SAVOR THE SEASON
Adjusting to the more limited selection of fresh fruits and vegetables in local markets after the bounty of summer can be trying. Sticking with seasonal produce, though, makes the most of any food budget. There are plenty of inventive ways to create great-tasting dishes with cheap autumn produce and vanquish the post-tomato-season blues. Many of these dishes are quick and easy enough for everyday fare.
A spinach salad with pears incorporates the warm and bright flavors of fall to add seasonal flair. To cut expenses, dried cranberries and toasted hazelnuts can be substituted with other ingredients that might be on hand, such as raisins and almonds. Spinach is relatively hearty but still shouldn't be dressed too far in advance of eating. Undressed, the salad can be assembled up to six hours before serving.
BAKED PEAR OATMEAL
A warm breakfast of filling oatmeal with seasonal fruit and gentle baking spices can take the chill off a frosty autumn morning. A recipe from the blog Making Thyme for Health is a go-to for busy mornings and large groups, whether you're serving brunch or getting kids ready for school. Prepping the night before not only saves time, it gives the flavors a chance to meld, so every bite is full of rich spice and pear goodness.
SPAGHETTI SQUASH 'PASTA'
With a lower price per serving than pasta, none of the carbohydrates, and less than one-third the calories, spaghetti squash is an excellent substitute for grain-based noodles with a favorite pasta sauce. Cut it in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and bake, cut side down, in a dish with a bit of water at 375 degrees until tender. This gives spaghetti squash a naturally string-like consistency that resembles the long pasta from which it gets its English name.
This vibrant dish is a delight to eat, thanks to the mix of textures and flavors. While many recipes call for thinly slicing cooked beets, keeping them raw and slicing with a mandoline, or very carefully with a sharp knife, preserves their earthy flavor and snappy texture. A recipe from the blog Passionately Raw tops off the sliced beets with a crunchy and aromatic mint pistachio pesto, although any pesto or favorite dressing would work well.
BEET GREEN SALAD
Part of getting the most out of seasonal produce is learning how to use every edible part of the plants. Beets are commonly sold with green leafy tops, which are a tasty source of nutrition. Don't let them end up in the garbage bin or compost pile when they can be used to create their own tasty meal, such as a beet green salad.
Recipe: Sprouted Kitchen
SPICY ROASTED BROCCOLI
Roasted vegetables are a common theme in cooking throughout the cooler months, and while delicious and inexpensive, they can get a little boring. Spice up simple roasted broccoli by adding thinly sliced serrano chilies to the florets and stalks before tossing with oil, salt, and pepper and roasting on high heat. The broccoli will get tender and crisp on the edges and have a welcome piquancy from the occasional bite of the spicy serranos.
PARMESAN ROASTED BROCCOLI
A little sprinkling of nutty and tangy parmesan cheese also goes a long way toward making roasted broccoli a hit at the dinner table. The crispy edges and tender stalks are irresistible to kids and adults alike, making a recipe from the blog Damn Delicious a good autumn staple. In addition to garlic, cooks can add thinly sliced onions for another layer of flavor.
Recipe: Damn Delicious
Cauliflower can be turned into a trendy, low-carb rice or couscous alternative, a fun preparation to add to a fall vegetable repertoire. A post on Epicurious describes the differences between cooked and raw cauliflower rice and the different ways to make it. The only special tool required is a food processor.
This easy-to-prepare dessert is elegant and appropriate for even the most sophisticated dinner parties. It also serves as a more casual morning snack or breakfast atop yogurt. To make poached pears, simmer peeled and halved or quartered pears in a sweetened liquid, such as sweet wine or water with honey and lemon. Spices such as cinnamon and clove add complexity.
Letting vegetables shine, rather than having them play second fiddle to other proteins, is a major trend. The following recipe is simple but requires precise preparation. Be careful when portioning the "steaks" and be sure to get a good sear on the cut edge to caramelize the natural sugars and draw out a rich umami flavor. The recipe includes a zesty sauce as an accompaniment, but the point is to master a technique for making broccoli the star.
Recipe: Lady and Pups
BUFFALO CAULIFLOWER BITES
The best parts of Buffalo wings — the crispy skin and rich, buttery sauce — can be applied to cauliflower florets. This recipe replaces chicken wings with baked cauliflower as the tender center and a brown rice coating for crispness. The sauce is a traditional combination of butter and hot sauce for a classic pop of flavor.
Recipe: The Lean Clean Eating Machine
ROASTED GARLIC SOUP
Fall, when garlic is harvested and at its cheapest, is the perfect time to showcase this tasty and healthful ingredient. A pungent soup, courtesy of the blog Healthful Pursuit, boasts the flavor of sweet roasted garlic and a creamy texture. Perfumed generously with garlicky goodness, it might pair best with mouthwash.
Recipe: Healthful Pursuit
SWEET AND SOUR FENNEL
This versatile side dish from Fine Cooking works with a variety of proteins and main courses, from fish and poultry to red meat. A slow braising process incorporates bright and tangy flavors into every bite of fennel. Although the active cooking time is short, this dish is long on flavor. As when braising meat, the initial browning on one side builds an essential flavor base, so don't skip that step.
Recipe: Fine Cooking
FALL VEGETABLE FLATBREAD
It's amazing how a simple and inexpensive dough and a little cheese can turn vegetables into a crave-worthy party food. A flatbread recipe from the blog Lexi's Clean Kitchen features crisped and browned Brussels sprouts, although any fall market vegetable on hand works fine. The recipe is versatile, and a good option for scraps of cheese and cooked veggies that might otherwise go to waste.
Recipe: Lexi's Clean Kitchen
Risotto is one of the least expensive ways to feed a family and has the added benefit of adapting to the produce of any season. Dirt-cheap and nutrient-rich varieties of winter squash, such as acorn and butternut, provide a sweet and earthy counterpart to creamy and tangy risotto, effortlessly creating layers of flavor. A vegetable barley risotto recipe from the Food Network will give home cooks an understanding of risotto fundamentals.
Recipe: Food Network
BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
A cool-weather classic, butternut squash soup offers maximum flavor, warmth, and comfort for a low cost per serving, with squash being so cheap in its peak season. The process is simple and requires roasting the squash, combining the ingredients in a pot, and blending with a stick or countertop blender. The following recipe is hearty enough to be a meal when served with crusty bread.
Recipe: Cooking Light
While cabbage soup is generally pegged as a diet food, many people have grown up eating their family's recipe and consider it a comfort food. In the cooler months, a steamy bowl is satisfyingly filling. A no-frills, old-country recipe from the blog Stupid Easy Paleo can be customized to taste by adding tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, rice, and even raisins, or by omitting anything that's not wanted, such as meat or sauerkraut.
Recipe:Stupid Easy Paleo
This cousin of the apple has a tart and more floral, aromatic flavor than apples and pears, making it a welcome departure from traditional fall fruits. To transform quince into a tasty preserve, simply combine with water, lemon juice, and sugar and cook until thick and sticky. It makes an excellent spread for toast, condiment on cheese plates, and yogurt topping.
CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE
The right balance of salty meat and sweet cabbage makes a humble yet compelling dish. A version of classic corned beef and cabbage from Simply Recipes gives instructions for baking or boiling the corned beef, and sautéing or boiling the cabbage. Boiling cabbage brings out its sweetness, while sautéing enhances its umami flavor. Whichever method is used, this dish is a noble destiny for a head of autumn cabbage.
APPLE CHEDDAR PIE
Apple pie alone will seem plain after trying this cheesy treat from Martha Stewart. The tang and richness from the cheese gives the pie extra depth, and the umami undertones make it seem like a more complete option for breakfast or lunch. The ingredients are inexpensive, which allows for higher-quality cheese; a small amount contributes a lot of flavor.
SWEET POTATO PIE
Chilly nights call for comforting, warm flavors such as those of sweet potato pie. An ultra-creamy version from Wake Up and Eat uses coconut milk for an extra velvety texture and maple syrup for a rich, earthy sweetness that complements market-fresh, orange-fleshed potatoes. The vegetable-based pie also passes as a nutritiously sweet breakfast treat.
Recipe:Wake Up and Eat
The warm spices of curry are a natural match for the sweet and earthy flavor of all different types of squash. A convenient slow cooker recipe from NoshOn. It calls for butternut squash, but other varieties of firm squash such as delicata would work as well. This hearty one-pot dish makes a full-flavored meal for cool evenings with very little active cooking time.
This treat tastes like apple pie filling but makes a nutritious breakfast, tasty snack, or indulgent dessert all season long. The following recipe couldn't be simpler, calling for a few spices on a cored apple that gets baked until tender. Any variety of apple is welcome, as are additional spices and flavoring such as nutmeg, mace, caraway, and vanilla.
ENDIVE SALAD BOATS
Endive, the bitter, boat-shaped lettuce, is a caterer's dream, being just the right size and shape for hors d'oeuvres. Creamy and pungent cheeses, such as feta and blue, create an ideal contrast to the endive's crispness and bitterness. Because the flavors are intense, a small portion goes a long way, which helps keep costs low. Include other fall produce, such as apples and pears, when preparing a platter. A teaspoon of filling made of nuts, fruit, and cheese with a splash of oil and vinegar is an easy way to create a chic appetizer for any occasion.
FENNEL ORANGE SALAD
A classic Italian side dish from Bon Appétit packs a lot of freshness, with crisp fennel and sweet oranges. The bright and earthy flavors balance a meal that features hearty meat or heavy pasta. Use a mandoline to get thin slices of fennel, or a larger setting on a slicing device to get slightly thicker slices and add crunch. This lettuce-less salad marinates as it sits, which means it can be made ahead, dressed, and kept in the fridge for a few hours before serving.
Recipe: Bon Appétit
Homemade applesauce is easy, cheap, and nutritious, and the flavor can be customized to the ideal blend of cinnamon-spiked, sweet, and tart. No special equipment is required beyond a peeler to remove the skins from the apples, and the applesauce can be used all season long for snacks, baking, or a topping. A version from Simply Recipes calls for processing in a blender or through a food mill, but applesauce can also be left chunky for a more textured sauce with the same flavor.
This bold and piquant dish adds freshness to hearty autumn meals while taking advantage of the season's best produce. The texture in a recipe from Food & Wine is important to the overall dish, so make sure to get the right size julienne on the beets. To achieve uniform matchsticks that aren't too flimsy or too firm, use a mandoline or shredding tool. A food processor with the right attachment blade can also be used for the beets and other shredded vegetables.
Recipe:Food & Wine
Pumpkin has become one of the season's most anticipated flavors, making appearances in savory curries, pastries and baked goods, and, of course, lattes. The following recipe calls for canned pumpkin, which is commonly used in pumpkin recipes and widely available at grocery stores, but substituting fresh pumpkin creates a richer flavor. Roast it in the oven until soft, remove the flesh from the tough skin, and use the amount specified in the recipe for the muffins.