Fall

pumpkingnocchiIn our house, "Gnocchi" means "I love you".

The time invovled in making the pillowy mixture is minimal, but it is the act of cutting each strip to just the right width...chopping bite sized dumplings and then rolling each one delicately across the ridges of a fork - those repetative moves of delicious intent translates so purely to my husband as he savours one gnocchi at a time.

I have made several verisons of Gnocchi, using potatoes and even squash. Though in keeping with the season of pumpkins and fall delight, I am pleased with this version. The sage and shallots carry a certain melody throughout the dish that can only be thought of as fall.

For a vegetarian, this is the perfect Thanksgiving meal.

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apples.jpgLast weekend I went apple picking with my family at Silverman's Farm in Connecticut. We have been going there since I was a kid, when we would all stand by and watch as the apple press squeezed the juice out of freshly-picked apples, and would get to sample the delicious result of apple cider. Unfortunately the apple press has been retired; it is now located inside the market as a symbolic relic from the past. Because of new production standards, the farm no longer offers unpasteurized cider made on the premises, but instead pasteurizes and bottles its cider off site.

The orchards are currently laden with apples ready for picking. Pickers are taken up to the orchards by tractors running nonstop. Everywhere you look there are families with young kids, groups of friends, and those who come every year. The apples are great this year; however, they are ripening faster than usual. Go now before all the apples have fallen off the trees and bring home a bag of apples.

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ImageI stopped at two grocery stores today and both were completely out of Libby’s brand canned pumpkin. Years ago, when I first moved to Fargo, I had a young neighbor (we were both young at that time) who grew up in a small town not too far from Fargo. She often talked about the wonderful things her mom could whip up in the kitchen. Once, when we were discussing some kind of pumpkin dessert, this neighbor told me the only kind of canned pumpkin her mom would use was Libby’s. That was enough for me. I’ve been buying Libby’s ever since, except for the times I buy an organic brand of pumpkin. But today, with no Libby’s on the grocery store shelves, I wound up buying the store brand.

I used the store brand to whip up this pumpkin mousse. Guess what? It tastes perfectly delicious when mixed up with pumpkin spices, whipped cream and vanilla pudding.

I like to layer the creamy pumpkin mousse with crushed cookie crumbs. Today I pulled a box of Trader Joe’s Almond Butter Thins from my freezer. I crushed some of them in a large zip-top plastic bag, using my fist as a hammer. In the past, I’ve used ginger snaps in the parfaits. But, I think I’m sold on the Almond Butter Thins.

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persimmondatebreadIt is a little known fact that I can speak Japanese. True, I only know two words, but I say them well.

1. Hachiya. No, it is not a greeting. It’s a persimmon.

2. Fuyu. No, not the clothing line (that’s FUBU). They are also persimmons. Not to be confused with Russell Simmons (who incidentally created Phat Farm, not FUBU).

There are about a dozen varieties of persimmons grown throughout the world; only two are generally found in the States: Hachiya and Fuyu (Fuyugaki). Both are Japanese.

Though Hachiya and Fuyu persimmons are both fun to say and have similarly pumpkin colored skin, they are different in shape, texture, and culinary use. It’s important to know the difference between them; otherwise, your persimmon eating experience will be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Hachiya persimmons are acorn shaped and have deeper orange skin with black streaks on it. They are astringent, which means they can be eaten only when fully ripened. A ripe Hachiya is extremely soft and should be squishy in your hand. Removing the thin skin reveals coral colored flesh so thick and glossy it looks like marmalade, and tastes like it too -- it's pleasingly sweet with hints of mango and apricot. Though they can be enjoyed raw, Hachiyas are really prized for baking.

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roastedsquashNever mind the name, these sweet, nutty squash are harvested in the fall. They are called "winter" because their hard shells allow them to be stored for extended periods, and in the days before refrigeration, that was a quality more worth honoring than mere harvest seasonality. The earliest winter squash are just beginning to trickle into the market -- kabocha, butternut and acorn, mostly.

When they’re first picked, they can be a little short on flavor. But after a week or two that changes, particularly for squash such as butternut and kabocha. These benefit from a couple of weeks of "curing" after being harvested, which allows time for enzymes to convert some of their starch into sugar.  Acorns are from another family and do not require curing. They're better bets this early in the season.

How to choose: Look for squash with deep, saturated colors and no soft spots or cracks. The stem should be hard and corky too.

How to store: Keep winter squash in a cool, dark place. You don't need to refrigerate them.

How to prepare: Here's a recipe for happiness during the coming rainy season: Hack off a chunk of winter squash and remove the seeds; place it cut-side down in a pan with just a little water, and roast it at 400 degrees until the whole thing collapses into a sweet, fragrant, slightly caramelized puree.

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