The Autumnal Table

Throw a dinner party featuring the hearty bounty of the season.

While spring and summer are defined by abundance, fall heralds another harvest, rich with earthy and intoxicating flavors. 

The pomegranate, which is ripe for eating in September, has long had a place at the Virginia table. The first record of the exotic fruit in the Commonwealth was in 1705 by Robert Beverley Jr., a historian of early Colonial Virginia. Founding father George Wythe of Williamsburg—the first Virginian to sign the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson’s law professor—grew the exotic fruit and gifted a pomegranate tree to Jefferson, which he planted at Monticello in 1771. 

The sunchoke, too, is a fall crop that has long been incorporated into dishes. The tuber—also known as a Jerusalem artichoke—makes an appearance in Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, published in 1824 and considered by many to be the first American cookbook. Of sunchokes she simply writes, “They should be covered with thick smelted butter, or a nice white or brown sauce.”

And long before the English arrived at Jamestown, autumn’s other fruits had a distinct presence in our landscape, grown by American Indians like the Powhatan tribe. Tubers were smashed into cakes and baked on the hearth, while squash was boiled and consumed. 

This hearty produce accompanying autumn’s arrival plays a starring role in our menu for a gathering of friends and family ready to welcome the season.

Root Vegetable Tarte Tatin

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut
2 carrots, peeled and cut
2 parsnips, peeled and cut
2 turnips, peeled and cut
2 small onions, peeled and halved
¼ cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 branches fresh thyme
4 branches fresh oregano
¼ cup goat cheese
pastry dough (see recipe below)

Make the pastry dough. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Peel and cut all vegetables and toss them with oil, salt and pepper. Roast the root vegetables on parchment or foil for

approximately 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Make the caramel while the vegetables are cooking. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water, cooking until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and cook without stirring until the sugar caramelizes, approximately 6-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the vinegar, stirring to combine. Quickly pour the caramel into a tarte tatin pan. Arrange vegetables on top of the caramel and add the goat cheese and herbs. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to ½ -inch thickness and place on top of the vegetables. Bake the tarte tatin for 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.Carefully invert and serve.  

For the pastry dough:
3 cups flour
8 ounces unsalted butter, cut into chunks
a pinch of salt
½ cup ice water

Place the flour, butter and salt into a food processor and pulse several times. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in water until the dough forms into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until it’s ready to be used.

Serves 8-10

Sunchoke Soup with Pomegranate Seeds and Celery Leaves 

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 small thyme sprig
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 ½ sunchokes, washed and sliced 
1 ½ quarts chicken stock, heated
salt for seasoning
pomegranate seeds for garnish
celery leaves for garnish
pickled sunchokes (see recipe below)

Heat butter and olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, sautéing until soft. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for 2 minutes. Add the sliced sunchokes and pre-heated chicken stock. Season with salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 35-40 minutes uncovered. Remove the thyme. Cool slightly, approximately 6-7 minutes, and then purée the soup in a blender or immersion blender on high until smooth. To finish, heat the soup. Place the pickled sunchokes in bowls and pour the hot soup over the sunchokes. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and celery leaves.

For the pickled sunchokes:
2 ½ cups champagne vinegar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 cardamom pods
1 small bay leaf
2 cloves
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 star anise
2 pounds sunchokes, thinly sliced

Combine all the ingredients except sunchokes in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the sliced sunchokes to a bowl and pour the hot liquid over them. Refrigerate overnight.

Serves 6-8 

Spice-Rubbed Pork T-Bone Chops with Kabocha Squash & Pickled Red Onion 

pork T-bone chops, 1 per person 
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon clove
2 teaspoons brown sugar
olive oil
salt to taste

In a skillet over medium heat, lightly toast all the seeds until aromatic, approximately 5-6

minutes. Cool and then grind using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. Mix with the remaining spices and brown sugar, and rub into the chops. Season each chop with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and salt to taste and sear in a pan over medium-high heat. Finish in a preheated 375-degree oven until pink in the center; meat should reach 150-155 degrees. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

For the squash:
1 large kabocha squash 
olive oil
salt to taste
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Then slice each half lengthwise into half-moon-shaped slices of equal size. In a mixing bowl, toss the squash with olive oil, salt, ginger powder and garlic powder. Roast in a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes or until tender.

For the pickled red onions (makes 1 quart):
14 ounces water
14 ounces red wine vinegar
3 ounces sugar
1 ounce salt
2 medium red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

Bring all the ingredients except the onions to a boil and pour over the onions in a bowl. Refrigerate over night.

Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with Romesco Sauce

1 roasted red pepper, peeled
2 small garlic cloves
½ cup slivered almonds
¼ cup tomato purée
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup olive oil, plus more for seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
1 head each, orange, green, purple and white cauliflower 

Place the first 8 ingredients in a food processor and pulse until fine. Slowly add the olive oil with the machine running until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the cauliflower into 1-inch steaks and season generously with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in a single layer on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with Romesco sauce on the side for dipping. 

Serves 8-10

Mussels & Clams with Saffron & Leeks

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, sliced, washed thoroughly and drained well
1 shallot, thinly peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly peeled and sliced
1 small bay leaf
1 dozen mussels
1 dozen cherrystone clams
1 cup dry white wine
10 saffron threads
½ cup heavy cream
freshly chopped parsley for garnish
crusty bread for serving

Melt the butter and oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic and shallot and cook until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Combine the mussels, clams, wine and bay leaf in a Dutch oven and cook over medium-high heat until shellfish open, about 4-5 minutes. Strain the liquid into a bowl and set aside, discarding any shellfish that are not open. Combine the shellfish liquor with the leeks in the deep skillet and cook over medium-high heat to reduce the liquids. Add the cream and saffron and cook for several minutes. Add the shellfish to the liquid and warm thoroughly. Garnish with parsley. Serve with crusty bread. 

Serves 4-6

Sage Crème Brûlée

2 ½ cups heavy cream
½ vanilla bean, split and scraped
4 fresh sage leaves 
½ cup sugar
6 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Pour the cream into a saucepan and add the vanilla bean and sage. Heat gently for 10 minutes, stirring often and making sure not to boil. Beat the yolks and sugar until fluffy. Pour a small amount of the cream mixture into the egg and sugar mixture and mix well. Continue adding cream until incorporated. Strain the mixture in a fine sieve. Carefully fill ramekins with liquid and place in a roasting pan. Gently fill the pan with boiling water until it comes halfway up the ramekins’ sides. Bake for 35 minutes or until lightly set. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and let the custard cool, leaving the ramekins in the pan. Once cooled, carefully cover and place the custard ramekins in the refrigerator overnight.  

Before serving, sprinkle the custard with a thin layer of sage sugar. Using a handheld torch, brûlée each top until golden brown, trying not to burn the sugar.

For the sage sugar:
½ cup superfine sugar
3 fresh sage leaves

Place the sugar and sage leaves in a container and refrigerate overnight.  

Serves 6

This article originally appeared in our October 2017 issue.

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