As the days turn cool and the nights get crisp, the flavor of local ingredients wanes, too.
There are hardly any local tomatoes to simply slice and salt. No more sweet corn to barely blanch in boiling water.
So this time of year, to take advantage of the fall harvest, I’ve learned to coax the flavor out of my food. I ease into the season by preparing light, simple meals that straddle summer and fall. And ever so slowly, as the season progresses, my cooking methods get more intense. By the time we light our first fire, I’m sipping a big, chewy red and smelling short ribs braising in the oven.
In the beginning of October, I take the first baby steps over the bridge. Maybe I’ll make burgers (summer!), but I’ll serve them with an arugula salad with grilled figs and toasted pine nuts (fall!). Or perhaps I’ll roast a maple-brined pork loin, but it will share the plate with the season’s last green beans, glistening with just a squeeze of lemon.
We forget, because we live here, but the rest of the country has one thing in mind when they think of the Hudson Valley: apples. As Halloween approaches, the bowls on my table and counters are spilling over with them. I slice apples in salads; I nestle them in sauerkraut alongside a pork sausage; I muddle them with calvados for a fruity twist on the Sidecar. And, yes, of course, I bake them, too: pies, crisps, crumbles and tarts, especially my favorite: tarte Tatin. (And here’s a fun fact: Just about any recipe that calls for apples tastes just as good — or better — with pears.)
Once we’re well into November, I’m well into roasting. A juicy roast chicken comes out of the oven with an amber crisp skin. Roasted cauliflower, believe it or not, can taste just like popcorn. And I love roasted butternut squash with just a touch of butter and brown sugar.
When the wool sweaters come out, the braising begins. Short ribs are my favorite, served with a creamy local polenta made from the cornmeal at Wild Hive Farm in Colombia County. Adventurous eaters might want to try my recipe for rabbit ragu, which I first tasted in Tuscany and then recreated in my tiny apartment kitchen, where the pasta pot warmed the whole room and steamed the windows overlooking my courtyard deck.
By the time the holidays are over and winter is in full swing, I’m longing for spring. And when those first spears of asparagus emerge from the bed in my back yard, I will snap them off and serve them in a meal that straddles winter and spring.
And then, ever-so slowly, I’ll ease into the new season, changing my style of cooking once again.