The nights are frosty, the mornings cold, and most of the leaves are off the trees carpeting the ground I walk on. In the midst of fall, we are still swamped with this seasons' bountiful crop of apples.
Apples come in an abundance of varieties too numerous to count. Some are sweet, others tart. Some are crisp and juicy, others tender. They make a great snack as is.
We use apples in so many ways. We associate apples with desserts: pies, crisps, cobblers, breads and muffins. They make great applesauce. But they can also be used in savory main dishes and veggie creations. Their sweet tartness enhances meat and vegetable dishes. They go well with cabbage and other winter greens, or winter squash and sweet potatoes.
The practice of combining apples with meat goes back to ancient times. We know that the Roman chef and food writer Apicius served pork with apples. The sharpness and sweetness of apples offsets the fat in the meat. Two cookbooks dating back to the 14th century, the Forme of Cury and the Menagier de Paris, also give recipes for apples served with meat. Much later, in her 18th-century cookbook, Hannah Glasse tells her readers to serve roast pork with applesauce.
In addition to pork, chicken and liver go well with apples. When cooking liver, add onions and apples. Try chicken breasts topped with apples and brie cheese. Add apples when mixing meatloaf for a different taste and texture. For a vegetarian main dish, how about wholegrain pasta topped with broccoli, apples and cheese sauce?
Savory soups are another way to feature apples, which go well with sweet roots and winter squash—from squash and apple soup (using butternut or acorn squash or pumpkin) to lentil and apple soup, or a pork and apple stew. Traditional ethnic favorites include Irish parsnip and apple soup, Scandinavian apple soup (which can be served hot or cold), and Hungarian apple soup. There are also recipes for beetroot and apple soup, celery root and apple soup, spinach and apple soup.
And apples find their way into many salads, the most famous of which is the classic Waldorf. The original version, created in 1896 at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel by maitre d'hotel Oscar Tschirky, contained only three ingredients: apples, celery and mayonnaise. Later walnuts were added. But for generations apples have been mixed with other fruit in fruit salads, and paired with vegetables such as cabbage, fennel or broccoli in vegetable salads. They also pair well with many root vegetables, like leeks or celery root. For a main lunch course, try an apple chicken salad or tuna apple salad.
And don't forget the cheese! The crisp bite of an apple marries well with many cheeses; brie, cheddar or jack are popular choices. Make a salad of fresh spinach with apples, toasted walnuts and lumps of rich gorgonzola cheese bathed in a delicate honey-lemon vinaigrette dressing. Or how about fresh field greens tossed with a light vinaigrette, topped with apples, dried cranberries, pistachios, and cheddar cheese?
Apples are versatile and healthy. They really do keep the doctor away, because they're a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. The first reduces cholesterol buildup in the lining of blood vessel walls, while the insoluble fiber helps maintain a healthy digestive tract. The phytochemicals in apples have been credited with everything from protecting brain cells from diseases like Alzheimer's to preventing cancer and heart disease. Apples contain important antioxidants (such as Quercitin and various flavonoids) that bolster the immune system and help control levels of LDL cholesterol.
Most important, there are so many delicious ways to enjoy apples! Here are some easy recipes:
Red Cabbage with Wine and Apples
(This vegetable side dish uses the season's red cabbage and apple crops.)
1/2 medium red cabbage, finely sliced (about 8 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tart apples
1/3 cup red wine
Directions: Remove outer leaves of cabbage; wash, chop, and place in pot with just a little water. Sprinkle with salt. Cover and cook about 15 minutes. Peel, core and dice the apples and add to the cabbage along with the wine. Cook 5 minutes longer. Serve hot as a side dish for meat.
Sausage with Beets and apples
(This recipe uses the beet stems. Use the greens in another dish, like a salad or a frittata, and use the roots in another dish, too.)
1/2 pound breakfast sausage
1 large onion
Stems from one bunch of beets (about 2-3 cups)
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
1 large or 2 small tart apples
Directions: Wash beet stems, remove roots and leaves and slice in 1-inch lengths. Set aside.
Spray a large skillet with cooking spray. Add sausage and brown 2-3 minutes. Peel and dice the onion and add, then add the beet stems. Sprinkle with salt, cover, lower heat, and cook about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.
In the meantime, peel and mince the garlic. Peel, core and chop the apples. Add to skillet and cook about 5 more minutes, making sure vegetables are tender and sausage is sufficiently browned and cooked through. Serve with potatoes or over pasta, with a side salad.