The summer yields a good bounty of fresh and delicious produce that everyone loves, and yet it is fall that seems to get people excited and thinking about their favourite restaurants for great new menus and time spent there with friends and family.
But while the fall harvest is a tremendous offering to restaurant kitchens, the versatility of the produce is too often overlooked, according to Jackie Oakes, Marketing Manager at Flanagan Foodservice.
“Taking advantage of seasonal produce is a delicious and inspiring way to boost your menu,” says Oakes. “Fall is all about comfort, so try experimenting with chili, meat pies, soups and stews.
“And, of course, fall menu items can be simple additions to your dessert menu that focus on a variety of apple or pumpkin treats.”
With those thoughts in mind, here is a short list of potential fall produce that, in their simplicity, freshness and great taste, could boost your customers’ appreciation for the excitement that you share in the fall harvest:
Big, Bad Brussels Sprouts
While bacon seemingly goes with everything, it is particularly suited to a duet with Brussels sprouts.
Cooked properly - kept slightly crisp and then shocked in an ice-bath to retain vibrant green - the small cabbage relative can have a gentle tart quality with hints of sweetness that comes from slicing them in half and caramelizing them in a bit of butter.
You can then add tremendous layers of flavours with honey, nuts, garlic, caramelized onions, and that smokey bacon which in turn adds huge flavor and texture to roasted and deeply flavoured meats.
Available all year, mushrooms, however, seem to cry out for fall dishes in fall weather. Warm, earthy and meaty in flavour, mushrooms can add tremendous richness to a plate.
Pair mushrooms, especially the deep brown varieties, with caramelized onion, strong herbs like thyme or sage and, of course, risotto.
Perhaps there is a place among your vegetarian dishes to incorporate cremini or shiitake mushrooms that will give depth of flavour and full mouth-feel.
Squash and Pumpkin
Squash can be intimidating to some diners, but not if it is handled with love and creativity.
Best in winter when they’ve been “nipped by the frost,” squash like acorn and butternut are versatile and delicious. Try them with other ingredients in soups or on their own. They also work well cut into small cubes for ragouts and sliced for gratins and accept very well deep wintry spices from cinnamon and cardamom to cumin and curry.
Pumpkin can hold up in any dish with remarkable vibrancy and richness. Under-used too often, pumpkins help define fall in both their colours and the traditions like Halloween that they help uphold.
In stews, in pasta like pumpkin ravioli, and even in breads, pumpkin can be a fall go-to-ingredient that reflects well on your menu and speaks to the season.
Sweet potatoes have ruled the fry-roost at pubs and road-houses for years now. But there are more (and more subtle) ways of using this tuber that comes into its own during fall.
Combine sweet potatoes with regular white potatoes to create an interesting and more complex fall “mash.” They can easily be roasted with nuts and maple syrup for even greater utility and imagination, and sweet potatoes are excellent additions to gratin side dishes that can be made ahead and heated at time of service.
Kale and Fennel
It can be sweet and savoury, and autumnal kale can be a wonder in the kitchen. Versatile and earthy, it’s packed with antioxidants, vitamins and iron.
And yet it is underplayed on menus. Pull together some fresh cider and bacon and it becomes a great accompaniment to pork or roast chicken dishes. It also makes a great fall soup (think Portuguese caldo verde) and adds colour, texture and flavour to pasta sauces and ragouts.
The licorice accents of fennel work either raw in salads or cooked in quick sautés or deep braises. Fennel, with a peak season in fall and winter, could be the perfect addition in a stew or a seasonal ingredient in a bean succotash that sits alongside veal or pork.
Pears, like apples, help characterize fall and winter. Poached, stuffed or roasted there are many different kinds of pears that can find a place on menus-they can cover the gamut from appetizers and salads to mains to cheese courses and desserts. To fill out the menu, you could even add a seasonal pear cocktail or a “perry” (a fermented and cider-like beverage alcohol) from the many produced locally.
Apples, of course!
The definitive fall fruit? They might just be so from September to November. And with hundreds of varieties available, the flavour and texture potentials that you could add to your menus-any course or any day-part-are endless.
Sweet or savoury dishes beg for apples. They can be worked into sauces in main courses or as desserts. Their sweet and sour and tart qualities and their soft and firm or grainy textures pose several possibilities. They welcome a host of spices that can boost chicken or pork dishes to new and seasonal heights.