What to Eat Now: October
Fall is in its heyday as we welcome cooler days and the cornucopia they bring: broccoli, butternut squash, leeks, spaghetti squash, pomegranates, and the season’s star: pumpkin.
Autumn brings chilly mornings and crisp nights; that nippy air stirs a yearning for toasty blankets and heartier dishes and drinks. Tis the season of "food hugs," according to chef Michael Chiarello. The shades of burnt orange and deep green that adorn the trees are reflected in the farmers market stalls: butternut and spaghetti squash sit nestled next to lively broccoli and fall’s ombre showoff, leeks. And let's not forget autumn’s crowning jewel, the pomegranate, with its sparkling garnet arils. Grab your sweater, head to the market and get hygge with the cozy recipes below.
Broccoli is easy to take for granted in the produce aisle year-round, but it shines when it’s in season in the fall — locally-grown and newly-harvested broccoli tastes brighter and more complex. Its name translates as “cabbage sprout” in Italian, and indeed it’s a member of that family. Look for bright green buds that are tightly closed (and without yellow spots), a thick, sturdy stalk, and crisp little leaves.
What to do with broccoli’s miniature green tree trunk? Some eschew it, but its flavor and nutrition is the same as the more popular florets. Just be careful not to include the stalk if it’s fibrous and dry; when preparing, cut the entire stalk off from the flowering head, then cut a thin slice and take a bite. If it’s tough, toss it. But if the heart is tender, cut off the stem end, peel the thick skin away until you hit pale green, then cut into thin, equal-sized slices. Cook for a few minutes before adding the florets, and include in any recipe.
The Nose Knows
Broccoli is a member of the brassica family, which includes all the cool cabbage kids: Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, and that ubiquitous kale. One thing they all share — but broccoli especially — is a tendency to get stinky when cooked for too long. Always take broccoli off the heat once it reaches the crisp-tender stage: think bright green stir-fry texture, which lets it keep a bit of crunch, as opposed to the English method of boiling it until it reaches a fork-mashable, drab khaki-green and gives off a funky smell that can reach the attic … Instead, try these inspired dishes for a fun new take on a trusty standby.
The hard, pale-orange shell of this squash makes it an ideal member of the fall larder since it can be stored in a cool place for longer stretches of time. This versatile veggie has a moist, dense, vivid orange flesh that brings a brightness to October’s short darker days, and makes an easy substitute for sweet potatoes or yams. The exuberant color also makes a Halloween dinner party pop without any spooky dyes or coloring agents, making it a shoo-in for fall entertaining — and convincing kids to try a taste.
Most hard squashes are challenging to peel, but the butternut squash is the easiest of the gourds. Weighing in around 2 to 3 pounds, it’s worth the effort for the rewarding volume of flesh inside. Depending on the recipe, it can be easy to cut the squash in half — just use your heaviest knife or a cleaver, if you’ve got one — and then roast or steam it until the flesh is soft and can be scooped out.
For recipes that call for cubes or slices, as in the delicious pizza below, here’s a trick (that’s really a treat) to soften up the flesh: slice off the top and bottom, prick the entire squash evenly with a fork, and pop it in the microwave for 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. The flesh is so dense there’s no risk of cooking it, and once cool to touch it’s far easier to use your sharpest peeler to remove the softened skin.
These members of the allium family are often overshadowed by their sharper-flavored pals such as shallots, ramps, and scallions. But their gentle flavor, natural thickening quality, and interesting texture make them an ideal candidate for a variety of different dishes, from the gorgeous galette below to a breakfast fry-up or homey holiday brisket.
All Hail the King
Leeks have figured prominently in Welsh cuisine and history: Legend has it that in the 7th century, Welsh warriors wore leeks on their helmets during a victorious battle against the Saxons. While this may be more fireside tale than confirmed fact, it secured the vegetable’s place as the national symbol of Wales.
Look for leeks that have bright, crisp outer leaves and a firm white stalk with no spots — they look like giant scallions — and store in a bag in the refrigerator for up to five days. Leeks hold a lot of sandy soil in between their leaves, so rinse thoroughly. To prepare, cut off the tough green tops and root end, then slice vertically so it opens like a book. Run each half under cold water and rinse through the layers. For especially gritty leeks it can be helpful to chop as directed, then plunge in a water-filled salad spinner, swish so the grit falls to the bottom, lift out, toss the water, and then spin dry.
Any Way You Slice It
This versatile vegetable is delicious in myriad ways: diced, chopped, or left dramatically long, as in the braise below. In honor of its popularity in the British Isles, check out the Irish version of potato-leek soup, or the Welsh classic, rarebit. Feel free to substitute a mixture of shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses in the rarebit if you don’t have access to Caerphilly.
This delicate gourd is a popular fall vegetable, in large part because its interior flesh creates intact strands that, as the name suggests, look like noodles. It’s an easy, healthful, and unprocessed pasta swap out ideal for diabetics, Paleo and Keto dieters, or anyone trying to squeeze in their five-a-day. The mild flavor makes it an excellent foil for bolder, more intense flavors, even as it delivers a healthy dose of vitamins A and C along with plenty of potassium and dietary fiber.
This can also be an easy squash to get kids excited about, given its fun shape and mild flavor. It blends well into comforting casseroles or can be shaped into crunchy “fries” for dipping, as in the recipes below.
Selecting and Prepping
Spaghetti squash can grow to about eight pounds and are a pale shade of yellow (avoid under-ripe green ones), with flesh to match. Store in a cool dark place for up to a month. The smooth skin is thin but difficult to peel; it’s best to cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and fibers, rub the insides with a little olive oil, and roast (or steam/roast on a baking sheet with a bit of water added). Once it’s tender and beginning to collapse (this will take about 45-60 minutes at 400°F), the strands can be scraped out, seasoned with salt and pepper, and used as instructed.
This storied superfood has a long and regal history: it hails from Iran, where some trees still grow wild, and was featured in the ancient Greek poems of Homer, the mythical tale of Persephone, and in the Bible, where Moses had to reassure the despairing Israelites there were pomegranates waiting for them in the promised land. While pomegranate trees dot plenty of California backyards, the fruit has only become popular recently in the States — perhaps due to the challenge of getting to those sweet-tart aril jewels inside.
Get It, Girl!
Choose brick-red pomegranates with smooth, unspotted skin that feel slightly heavy for their size. They can be refrigerated for up to two months (if you can wait that long), or crown a fruit bowl for about four weeks. And fear not: when approached correctly, the fruit will open up and give itself to you easily. Simply slice off the top until you can see the bitter white membranes that naturally divide the fruit into sections, then carefully cut through each white part until the fruit falls open like a flower. From there it’s easy to pluck out the ruby red, pulp-covered seeds and crunch away.
The Great Pumpkin
This beloved indigenous squash has come to dominate not just October, but the lion’s share of fall flavor, enthusiasm, and lattes across the land. And why not? Since before Colonial times, it’s been a symbol of nature’s bounty, and transcends pie and coffee: this gourd is delicious in curries or breakfast treats and even gets a magical shout out in the Harry Potter-inspired savory pumpkin pasties below. If left unattended, pumpkins can grow to an enchanted size: the (alleged) largest was just shy of 270 pounds in New York state. Fortunately, the ones at the market are smaller — and easier to get home.
The smaller the pumpkin, the more tender its flesh. For sweet pies and soups, seek out the paler New England Cheddar; the pinkish Porcelain Doll; the Hybrid Pam, a variety with the classic orange rind and deep green stem; or seek out the exotic Blue Doll variety for its pale green skin and bright orange interior that’s delicious in any dish. Most white pumpkins are best suited for home décor and Jack-o-lantern carving, with the exception of the Falt White Boer Ford variety (which looks suspiciously like someone may have sat on it); this one is good for savory pies.
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Check out other articles in our monthly fresh produce series.