Cooking in late fall, whether tied to a traditional holiday or not, is a joy, especially when we eat a seasonally based diet. As cold weather sets in, many of us lose our taste for the fruits and vegetables of summer. Things like pesto, so welcome on a warm summer night, lose their appeal, at least in my experience. I may want salsa year round but I don't crave a BLT when the days are short and I'm stoking a wood fire.
Instead, I want cranberries, pomegranates, persimmons, winter squash soup, hearty soups and good beef stew. I want hot mulled apple juice or lamb's wool, a beverage made with whole apples, apple cider, spices and butter, which you can find at this column's companion blog, Eat This Now at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
Many of us know exactly what we'll be eating on Thanksgiving but, if you have a flexible menu, you might consider one or all of these simple dishes for your holiday table.
Although I think a selection of cheeses is best served after, not before, a meal, a bit of burrata, which has a light, refreshing quality, makes a great starter, especially with flutes of sparkling wine alongside.
Makes about 12 pieces
? sourdough baguette, cut in 12 diagonal slices
— Olive oil
8 ounces burrata
? cup Apple Cranberry Sauce or Persimmon Relish, recipes follows
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Brush the baguette slices with olive oil, set on a baking sheet and toast, turning once, in the oven until golden brown and fairly crisp. Alternately, toast on a grill or in a wood-burning oven.
Spread some of the burrata on each toasted baguette and top with a dollop of sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
This sauce is such a beautiful color that it looks like a bowl of glimmering rubies and garnets. It is a simple and delicious alternative to canned cranberry sauce, which certainly evokes the holiday but not necessarily in a good way.
Apple Cranberry Sauce
Makes about 1 quart
6 to 8 apples of choice, peeled, cored and quartered
1 package (12 ounces) cranberries, rinsed, soft berries removed
1 bottle red wine
1 cup sugar, plus more as needed
— Zest of 1 orange, optional
Put the apples and cranberries into a heavy saucepan, add the wine and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the apples soften; the time will vary depending on the variety of apple.
When the apples are tender, set a strainer over a small saucepan and drain the cooking liquid into it. Stir about half a cup of sugar into the cooking liquid, set over medium heat and simmer until reduced by about three-quarters and the consistency of syrup. Set aside briefly.
Pass the apples and cranberries through a food mill fitted with the largest blade and stir in the syrup. Taste and correct for sweetness, adding a tablespoon of sugar at a time until it has a pleasing balance of sweetness and acid. Stir in the orange zest, if using.
Serve warm or chilled. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Variation: For a spiced version, prepare a cheesecloth bag with 3 cracked cardamom pods, a teaspoon of white peppercorns, a teaspoon of dried orange peel, a slice of candied ginger, a very small piece of cinnamon stick and half a vanilla bean. Add the bag to the apples and cranberries as they cook, remove the bag before straining the liquid and then add it to the liquid as it reduces.
This easy relish is delicious with any poultry, from quail, game hens and chicken to duck, goose and turkey. It is also excellent with roast pork.
Fuyu Persimmon Relish
Makes about 1 cup, easily doubled
2 to 3 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 Fuyu persimmons, peeled and cut into ?-inch dice
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
— Lemon wedge
Melt the butter in a small saute pan set over medium heat. Add the ginger and the persimmons, toss and saute 3 to 4 minutes, until the persimmons are heated through. Add a pinch of salt and several turns of black pepper, toss and remove from the heat.
Add a squeeze of lemon juice, toss and transfer to a small serving bowl.
This salad is a long-time favorite, though I rarely follow a recipe when I make it. Sometimes I add sliced avocado, sometimes I use rare duck breast instead of lamb, sometimes I use leftover turkey (dark meat only) and sometimes I use no meat at all, in which case I add a few curls of dry jack or Parmigiano-Reggiano. Without the meat, this salad makes an excellent first course on Thanksgiving.
Persimmon, Pomegranate & Lamb Salad with Arugula & Pomegranate Vinaigrette
Makes 4 servings
? cup Pomegranate Vinaigrette, recipe follows
1 pound sliced rare lamb, see Note below