While pumpkin may be the unofficial star ingredient of Fall, taking center stage on menus in the role of everything from spiced lattes to cakes and pies, many chefs are eschewing the golden gourd and instead shining the spotlight on other autumn ingredients, including butternut squash, celery root and mushrooms.
“I think of Jack-O-Lanterns. I think of pies. I don’t think of them as savory,” said Matthew Varga, executive chef of Gracie’s in Providence, R.I. “For me, pumpkins are for my wife. She’s the pastry chef.”
At Gracie’s, Varga is still trying to drag summer out as long as he can, hoping, for example, to continue to harvest tomatoes from the restaurant’s rooftop garden until the end of October. But as he begins to (somewhat reluctantly) plan his fall menu, Varga is contemplating dishes with seasonal and regional ingredients such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, turnips, beets, sun chokes, red curry squash and, one of his favorites, celery root.
Last Fall Varga offered dishes with many of these ingredients, some of which he says are very likely to return to his menu this year. For example, there was venison loin with pickled cabbage, celery root, a sauce of autumn olive and puffed wild rice; and Tilefish with sun chokes, roasted cipollini onions and beets.
“I do look forward to Fall,” said Varga. “It’s really a beautiful time of year … heartier vegetables, more comfort, long braises, slow cooking.”
Chef Scott Gottlich of The Second Floor in Dallas, is also planning to bring back a favorite fall dish: Fall pizza, made with roasted butternut squash, smoked mozzarella, house made ricotta, roasted peppers and arugula. It’s a combination of ingredients that Gottlich says are exactly what fall should taste like.
In Portland, Ore., David Root, chef and co-owner of The Hairy Lobster, is so excited about fall ingredients that he’s already added to his menu a savory Gingerbread pudding with stewed heirloom apples and wild arugula, with candied Oregon hazelnuts and seared foie gras, chile aïoli, and duck demiglace.
“All of these crazy flavors working together,” said Root. “You have this amazing fall thing.”
But perhaps the autumn ingredients Root is most excited about are chiles.
“I’m salivating for chilies,” said Root. “There was a time when I lived in Santa Fe. Chiles are near and dear to my heart.”
Root already knows how he’ll use fall chiles first: in a soon-to-be-added dish of marinated seared sashimi-grade tuna sliced and served atop stewed yams and poblanos with a side of Israeli couscous salad made with stone fruit, arugula, Serrano peppers and a blackened poblano vinaigrette.
Mushrooms are a fall favorite of Garrett Pittler, executive chef of City Winery in Nashville. Now through winter he’ll be offering a Funghi Flatbread, made with shiitake and oyster mushrooms, Italian sausage, fennel, green onions, crispy rapini pesto, chevre and a flick of crushed red pepper.
“Fall mushrooms add an earthiness to the dish that results in a great flavor and texture,” Pittler said.
He also plans to add pork-and-porcini meatballs to the menu. They’re served over house-made squid ink tagliatelle served carbonara-style with house-cured bacon, egg yolk and pecorino cheese.
Also mad about mushrooms and other fall produce is Robert Wiedmaier, chef and owner of Marcel’s in Washington, D.C. This fall Wiedmaier will menu an Alaska Halibut dish with butternut squash purée, enoki mushrooms, parsnip chips and olive oil.
“The fall is my favorite season for cooking. I love the change in what’s available — from the range of squashes to root vegetables, game birds, Pinot Noirs and rabbit,” said Wiedmaier. “In my Alaskan Halibut dish, I caramelize the parsnip to bring out its earthy terroir and natural sugars. The butternut squash adds a nice earthiness with a slight sweetness; and the enoki mushrooms are very tasty. I do a quick sauté with shallots and butter, which complements its flavor profile.”