Eat Good Food

In Season: Fall Produce

fall produce

The arrival of autumn brings an abundance of fall produce to cook with, from crisp apples and juicy pears to hearty greens, sweet root vegetables, and sturdy winter squash.

Our guide for buying, storing, and preparing the season’s best produce will help make the most of what you’ll find at the markets this autumn.

APPLES
Perhaps no fruit is more representative of autumn than a crisp, sweet-tart apple. Worldwide, there are over 7,500 cultivars of apples known to exist; of these, at least 100 varieties are produced commercially in the United States, while many more are grown in backyards and on small farms.

Apples are often identified as dessert, cooking, or cider varieties, but trust your own taste and experience when making selections. For salads, choose a crisp apple that’s not too sweet, such as the Sierra Beauty or Newton Pippin. For delicious applesauce, try Gravenstein, McIntosh, or Jonathan. For sautéed apples and tarte tatin, use an apple that holds its shape when cooked and caramelized; Golden Delicious is a reliable choice. For tarts and galettes, Sierra Beauty is a favorite, but Jonagold and Winesap are good too.

Apple season starts in August, really gets going in September, and winds down in October.

How to Buy
Choose organically grown apples that are firm and unblemished. They should have a pleasant, mildly winey aroma, not a fermented or musty smell.

How to Store
Store apples in a cool, dark place away from other ethylene-sensitive produce. Early season apples are best eaten as soon as possible. Mid-season apples will store for weeks, and late harvest apples actually benefit from a few weeks in storage and are good for up to a few months.

How to Prepare
For salads, apples should be quartered and sliced, but not peeled unless the skin is tough — much of the flavor and beauty is in the skin. If not to be used, right away toss in lemon juice or vinegar to prevent browning.

Apples that are to be cooked for pies, galettes, or tarts are usually peeled. It’s easiest to quarter the apple and quickly carve out the core at the same time. You can peel with a knife or a peeler, and slice as needed.

To make applesauce, quarter and core apples, leaving skins on for flavor, and then cut into chunks to simmer in apple juice or cider until soft and cooked through.

BROCCOLI
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable related to cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, kohlrabi, and brussels sprouts. Commercially, broccoli is available year-around, although it is a cool weather crop and best in fall, late winter, and spring.

Broccoli pairs well with bold and pungent flavors: roasted broccoli, caramelized with garlic, red peppers, and olive oil, can be served with pasta, on pizza, or chopped and served on grilled bread; stir-fried spears make a quick meal with tofu, ginger, toasted sesame oil, and fish sauce; and long-cooked broccoli —  with garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice, and sometimes enlivened with hot pepper and anchovies — is a classic garnish for savory dishes. To serve broccoli in a salad or on a crudité plate, briefly blanch it, then shock it in ice water for a brilliant green color and crisp-tender texture before draining thoroughly.

How to Buy
In the market, look for broccoli that is deep green, with tight bunched-up flower heads, and no yellowing. Stalks should be green and firm.

How to Store
Broccoli should be stored, unwashed, in a terry cloth towel in the refrigerator, and eaten within a few days.

How to Prepare
Rinse under cold water, and using a peeler or paring knife, peel away the tough outer skin from the large stem. Cut the flowerets from the main stem; they may need to be broken or cut up into smaller pieces. The peeled stem can be cut in rounds or baton-shaped pieces and cooked with flowerets.

CHICORIES
Chicories are all members of the daisy family, closely related to lettuces and dandelions.

Red-leaved radicchio, torpedo-shaped Belgian endive, lacy green-and-white curly endive, exuberantly curly-leaved frisée, and lettuce-like escarole are few of the many types of chicories found in the market.

When used raw, they bring texture and bitterness to salads; cooked, that bitter note is transformed — the vegetables mellow and take on a nutty flavor. The sturdy leaves take well to braising, sautéing, and grilling alike. We love them added to soups, roasted with root vegetables until sweet, or stirred into risotto.

How to Buy
Look for bright and crisp leaves, with no wilting or brown spots. When buying Belgian endive, choose specimens that are white and tightly compacted, with tips of pale yellow. Exposed to light, Belgian endive starts to turn green, a sign of unpleasant bitterness.

How to Store
Refrigerate all chicories as soon as possible, wrapped loosely in a damp towel. Store in crisper drawer for up to a week. Be sure to protect Belgian endive from light.

How to Prepare
Since Belgian endive bruises easily, it’s best to wash and cut it up just before serving or cooking. Like lettuce, leafy chicories can be washed and dried ahead of time. 

FENNEL
Perhaps best known for its licorice-scented seeds, used to flavor everything from baked goods to sausage, fennel has become widely popular as an ingredient. The crunchy bulb has a delicate anise flavor, delicious sliced and served raw in salads; caramelized and served as a side dish; braised whole; or cooked in vegetable broths and fish stocks. The feathery fronds and tiny yellow flowers add an herbaceous note to salads and soups and we use them as a garnish, too.

How to Buy
The fennel to buy at the market has firm, bright white, unblemished bulbs with stalks attached.

How to Store
Store fennel loosely wrapped in a damp cloth in the crisper drawer. As it has a high water content, it can freeze if temperature is too cold.

How to prepare
To prepare fennel, trim the bottom of the bulb, peel away the outermost, coarser layers of the bulb. The bulbs can be halved, cored, and sliced, crosswise or lengthwise, according to the preparation. Sliced fennel that is not to be used immediately can be immersed in acidulated water to prevent discoloration. Stalks can be saved and added to stocks, and the fronds make a nice garnish.

KALE
An ancient member of the Brassica family, kale is the sometimes spicy, sometimes sweet, usually slightly bitter ancestor of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts.

Essentially a bouquet of green leaves, kale come in a variety of shapes and colors. Common curly kale is pale to deep green with large, frilly leaves and long stems. Lacinato kale, an Italian heirloom variety, has long, slender dark blue-green leaves with crinkly texture. Red Russian kale looks like overgrown oak leaves ranging from blue-green to purple-red.  

The first tender leaves of kale are best cooked quickly with a little bit of olive oil and garlic. Later in the season, the larger leaves are favored by longer cooking.

All of these varieties are in season at a welcome time — late fall to winter. Like most of the other brassicas, kale is hardy enough to survive lower temperatures and is actually sweeter when grown in cool weather.

How to Buy
Look for brightly colored, springy leaves with no brown, yellow, or wilted bits. Check the stem ends—they should look freshly cut, not dried out, or, even worse, slimy, either of which betrays that the greens were harvested some time ago.

How To Store
Wrap greens in a damp towel, unwashed, and place in a loose paper bag. Store in the crisper for up to six days.

How to Prepare 
Wash the leaves well when it’s time to cook. The ribs are edible, though they take much longer to cook than the leaves, especially if they’re thick, and you might, therefore, want to remove them: fold the leaves lengthwise with one hand, grasp the exposed ribs with the other, and pull in opposite directions. Most recipes then have you cut the rib-less leaves into strips.

PEARS (EUROPEAN)
The best European pears have buttery smooth, fine-grained, juicy flesh. The flavor is usually sweet, sometimes musky, and nicely balanced with acid.

Pears are wonderful in salads, marry well with walnuts and hazelnuts, and pair well with blue-veined cheeses. Brilliant as desserts, pears can be poached in wine, roasted with spices, or baked into cakes and tarts. A few heirloom varieties on our list of favorites: Comice, rich tasting and juicy, is the most perfect pear for eating fresh; Bosc, which holds its shape, one of the most useful for cooking; and the Seckel variety is ideal for poaching or pickling.

The harvest for most pears peaks in late summer and early fall, depending on the type and region. Pears are one of the few fruits that improve off the tree; pick them while still hard and allow them to ripen on the counter for a sweet succulent addition to all sorts of fall dishes. Because they keep so well, European pears have a very long season, extending from midsummer through the following spring.

How to Buy
Choose organically grown fruit that is firm and unbruised. It is best to buy green pears and ripen at home; this ensures that they were not picked overripe and decreases the chance of bruising. Pears are fragile and even unripe pears can be easily bruised, so handle carefully.

How to Store
Ideally pears should be ripened at room temperature. Very firm green pears may take a week to ten days, while riper ones may only need a few days. A slight softness on the stem end indicates readiness.

How to Prepare
Ripe pears are fragile, so cut and core them with a paring knife before carefully peeling them with a sharp knife. Pears will start to turn brown quickly so use right away or toss with lemon juice or vinegar if prepping for salad. If you are preparing to cook, toss with lemon juice and sugar as you go; if poaching drop fruit in poaching liquid as ready.

POTATOES
A member of the nightshade family, Solanum tuberosum, potatoes originated in South America, and have been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. A staple food almost everywhere in the world, the starchy flesh adapts to all sorts of preparations and readily absorbs flavors and seasonings, making the humble potato a canvas for many a meal.

The countless varieties range in color, size, and starch content; potatoes higher in starch, such as russets, and purple or blue potatoes, have a fluffy texture and are great for baking or french fries. Waxy red, white, and yellow potatoes hold their shape better, and are often preferred for salads or gratins. New potatoes, harvested before maturity, tend to be fragile-skinned and small in size. They are best imply prepared — steamed, boiled, or roasted — where their delicate taste and flavor can be appreciated.

How to Buy
Never buy potatoes with even a hint of green skin; green skins indicate the presence of solanine, a toxic alkaloid that the potato develops when exposed to light. Choose firm potatoes, with no soft or discolored spots, and avoid any potatoes that have started to sprout.

How to Store
Store potatoes away from sunlight in a cool dry space with good air circulation. New potatoes are more perishable than mature potatoes, and should be used within a few days.

How to Prepare
When you’re ready to use them, rinse and dry your potatoes, removing any sprout buds or dark spots. If the potatoes are covered with soil you can use a vegetable brush to scrub them.

QUINCE

Like its apple and pear relatives, the quince tree (Cydonia oblong) originated in Central Asia. The fruit resemble very firm, bright yellow, short-necked pears. Quince is known for its distinctive floral aroma, but the raw fruit is rarely eaten because it is hard and astringent, sour and gritty, even when ripe.

Quince is suitable for many cooked preparations and will turn reddish-pink when cooked. Quince can be used for preserves (in fact, the word marmalade is derived from marmelo, the Portuguese word for quince), shrubs, and pickles, as well as Membrillo, a firm paste made of cooked quince, that traditionally accompanies Spanish Manchego cheese. A few quince slices added to apple pie lend a fragrant, perfumed flavor. Look for quince from September through November.

How to Buy
Choose fragrant, organically grown quinces that have bright yellow skin with few traces of green. They should be firm, without soft spots or discoloration.

How to Store
Quinces will keep for a week or two at room temperature if they have good air circulation, and much longer in the refrigerator. Like apples, they emit ethylene gas which will accelerate ripening in produce sensitive to it.

How to Prepare
To prepare quinces for cooking, rinse them under cold water, rubbing off as much fuzz as possible and cutting away any brown spots. Use the entire fruit when making pastes and preserves, as the peel and core add flavor and will be strained out anyway. Quarter, peel, and core when poaching or cooking with other ingredients.

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