There’s something about the shift in the seasons that makes me feel like a true beginner in the kitchen.
Over the summer, I’d grown confident with recipes that featured warm-weather extravagance. My repertoire included salads, quick preserving methods for fruits and vegetables, and cool weeknight meals that let ingredients like corn, zucchini, and tomatoes shine.
Then, seemingly overnight, everything changed. The air turned chilly, and local apples filled the market. It was autumn, again. And I had no idea what to make for dinner.
This moment always produces a flash of panic. Every October, I spend a couple of prime market weeks ignoring the new abundance while I search for inspiring recipes. I move uncomfortably in the kitchen as I reacquaint myself with braising methods and how to properly peel and cut a butternut squash.
This fall, however, I took early action. The season’s new cookbooks include five homey, accessible titles by authors who conveniently have vibrant online presences. Just like the authors’ websites, these books are packed with seasonal recipes ideal for weeknight dinners or weekend entertaining. Beautiful photographs encourage experimentation with new ingredients and techniques.
These books already feel cozy and familiar — good friends in the kitchen who cheered me on as I reintroduced myself to pears, figs, endives, chard, and the tantalizing smell of slow-cooked meats.
The best part? These ladies (and one fellow) are always available online, where their elaborate websites and blogs offer answers to tough culinary questions and instructive techniques to help even the most seasoned cooks.
A beginner no more, I’ve embraced fall and the bounty it brings by testing a slew of autumnal recipes. Suddenly, I’m inspired by the season. I think you will be, too.
What I loved: This book is filled with simple, satisfying dishes that are easy to make and perfect to share (or pack away as leftovers). Gillingham-Ryan’s food philosophy — that “nourishment is much more than fueling up to perform the day’s tasks” — is evident on every page, and just might encourage a new way of eating and living.
What we devoured: For our first fall dinner party, we brined a pork loin overnight, then served it with apricot-onion mostarda and balsamic-glazed roasted radicchio with walnuts. The leftovers — think pork sandwich slathered with mostarda and a side of radicchio — were outstanding. And Israeli couscous with porcini and arugula (we actually made this recipe with farro, at Gillingham-Ryan’s suggestion) was a wholesome, veggie-packed sack lunch.
Other recipes I can’t wait to try: Smashed Figs with Walnuts and Burrata; Roasted Squash Salad with Dates and Spicy Pecans; Short Ribs Braised in Balsamic; Apple-Dried Cherry Crumble.
Find the author online: On the Web at The Kitchn or on Twitter @sarakategr.
What I loved: To me, fall is all about home cooking, and this book is perfect for the busy cook who needs a complete meal (not just one dish!) on the table in about 30 minutes. That said, the recipes (and their steps) are grouped so you can prepare an entire meal if you choose (if you’d prefer to cook just one of the dishes, you have to parse the instructions you need, but subheads make it easy). For the tentative cook, some recipes point you toward the computer, where there’s video of Oliver himself executing step-by-step techniques.
What we devoured: Upon its arrival, my husband quickly commandeered the new Oliver book, and has been cooking from it regularly. Needless to say, I’m loving this. A fan of pasta and tomatoes, he whipped up Tuscan Tomato Bread Salad with the last-of-the-season tomatoes; Tomato Soup spiked with large, crusty, homemade croutons; and Pregnant Jools’s Pasta (penne with a balsamicky tomato sauce featuring spicy sausage). His pièce-de-resistance was Cauliflower Macaroni, a casserole of pasta, cauliflower, Cheddar, and crème fraîche topped with savory, herby breadcrumbs.
Other recipes I can’t wait to try: This book is built around menus. I’m aching to make two particularly fall-ish ones: a simple menu of Wheel Sausage with Horseradish Mashed Potatoes, Apple Salad, Sage and Leek Gravy and Stuffed Apples; and a more elaborate Indian meal of Curry Rogan Josh (curry with butternut squash, cauliflower, chickpeas, and spinach), Fluffy Rice, Carrot Salad, Indian Pickles, and Flatbread.
Find the author online: Check out Oliver’s how-to videos (and more) at Jamie's 30-Minute Meals or follow him on Twitter @jamieoliver.
What I loved: The premise of this book is simple: the best recipes come from home cooks. Via weekly contests on the Food52 website, 140 recipes were sourced from home cooks and tested by Hesser, Stubbs, and the website’s readers. It’s the modern version of the old-fashioned community cookbook.
What we devoured: Despite all the online buzz, I was skeptical about this book — would the recipes be too home-grown? No. The majority are simple, easy to execute, and incorporate pantry ingredients most home cooks stock. One weekend, for example, I canned a double batch of Sweet and Savory Tomato Jam. While the jam simmered, I baked the Maple Yogurt Pound Cake that was light, spongy, and laced with subtle hints of maple and lemon. For dinner the next night, we had the rustic French Peasant Beet Salad: slices of ruby beets caramelized in butter and shallots, served with a tangle of beet greens, kale, and a wedge of goat cheese. We also tried the Cider-Brined Pork with Calvados, Mustard, and Thyme. The brine made the chops a little too salty, but we were too busy sopping up cream sauce with chunks of bread to care.
Other recipes I can’t wait to try: Arugula, Pear, and Goat Cheese Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette; Celery Root Purée; Faulknerian Family Spice Cake with Caramel Icing.
Find the authors online: On the Web at Food52 or on Twitter @food52.
What I loved: It’s a season-based cookbook that’s also organized by month. For cooks like me who are devoted to seasonal cooking but occasionally need a recipe guide, this is a revelation. Visits to the farmers’ market are encouraged, perhaps even necessary. It’s also an excellent option if you’re serious about Meatless Mondays and Tofu Thursdays.
What we devoured: Once again, my husband nabbed this book before I could, and announced, “We’re making the roasted blackfish with olives and sage!” And so we did, pairing white fish with olives, sage, and lemon, with cinnamon roasted sweet potatoes and garlic. An abnormally large bunch of celery from our CSA made its way into a celery salad with walnuts and Parmesan cheese, and we had brown butter maple roasted pears for dessert. The best part? These recipes were so simple. Minimal prep time, short cook time, and not a lot of mess meant we were curled up on the couch with the paper before it was fully dark out.
Other recipes I can’t wait to try: Ham Bone, Greens, and Beans Soup; Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon; Figgy Snack Cake. (Culinate editor’s note: We’ve already featured two recipes from this book — Israeli Couscous with Fresh Corn, Tomatoes, and Feta and Upside-Down Polenta Plum Cake — elsewhere on the site.)
Find the author online: On the Web at Melissa Clark or on Twitter @goodappetite. (Of all the cookbook authors listed here, Clark is a particularly voracious tweeter. Follow along!)
What I loved: I live for weekend cooking, when there are two whole days to tackle new recipes, make expansive messes, and eat. The newest tome from Lynne Rosetto Kasper and Sally Swift embraces that philosophy. From-scratch cooking is encouraged, as is experimentation. Be sure to read the sections on how to build a weeknight meal from weekend cooking foundations — that’s what really makes weekend cooking worthwhile.
What we devoured: This cookbook is no joke — the recipes are multi-step and often involve rest time before eating. Even the easiest require a day or two, while the more elaborate might result in a weekend spent at the stove. The Golden Pie of Winter Vegetables in Cinnamon Pastry was on the simpler end of things — all I had to do was prep pastry, roast veggies, and combine the two in a cheesy, creamy sauce. It was the perfect rainy-Sunday supper and there were plenty of leftovers, making all the hard work and time spent very much worth it.
Other recipes I can’t wait to try: Orange Onion Salad with Warmed Coriander Oil; Moussaka of Lamb and Red-Wine Ragu; Five-Nut Caramel Tart.
Find the authors online: On the Web (and radio) at The Splendid Table or on Twitter @splendidtable.
Related recipe: Maple Yogurt Pound Cake; recipe: Golden Pie of Winter Vegetables in Cinnamon Pastry; recipe: Pregnant Jools’s Pasta; recipe: Brined Pork Loin with Apricot-Onion Mostarda
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