My brother and sister-in-law have what I consider to be the perfect home apple orchard — one tree of each of their favorite varieties, ripening throughout the season. This year’s crop started with Summer Reds, a delicious eating apple but not a keeper and a red Gravenstein. Later come the Macintoshes and after that a green Gravenstein and Melrose. Last weekend I came home with a big bag of Gravenstein and Melrose apples, both are decent keepers — that is, if you don’t eat them right away.
Other than an occasional apple pie or batch of apple sauce, I don’t think much about cooking apples but the truth is, used in a more savory way, they make an excellent seasonal side dish. If you treating apples more like a vegetable and less like a fruit, you can easily slip some into many of your favorite recipes. Apples can be baked, roasted, fried or sauteed with onions, shallots, herbs — thyme and rosemary are good choices — along with salt & pepper. And we all know what good friends apples and cheese make. Mark Bittman has several simple ways to prepare apples as a savory side dish in this article. Peel the apples, if you must, but I prefer to leave them on. It adds flavor, nutritional value and helps the fruit hold together when cooked.
Think about adding some apples to your next potato gratin. This recipe is plenty rich but doesn’t use the usual cream. I was surprised at how each flavor – potato, apple and onion – was distinct and yet everything blended well together. I served it with some pork sausages but along side any roasted meat, this dish is a winner.
Apple Potato Gratin
Ingredients: 3 tart apples, sliced and cored but not peeled/ 3 medium potatoes, sliced but not peeled – I used German Butterballs/ 2 onions, thinly sliced/ 4 T butter/ 1/2 cup apple cider/ 2T chopped fresh rosemary/ Grated cheddar cheese/ Salt & pepper.
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees/ Butter a baking dish/ Melt 2 T butter in large skillet on medium heat/ Add onions, rosemary and salt and saute until onions are tender and are beginning to color, about 10 minutes/ Add remaining 2T butter, apple cider to skillet and stir to combine/ Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let it cool down slightly/ Combine sliced potatoes, apples, and onion mixture in large bowl, toss gently to blend/ Transfer to baking dish, cover with foil and bake 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender/ Remove foil, sprinkle with grated cheese and continue to bake until the top browns, about 10 – 15 minutes longer/ Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
I love that this can be made ahead of time then rewarmed, loosely covered with foil at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes, making it a great candidate for a Thanksgiving side dish. Another good option would be my favorite tried-and-true brussels sprouts recipe, with a thinly slice apple added.
Brussels Sprouts & Apples
Ingredients: 1lb brussels sprouts/1 tart apple, sliced, cored but not peeled/ 1T olive oil or butter/ 1 small onion, diced/ 2 slices bacon or pancetta, diced/ 2 sprigs thyme/ Salt & pepper.
Directions: Trim the outer leaves and stems from brussels sprouts/ Add to a pot of salted, boiling water and cook until tender, about 5-6 minutes/ Drain sprouts, cut in half or into quarters, and set aside/ Melt butter or olive oil in a large skillet, add diced bacon or pancetta/ Render bacon until browned, but not crisp/ Remove bacon from the skillet and add onion to the pan along with two sprigs of thyme/ Cook onions until soft, not browned, and season with salt/ Turn to medium high, add the brussels sprouts and apples to the onion mix, cook and toss for several minutes, until sprouts and apples begin to brown/ Return sautéed bacon to the pan, check for seasoning and serve.
If you want to get fancy, toss with chopped walnuts or hazelnuts, and/or toasted breadcrumbs, dust with a little finely grated hard cheese.
I know it’s hard to believe but Thanksgiving is just about a month away. It’s not too early to start planning. If you want to make a meal that’s seasonal and local, try to find a way to serve some apples, even if it’s on the side.