FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Squashing the notion that pumpkins dominate fall fare

Pumpkin may be king when we think of fall foods, but there are other often underrated comfort foods that help us ease into shorter days and longer nights, according to food experts.

Wine Bottle and Glasses“I think of fall as a time when you can turn the oven back on, you can have something bubbling on the stove, and it’s comforting rather than making the house hot and sweaty,” says longtime Colorado food journalist John Lendorff.

He says one underrated fall recipe he turns to is the Cornish game hen. The birds that originated in Cornwall, England, are generally inexpensive because of their petite size, and they’re small enough so you can individualize them for guests. They’re as easy to roast as chicken, Lendorff says, and you can get quite creative with the stuffing.

“Certainly you can do the standard bread stuffing like you would for turkey, but my favorite stuffing is made from mashed potatoes and Italian sausage,” he says. “You make some good mashed potatoes—that usually involves a lot of butter and half-and-half. Then cook up some crumbled, hot Romano Italian sausage. You add it to the potatoes and stuff the bird with it before you put it in the oven.”

Lendorff adds that fresh chopped herbs such as thyme or sage are also great to place under the skin of the hens before roasting them.  “The other variation when you’re cooking it is to cut up pieces of fresh apple and carrots and put them in the pan to bake with the hen. You end up with really nice, roasted caramelized vegetables,” he says.

PAIR IT WITH: Will Schneider, a wine buyer with Chambers Wine & Liquor in Aurora suggests a light red to accompany this dish. “You don’t want something that’s going to overwhelm the food,” he says. Try it with Josh Cellars Pinot Noir ($15) or a Colorado Lemberger from local winery Cottonwood Sellers ($14.99).

Lendorff’s second underrated fall meal suggestion comes from his childhood growing up in a big Italian family, where dishes like meatloaf were served every Friday. It’s pretty simple, too, just poached eggs in spaghetti sauce. “It can either be a simple marinara sauce, or you can cook various meats, and make it really meaty,” he says. “You make the sauce first, and once the sauce is all done and ready to serve, you put it in a wider pan or frying pan—because you’ll want to do at least a couple eggs per person. Then all you do is you have that sauce simmering, and you carefully break eggs on top of it. Have a cover for the pan so it steams the egg. Then it’s just a question of how you want your eggs done.”

Lendorff says the poached eggs and sauce can be served up with any type of pasta. For some extra oomph, he suggests topping it off with fresh shaved Parmesan.

PAIR IT WITH: Here, Schneider suggests two red varieties from Italian winery Stella to accompany the meal if made with marinara sauce. Try it with Stella’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.49) or Sangiovese ($8.49). “You don’t want something too heavy. It’s rich, but it doesn’t need a lot of tannins,” he says of wines that pair well with this meal.

Denver-based food blogger Barb Kiebel, who is  a self-described anti-pumpkin person when it comes to fall meal ideas, points to another chicken recipe as excellent fall comfort food.

Chicken wings drizzled with honey and za’atar is a recipe that comes from the New York City chef Jamie Bissonnette’s ‘The New Charcuterie Cookbook.’ “It’s simple, it’s fast, it’s spicy, it’s sweet,” she says.

For those less familiar with this Mediterranean spice, za’atar is a blend of oregano, thyme, basil, salt, and dried sumac.  Kiebel uses Aurora’s Savory Spice shop variety, which also incorporates toasted sesame, cumin, and marjoram. Her drizzle calls for honey, vinegar, urfa and za’atar. The full recipe she uses can be found on her website

PAIR  IT WITH: Schneider suggests a German riesling that’s not to sweet for this meal. Try it with Dr. L Riesling  ($12.99). “You want something that’s refreshing that would stand up to the spicy flavor, but not get overwhelmed,” he says.

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