Now that fall is here, there is one food that seems to be trending over and over… pumpkin. Actually, it is all about the pumpkin spice and not the authentic food. My question is why don’t we start fall by concentrating on apples?
There are hundreds of varieties of pumpkins, and there really isn’t one that pops out as “great.” Unless you are living in a Peanuts cartoon, you probably aren’t talking about a Great Pumpkin. On the other hand, there are thousands of choices for apples, and they all boast flavor profiles which are unique.
The best part of apples is that you can grab an apple right out of a tree and bite into its juicy, crunchy joy. Can you do that with a pumpkin? I think not.
Don’t get me wrong, I love pumpkin dishes, but I’m really tired of how it overshadows apple season.
Lucky for us, The Chopping Block is giving the apple due justice by being part of the Apple Fest Celebration in Lincoln Square. The Chopping Block has whole apple pies available for preordering now. These pies are famous by all who have ever cut into them because there is literally an entire apple in each slice… if you cut the pie in eight slices. You could be like a certain husband I’m married to and forego the slicing and just eat it straight out of the cast iron pan it is cooked in! (Included in your purchase. Additional details here.) It is this apple pie that you will forever picture in your mind when you think of apple season.
But don’t stop there… keep apples on your radar because September and October are peak apple season! The other day, I stopped by my favorite local orchard (Garwood Orchards in Laporte, IN) and grabbed an assortment of apples.
With no plan in mind, I picked out nine different varieties (Honeycrisp, Zestar, Macintosh, Blondee, Autumn Crisp, Golden Delicious, Sweet Maia, Ginger Gold and a Paula Red). The medley of sizes and colors offered infinite opportunities.
I am a very textural person when it comes to apples. So instead of just googling each variety for suggestions of use, I cut a large sliver off the side and then cut that sliver in half. One half was going to be tasted raw, the other was going to be sautéed in a pan with some butter. (I put numbers on the bottom so I could keep track of each one and how I used it.)
The raw tasting gave me an idea of what I was working with. Is it sweet? Tart? A little of both? How thick is the skin? Is it super juicy or dry? Does it feel crisp or mealy?
My two raw favorites were the Zestar and Honeycrisp, and they were quickly incorporated into an Apple Fennel Slaw.
Apple Fennel Slaw
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Serves 6 as side
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin (chop up some of the fronds for garnish)
1 Zestar Apple, cored, sliced thin
1 Honeycrisp Apple, cored sliced thin
1 cup of shredded cabbage
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons olive oil
- In a large nonreactive bowl, mix fennel, apples and cabbage. Squirt with the lemon juice to help keep the apples from browning prematurely.
- In a small jar, shake up apple cider vinegar, honey, mustard, olive oil, a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of fresh pepper.
- Drizzle a little on the slaw and serve the rest on the side. Sprinkle with some fronds and another grind of pepper.
To test out how these apples cooked was a little more labor intensive but ever so much fun. Using a recipe off Food Network for White Cheddar Gougeres with Apples, I made the gougeres by the recipe with my only substitution being gruyere instead of white cheddar, which is a personal preference.
For the apples, I chopped up a variety but kept them all separate. Per the recipe, I put a mixture of the allspice, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom in a little dish. I melted about 1/2 tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch pan over medium high heat and added a little of the spice and cooked up an apple. A swirl of honey and a splash of lemon and few more minutes of cooking.
I stuffed them all in the gougeres with a piece of prosciutto and crispy sage leaf. This little “game” let me see how the apples cooked. Did they get mushy? Did they hold their shape? Did their flavor change dramatically? Did they taste too desserty? Or could they pass for a savory option?
My favorite of the cooked apples were the Autumn Crisp and the Honeycrisp (my overall favorite apple). Both really kept their “apple” taste while complimenting the other flavors in the dish. Least favorite was the Michigan Golden Delicious. It was a textural thing as I felt it left a coating in my mouth.
The Ginger Gold and the Blondee kept their shape beautifully so they ended up inside some Better Homes & Garden Apple Cream Cheese Turnovers.
During all this apple time, I came to a conclusion about myself. My apple happiness comes when cheese is involved. So I tried one more thing, Mac and Cheese with Apples!
Macaroni and Cheese with Apples
Adapted from US Apple Association Recipe
Serves 4-6 as a side or 2 as a meal or 1 if you are eating your feelings about summer being over
8 ounces of favorite noodle shape (Campanelle in this case)
3 Tablespoons butter
2 tart/sweet apples, peeled, cored, diced (I used the Sweet Maia, it should come out to a little more than 1 1/2 cups)
1 shallot diced
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (whole, preferred)
2 cups of shredded white cheddar or a melty mix (I used the Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar mix)
4 ounces of cream cheese, softened, in chunks
1/3 cup each of parmesan and Panko, if you want a crispy top
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease a casserole dish. (I used a 3 quart and could have gone smaller, but I didn’t have one available.)
- Cook pasta per directions. Don’t overcook since you will be finishing this off in the oven, and you don’t want mush! Drain, rinse to stop cooking and add the apples. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Don’t let the heat get too hot. You don’t want brown butter.
- Sauté the shallots until soft about two minutes.
- Add the flour and cook another minute or so… it should smell nutty, not raw.
- Slowly whisk in the milk, incorporating the flour. The milk should be just below a simmer.
- Cook for about 10 minutes on low. It should be thickening but not burning on the bottom.
- On the low heat, whisk in the cream cheese chunks…. one by one.
- Next slowly, add the remaining of the cheese. If you do it too fast or over too high of heat, you can get grainy cheese.
- Stir until cheese is melted and incorporated. Take a taste and use this as your opportunity to add salt and pepper. (I like to use white pepper.)
- Using a ladle, add the cheese to the macaroni and apples. Gently stir and coat. You don’t want the macaroni dripping with cheese (or maybe you do… I won’t judge).
- If you don’t use up all your cheese, don’t worry. You can stand over the stove and dip apples and bread in it while the mac and cheese is cooking.
- Pour into the prepared casserole dish.
- Sprinkle with Panko mixture.
- Bake for about 25-30 minutes.
After a few days of cooking apples with everything, my advice is simple…. compare apples to apples. It really allowed me to taste some subtle differences and textures that I may have overlooked in previous years. Go to your favorite orchard. Stop by that roadside stand. Grab a new variety at your grocery store. Treat yourself and preorder an Apple Pie from The Chopping Block this week to support all the great folks who participate in Apple Fest. But for goodness sake, do not skip apple season this year!
Apples are the challenge this week for our private Facebook group members. Join, make an apple dish (sweet or savory) and share your creations with group.