Sonoma County chefs share their favorite pantry items for easy family-friendly fall dinners
Even though the temperatures are still toasty in the North Bay, our internal clocks know autumn is just one week away.
The season of grilling outdoors and serving fresh tomatoes and peaches from the garden has begun to overlap like a Venn diagram with the low-and-slow season of braised meats, earthy root vegetables and late-season fruits like figs.
In the kitchen, we’re starting to develop an appetite for fall flavors as we move indoors and rediscover the comforting aromas of slow cookers and Dutch ovens, which can magically unlock the tenderness of a pork shoulder or the complexity of mushrooms.
One of my favorite fall dinners is something I started making last year with a jar of Korean kimchi from my fridge. It’s a braised dish, built in the slow cooker with a simple base of sauteed yellow onion, green cabbage and some kimchi for heat.
On top of the veggies, I place a pound and a half of marinated boneless beef ribs, which are also Korean-inspired. I buy the “Bool Kogi” ribs from Trader Joe’s; they’re meant for grilling but are equally delicious braised. You can smell the Asian flavors all the way out to the street as they cook all day on low.
To celebrate the shoulder season of early fall, we asked a handful of local chefs and caterers to choose a few favorite pantry items and provide an easy recipe that they enjoy making from them. Their pantries include whole grains, seasonings such as Green Hatch Chile Spice, dressing components like black sesame oil, pulses such as farro and warming spices.
Many of these chefs and caterers have kids at home, some of whom tend to be picky eaters. So once they find something they like, they keep returning to it.
For caterer Gerard Nebesky of Gerard’s Paella, farro is his go-to staple for his 9-year-old daughter, Olive. One of his dependable dinners is Fall Farro, which he serves with grilled meat and roasted vegetables.
“It’s good for you, for starters,” he said. “It’s a whole grain. ...For a finicky eater, it works really well because it has protein and fiber.”
Farro is “the Chilean sea bass” of grains, he said, because it’s so difficult to mess up and makes you look like a rock-star chef, no matter what.
“The mouthfeel and ability of farro to absorb flavors is your best friend in the pantry,” he said. “You could also wilt some greens, like collards, in the pot before cooking the farro.”
Here are some of the family-friendly recipes Nebesky and the other chefs came up with:
The following three recipes are from Gerard Nebesky of Gerard’s Paella Catering.
On the day of cooking, Nebesky serves the Fall Farro with meat and veggies, such as the Grilled Harissa-Spiced Lamb Loin Chops and Roasted Root Vegetables, below. The next day, he enjoys the farro dish for breakfast or lunch with avocado or a fried egg and sriracha.
The spice blends in the recipes below (Tan-Tan, Ras el Hanout, Harissa Spice Mix and Madras Curry Powder) are available from Savory Spice Shop in Santa Rosa and Sonoma or online (savoryspiceshop.com).
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 cups farro
1 tablespoon Better than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base
5 to 6 slices dried porcini mushrooms or other dried mushrooms
1 teaspoon Tan-Tan Moroccan Seasoning
1 teaspoon Ras el Hanout
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, to finish
Rinse farro once and measure it into a medium-large pot or rice cooker. Add 6 cups water, then add the dried mushrooms, the Better Than Bouillon, the Tan-Tan Moroccan Seasoning, the Ras el Hanout, salt and pepper and olive oil.
Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. (If using a rice cooker, set on the white rice setting.)
Once finished, add 1 tablespoon butter and fluff with a fork.
Loin chops, crosswise slices from the loin roast, are the most tender and most expensive of the various lamb chops. They are easy to identify because of the “T-bone” in the chop.
Grilled Harissa-Spiced Lamb Loin Chops
Makes 4 to 6 servings
8 lamb loin chops
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon Harissa Spice Mix
1 teaspoon Madras Curry Powder
Remove the lamb loin chops from the fridge and bring to room temperature.
In a metal bowl, season the chops with a little salt and pepper, the Harissa Spice Mix and the Madras Curry Powder.
Grill the chops on a regular barbecue, over high heat, or indoors on a cast-iron grill pan over high heat, about four minutes per side, until medium-rare. Let rest for 10 minutes, covered in foil.
Serve with the Fall Farro, above, and Roasted Vegetables, below.
For this recipe, make sure to cut the carrots, potatoes and beets in small enough pieces so they will roast in about 20 minutes.