God seems to have a special love for autumn. While all the seasons sing a song of his glory, autumn’s song is richer than the rest. Leaves turn red, goldenrod blankets the fields, and the harvest finally comes in. Even heaven seems to declare God’s special love for the fall, with one great saint after another claiming an autumnal day as their own.
Beginning in early September right up until All Saints Day, the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar is packed with feasts. From the Guardian Angels and Archangels, to Sts. Jerome, Pio, Francis of Assisi, the three Teresas (Avila, Lisieux, and Calcutta), Matthew, Luke, Simon, Jude, Monica, Augustine, and John Paul II, plus nearly a half dozen Marian feasts, autumn is one big party for Catholics in heaven and on earth.
Which is to say that if you’re looking for an excuse to invite family and friends over for a little feasting this autumn, you won’t have to look hard.
Crostini with Gorgonzola and Honey
Prep time: 10 minutes; Cook time: 12–15 minutes
½ loaf French bread, sliced 1″ thick (12-15 slices)
½ cup olive oil,
4 oz. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
½ cup honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread bread slices on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush with oil. Bake for seven to eight minutes. Pull out of oven and top with crumbled Gorgonzola. Return to oven and bake for another five to seven minutes. When the cheese is melted, remove bread and arrange on a large serving platter. Drizzle honey over each slice. Serve warm.
Curried Sweet Potato Soup
Prep time: 10 minutes; Cook time: 25 minutes
2 T. butter
medium onion, chopped
1″ fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ T. curry powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
large red bell pepper, diced
4 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ cup heavy cream
2 T. bourbon
2 slices thick-sliced bacon
½ cup golden raisins
Before beginning the soup, cook bacon in a pan or in the oven. When done, drain and set aside. In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and slowly caramelize for 10–15 minutes, stirring often. When onions are golden, add garlic and ginger. Cook for one to two minutes. Add curry, cinnamon, nutmeg, and gloves. Cook one to two minutes more. Stir in sweet potatoes and pepper until combined. Then, pour in stock and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Puree soup using a blender or food processor. Return to pot and stir in cream and bourbon. Divide into bowls and garnish with chopped bacon and raisins.
Butternut Squash Risotto
Prep time: 25 minutes; Cook time: 25–30 minutes
medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
2 T. olive oil
two or three links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic smashed, 2 cloves garlic minced
3 T. butter
2 cups arborio rice
½ cup sherry
6–8 cups chicken broth
½ cup parmesan cheese, shredded
2 oz. pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup pumpkin oil (optional)
fresh cracked pepper
Prep all ingredients: Peel and cube the squash, chop the onion, peel and smash/mince the garlic, shred the cheese, and toast the pine nuts, then set aside. In a large bowl, toss the butternut squash with garlic, olive oil, 2 tsp. kosher salt, and a couple turns worth of fresh cracked pepper. Spread the squash out on a rimmed, parchment-lined baking sheet and cook at 400 degrees for 20–25 minutes or until the bottoms are golden and the squash is tender. Set aside.
In a medium-sized stockpot, bring the broth to a simmer (not a boil). Once the broth is simmering, melt 2 T. of butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until almost all the pink is gone. Add the onion and continue cooking until the sausage is crumbling and the onion is translucent. Add garlic and cook for 30–60 seconds more. When the garlic begins to release its fragrance, stir the rice into the pot. Allow the rice to toast for one to two minutes, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add sherry and stir until absorbed. Begin adding broth slowly, one ladleful at a time to the pot. After you’ve added the first ladle of broth, stir the rice until the liquid is absorbed (about a minute). Then add the next ladleful, again stirring constantly. Continue the process until the rice is creamy and soft, but firm to the bite (al dente.)
When the rice is creamy and al dente, remove from heat and fold in in the parmesan, remaining butter, and 2 tsp. kosher salt. Stir vigorously. Next fold in the butternut squash and pinenuts. When plating the risotto, drizzle each serving with 1-2 tsp. pumpkin oil. Serve immediately.
Notes on cooking risotto
Risotto is an indecisive dish. It never knows how much broth it needs until it has it. Typically, for two cups of Arborio rice, uncooked, you’ll need about seven cups of broth, but that’s not always the case. Accordingly, toward the end of the cooking process, keep tasting and adding broth, one ladleful at a time, until the crunch is gone.
How do you know when to add more broth? First, by sight: If most of the liquid looks like it’s been absorbed, add more. Second, by sound: Risotto gets louder the thirstier it gets. It will hiss and pop. When it does this, give it a drink.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Prep time: 5 minutes; Cook time: 23–25 minutes
1½ fresh brussels sprouts
¼ cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
½ cup raw pecan halves
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Trim the bottoms off the brussel sprouts, then slice each in half lengthwise. In a large bowl toss sprouts with olive oil, garlic, desired amount of salt (1–2 tsp.), and fresh cracked pepper. Arrange sprouts on baking sheet, flat sides down. Roast for 23–25 minutes or until the bottoms have caramelized. During the last 10 minutes of roasting, scatter pecan halves onto the baking sheet.
Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce
Prep time: 15 minutes; Cook time: 30-35 minutes
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. ground ginger
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. iodized salt
2 T. baking powder
2 large eggs
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup molasses
½ tsp. baking soda
1 cup boiling water
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 egg, beaten
3 T. fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the first seven ingredients in a bowl. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and oil. Slowly stir in flour mixture. Lastly, dissolve baking soda in one cup boiling water. Stir into the cake batter. Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake for 30–35 minutes, or until the center is set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry. Allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes. While the cake is cooling, make the lemon sauce. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, egg, and lemon juice. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Add the butter, continuing to stir, until it melts completely into the lemon sauce. Serve immediately over warm slices of gingerbread.
Serves: 14 drinks
¾ cup raw sugar
5 cups boiling water
1 bottle (750 ml.) Irish Whisky
Using a vegetable peeler, zest the lemons, aiming for long strips. In a glass or heatproof bowl, muddle the lemon zest and sugar for two hours. Add one cup boiling water and muddle again until sugar dissolves. Strain the liquid into a pot and pour the bottle of whisky into the mixture. Add the remaining four cups boiling water. Serve in glass tumblers with cinnamon sticks.
The autumn table
Setting the stage for a feast with family and friends is never easier (or cheaper) than in the fall.
- Head to the store and stock up on cheap gourds, small pumpkins, and a few larger ones as well. Arrange them as a centerpiece on your table or set small pumpkins at each place setting.
- Clip a few especially lovely branches from the trees outside. Fill mason jars with popcorn kernels and place the branches snugly in the jars. Then set the jars on buffets, corner tables, or on the floor by the entryway.
- Fill glass mason jars with acorns, pinecones, or autumnal berries. If using berries, nestle votive candles inside and use on your tabletop or mantle.
Simplest of all, fill a wooden bowl with red apples or golden pears. Place a white candle on either side, and call it good.