Photography by Ellise Pierce
As excited as I get at the sight of the first spear of white asparagus in the spring, I’m just as crazy over the arrival of autumn pears, which means that if the leaves aren’t turning already, they will be soon.
Fall has always been my favorite time of year, even more so after living in France, where the seasons change with regularity, and that is that. What’s available in the markets in July is long gone by October. In North Texas, it’s less easy to sense nature’s handoff from late summer to early fall. The thermostat may read “frozen margaritas,” while the calendar says “pumpkin carving—it’s Halloween.”
But come September, whether we’re ready or not, it’s time to swap out the summer zucchini for butternut squashes, because they are here, along with spaghetti, kabocha and red kuri, ready to be sliced, roasted and put to work. It is not, in my opinion, slow-cooker season, or time to turn on the oven for hours-long braises—not yet.
Rather, fall’s when we go a little less light, a bit more earthy, but still with dishes that can be made in advance, or partly so, because why not do as much ahead of time as possible? That way, the actual cooking process is more about assembly—and enjoying the meal. I made every one of these recipes in two parts, because that’s how I operate—a day to shop and prep, a day to cook—but it’s also something that anyone can do to save time in the kitchen. The prep can be anything from an overnight marinade, as with the Chicken + Corn Chili; making the dough in advance, and refrigerating it overnight, as I did for the Butternut Squash + Goat Cheese Croustade; or putting together the batter for the buckwheat crêpes, which became Swiss Chard + Mushroom Crêpes the next day. I also cooked the mushrooms and Swiss chard in advance, so when it came time to make the crêpes, there was very little left to do.
Any of these recipes are great for weeknight dinners or parties on the weekend. The Butternut Squash + Goat Cheese Croustade, along with a green salad, makes a perfect dinner—or first course for a dinner party. The crêpes can be made in advance and stacked in the fridge, just like the ones the street vendors sell in Paris, then reheated and stuffed with whatever you’re in the mood for. Here, I’ve used Swiss chard, because it’s so very right now, plus mushrooms, which amplifies the earthiness. Ancho Chicken + Corn Chili is completely different from Texas Red, and it’s meant to be—plus it’s a great way to use up the season’s last few ears. I keep a batch of crisp topping in the freezer all the time, so I’m always less than a halfhour away from a Pear-Apple Ginger Crisp. You can go all apple or all pear, and swap out rosemary or thyme for ginger—there’s no reason to keep herbs off the dessert tray.
These are some of my favorite ways to welcome fall, with recipes that are warming if the season cooperates, yet not too heavy if the pool’s still calling.
Butternut Squash + Goat Cheese Croustade
Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of COWGIRL CHEF:
Texas Cooking with a French Accent (Running Press). Read her blog
(www.cowgirlchef.com), follow her on Twitter (@cowgirlchef) and Instagram
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