In the fall, so much is in season that can be harvested or picked up at the farmers’ market to cook and freeze for later on in the season, particularly if you’re planning any large gatherings you want to get a handle on in advance.
With tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, onions and garlic at their peak, there’s no better time to make a batch of ratatouille to keep in the fridge or freeze to toss with pasta, pile on toast, spread over pizza, serve with cheese as an appetizer or turn into soup (just add stock).
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Having cooked it down, it takes up far less room in the freezer, and will emerge with the same texture it had when it went in. Similarly, sauces and chutneys can be made ahead and frozen, or cooked pie fillings, salad dressings and all kinds of dishes you can put away now to get a head start on dinners as schedules fill up, or celebratory meals later in the season.
Gingerbread with peach compote or caramel sauce
Gingerbread is fantastic at this time of year. Baking it makes your house smell wonderful, and it’s the ideal thing to make ahead — gingerbread improves in flavour and texture after a day or three on the countertop, and it freezes well too. It’s delicious topped with a fruit compote, like peaches, apples or rhubarb (or a combination of fruits), which also freezes well. It’s also delicious with caramel sauce — I’ve included a recipe for both.
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 3/4 cup canola or other mild vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1/2 cup golden syrup or liquid honey
- 1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger (optional)
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 6 soft pitted dates, prunes or figs, chopped
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp. cinnamon
- 2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp. fine salt
- 2 large peaches, peeled and chopped (or about 2 cups frozen slices, chopped)
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1-2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
- A squeeze of lemon juice (1-2 tbsp.)
- 1/2 cup butter
- 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup whipping cream or coconut cream
- 1 tsp. vanilla or instant coffee granules
- Sweetened whipped cream or coconut cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350˚F and butter or line a 9-inch square or round baking dish with parchment.
In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, oil, molasses, honey (I measure the molasses and honey in the liquid measuring cup that just had oil in it) and the ginger, if you’re using it.
Put the water and chopped dates (or prunes, or figs) into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda. Whisk into the sugar mixture. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon, ground ginger and salt and add to the sugar mixture, whisking until well blended.
Pour into the baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until slightly domed and springy to the touch.
To make the peach compote, combine the chopped peaches, brown sugar, ginger and lemon juice in a saucepan, set over medium-high heat and cook until the peaches soften and it looks like a chunky sauce. Remove from the heat and serve warm or cool, then refrigerate for up to several days or freeze.
To make the caramel sauce, whisk the butter, brown sugar and cream over medium-high heat until bubbling and smooth; remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla or instant coffee.
Serve the gingerbread warm, with fruit compote or caramel sauce, and whipped cream. Serves 9.
Apple (or crabapple) empanadillas
This is a wonderful recipe from bestselling cookbook author Illyanna Maisonet’s Diasporican: A Puerto Rican Cookbook, which I’ve adapted slightly to utilize crabapples from my backyard tree. (They would also be delicious with pears!) They’re traditionally shallow fried in vegetable oil, or you could bake them until golden. Crabapples come in a range of sizes and sweetness/tartness levels — really you just want a chunky spiced sauce to fill your empanadillas with, so go by taste. I spiced mine with Chef Aman Dosanj’s chai/baking spice mix: a blend of cinnamon, cardamom and fennel. The sauce and pastry can both be made ahead and frozen, then thawed and assembled when you’re ready for them, or assemble and freeze the empanadillas and fry or bake them from frozen.
- 6 tart apples or about 25 crabapples (depending on their size)
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (or to taste)
- 2 tbsp. butter or margarine
- a small splash of apple cider vinegar (about 2 tbsp.)
- pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon or another spice blend
- pastry for a single crust pie
- canola or other vegetable oil, for cooking
- sugar, for coating
Peel (or not), core and roughly chop the apples, or slice the cheeks off your crabapples straight into a large saucepan. (I save the cores to cover with water and simmer to make cider, or add the cores to jelly—apple cores contain plenty of pectin.) Add the sugar, butter, cider vinegar and spice to your taste. Cook, stirring often, until the apples break down and you have a chunky sauce. (If the apples are too dry, add a splash of water or juice to loosen the mixture.) Let cool.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out about 1/8-inch thick and cut into 3 or 3 1/2-inch rounds with a cutter or glass rim. Put a small spoonful of the apple mixture into the middle and pinch each closed, pressing down around the edge with the tines of a fork.
In a heavy saucepan or shallow pot (a Dutch oven is ideal) heat about 1/2 inch of oil until it’s hot, but not smoking — a thermometer should read about 350˚F. Cook the empanadillas, without crowding the pot, for 3-4 minutes, turning with a slotted spoon until golden on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Put some sugar into a shallow dish and stir in a big pinch of cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice or another spice blend. Toss the empanadillas in the spiced sugar to coat while they’re still warm. Makes about a dozen empanadillas.