Casual Food to Enjoy with Family and Friends
by Rick Rodgers
Rick Rodgers doesn't lament the dip in temperature and the shortening of the days as summer melds into fall. While others may be sad to see basil and tomatoes disappear from the markets, Rodgers welcomes the fall bounty of pomegranates, persimmons, and lemons from his native California as well as parsnips, apples, and Concord grapes of his transplanted home on the East Coast. In Autumn Gatherings, he celebrates produce in the traditional harvest cycle with casual recipes meant to be shared at fall gatherings like Halloween (did you know that it's America's number one holiday for throwing parties?), Thanksgiving, Oktoberfest, and tailgate cookouts. Alongside the recipes, colorful sidebars about fall ingredients both familiar and exotic—from pumpkins to cardoons—offer tips for selection and preparation and get you in the mood for the season's bounty.
The recipes are as visually appealing as they are tempting to the palate: golden cauliflower and cheddar soup capture the hues of a harvest-time sunset; the grapes of the Concord grape pie are skinned and strained to render the deep purple color of the filling, and Moroccan lamb tagine makes a show-stopping presentation served in small, whole roasted pumpkins. Rodgers riffs on American classics by adding novel, seasonal ingredients. His chicken pot pie "au vin" introduces hearty red wine, mushrooms, and pancetta for an earthier version of this farmhouse favorite. Warm roasted butternut squash adds a bright and unexpected twist to salsa and chips. But there are plenty of recipes for a traditional Thanksgiving meal, like the dry-brined roasted turkey with sage and cider gravy paired with dried fruit-hazelnut cornbread stuffing. The desserts are downright homey. From carrot-apple cupcakes to fig bars to Grandma Edith's persimmon cookies, they call upon produce rather than chocolates or confections for their sweetness. Given Rodgers' adoration of fall's cornucopia, we wouldn't expect anything different.
Warm Roasted Butternut Squash Salsa
with Tortilla Chips
1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch chunks
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cored, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
One 14 ½-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
One 15- to 19-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 zucchini, cut into ½-inch dice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup coarsely chopped shelled and toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Salt and pepper
Tortilla chips, for serving
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400° F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.
Toss the squash with 1 tablespoon of the oil and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the squash is lightly browned and tender, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and jalapeño and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, beans, zucchini and cilantro and cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the roasted squash and cook for 5 minutes more. (The salsa can be roasted, cooled, covered, and refrigerated up to 3 days ahead. Reheat over medium heat, stirring occasionally.) Stir in the pumpkin seeds. Season with salt and pepper.
Transfer to a mini-slow cooker and serve warm with the tortilla chips.
Reviewed by Rachel Levin
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(Updated: 12/04/12 JLD)