagna with Spinach Ricotta 

Ingredients

  • 1 box no boil lasagna or homemade fresh noodles or 1 pound regular, boiled
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • Two 10-ounce packages of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 2 pounds Ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups lowfat milk gently warmed
  • 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese grated and divided
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 375˚F.

In a large skillet saute the onion in olive oil over moderate heat for 4-5 minutes. Add spinach and season with salt and pepper; sauté for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool.

Ricotta mixture: Combine ricotta and 3/4 cups Parmigiano Reggiano cheese; season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cooled spinach mixture.

Prepare béchamel sauce: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour, continuously stirring, cook for 2-3 minutes

Add warm milk slowly, whisking well, so that there are no lumps. Season with salt and pepper. When the sauce comes up to barely a boil, reduce heat and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

Coat a 13” x 9” lasagna dish with cooking spray and spread 1/2 cup of béchamel sauce on the bottom of the baking dish.

Top with 4 lasagna noodles, 1 cup ricotta mixture and a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Continue the same procedure for 3 more layers.

Spread remaining béchamel and ricotta mixture on the top layer of noodles and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly on top. Let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting the lasagna.

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