Fall brings out some pretty corporeal desires in people. It makes people want to be indoors with large mugs of coffee. Kids want to play in big piles of leaves. Cinnamon is a welcomed scent wafting through any home. Rich dishes full of hearty, earthy flavors start to grace the plates of many. Scarves come out. The bundling in preparation for the winter starts to take shape. Coffee shops are fuller, and parks are empty in the chilly evenings. Pumpkins come out for Halloween, and apples come down from the trees. Hiking is in its peak season, and so is running. Flannel takes a place in the closet. Pajamas are a legitimate style option until noon on the weekends. Fruits find their way into cobblers instead of fresh on breakfast plates. Fall is a wonderfully enriching and restorative time.
People do, though, get a little funny about fall foods. They stop liking local vegetables simply because the vegetables go underground or get thick skinned. That is to say, carrots, beets, turnips, brussels sprouts, onions, rutabaga, squash, and pumpkin take center stage. Cucumbers get turned into pickles, and tomatoes are nothing but sauce. Unless, you out source from a warmer climate. But these days, when we all have such opportunity to eat locally and sustainably, why not?
Also why not take those unfamiliar and sometimes unwelcome vegetables and make them something new. Something you might enjoy. Whoever said that beets could only be pickled? Why not boil beets, cut them up then sauté them with a bit of butter, salt, pepper, and a touch of vinegar? Carrots don’t have to be raw or baked – why not braise them for a semi-soft carrot that’ll be memorable for days to come? Brussels sprouts are not only for cartoon artists to use as a food no kid likes, they are available to be made delicious – try sautéing them with browned butter, caramelized onions, kosher salt, and a pinch of sugar. Toss them with bacon and maple syrup. Add some chorizo for the meat loves. Broil with olive oil to caramelize.
And pumpkin is by no means only destined for pie or your porch, carved. That goes for squash, too. These wonderful gourds are packed solid with depth of flavor and density. They are solid, so they can stand up for almost any cooking technique. I personally love to bake them, to bring out the natural sugars.
This past weekend, I took advantage of the seemingly endless beautiful weather and had a picnic in Prospect Park. Enticed by the opportunity to cook and pack a picnic, and revved up by the seasonal and local produce, I had tons of ideas. What I settled on was, by many people’s standards, unconventional. Roasted pumpkin served with couscous, Macon apples, sautéed fennel, and green onion. I did go a little traditional with crackers, hummus, and grapes, just to not overstate anything, though.
Savory course covered with half of my pumpkin, I took to the sweet side of life with the other half to make a quick bread topped with a sour cream icing. The quick bread was amazingly moist because to utilize the pumpkin, I roasted it, then made a puree with the insides. Almost acting like an applesauce cake, this quick bread was dense, moist, but not heavy. I also cut back on sugar, so the bread itself was semi-sweet, then topped with the icing. Normally I go for a cream cheese frosting, in honor of Brianna, but I wanted a slight twang in this one. Sour cream acted well to counter-balance the over-sweetness of the confectionary sugar.
The results? The pumpkin, couscous, apple, fennel mixture was gone by the next morning. The quick bread didn’t even make it that far, finished off with licking the container.