A Guide to Fall Produce

How to buy and eat the best of the season, according to chefs
October 10, 2018 Updated: October 10, 2018

As the air cools and the leaves begin to change, the bounty of the fall harvest starts to make its way into the markets and onto our dinner tables.

The season brings a whole slew of complex flavors and textures to work with: crisp apples and silky pears, leafy greens and sturdy roots, and hearty squashes in all shapes, sizes, and colors that beg to be roasted into autumnal candy.

Here are the fall fruits and vegetables chefs around the country are most excited about right now, plus their tips for choosing them at the market and making the most of them at home.

Apples

Elizabeth Blau
Restaurateur and founder/CEO, Blau + Associates

Las Vegas

I grew up in Connecticut, where fall meant a trip to the apple orchard to pick apples, drink apple cider, and eat hot cinnamon sugar-coated cider donuts. An extraordinary fact I learned a few years ago is that there are more than 7,500 varieties of apples grown around the world! My quest is to try and taste as many as I can.  

In Season: Late summer and fall, depending on where you are.

How to Buy: When picking apples, you should always keep an eye out for two things: how they feel and their color. Avoid apples with a waxy exterior, and make sure you always look for blemishes. The best apples are crisp and crunchy, so they should be extremely firm and free of bruises. Great apples are also vibrant in color—think bright reds, yellows, and greens! If you feel like they’ve lost some luster, leave them as they probably won’t last longer than one or two days.

How to Enjoy: I love apples in pie—especially during the fall season!

Brown Bag Apple Pie

Serves 6

Crust:

  • 3 pounds butter, cold, cut into cubes
  • 2 1/2 pounds plus 2 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 pound whole wheat flour
  • 1 pound sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Filling:

  • 2 1/2 pounds granny smith apples, peeled, 1-inch dice
  • 1 1/4 cups spiced sugar
  • 1/2 pound frozen cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 6 brown lunch bags

Prepare the egg wash. Whisk together 1 egg yolk with 1 tablespoon heavy cream.

Prepare the dough. Combine all of the dough ingredients together in a mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl. Using the paddle attachment, mix until the dough starts to form. Divide the dough into 6 portions and press into 2-inch square logs. Refrigerate until firm.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine the apples and cranberries together. In a separate bowl, mix together the cornstarch and spiced sugar, then add the sugar mixture to the apple and cranberry mixture.

Line up 6 individual ovenproof 8-ounce casseroles. Divide the apple and cranberry mixture evenly among the baking dishes (about 6 ounces each).

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on a cutting board. Slice each roll of dough into 1/8-inch thick slices. Shingle each sliced roll of dough on top of each of the apple pies. Brush the pie tops with egg wash before placing in brown bags and folding the ends tight.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes (45 minutes if frozen). Then open the bags slightly to vent and rotate the pan. Continue baking for an additional 15–20 minutes or until the pie crust turns golden brown.

Recipe reprinted with permission from “Honey Salt Food and Drink: A Culinary Scrapbook” by Elizabeth Blau.

Beets

Natasha Feldman
Private chef and cooking show host, Nosh with Tash

Los Angeles

They’re an incredibly versatile two-in-one veg. The root is perfect for slicing thin and eating raw in salads, roasting and turning into a luscious, wintery borscht, or steaming and tossing into a creamy, vibrantly colored hummus. The beet greens have a fresh and almost grassy taste, ideal for sautéing with a little vinegar and honey.

In Season: The season is long—they grow basically the entire winter.

How to Buy: They should be firm to the touch and heavy for their size. I like buying them with the greens because, well, the greens are good, but also because they’re such a great indication of how fresh the beets are. The more wilted the greens, the older the beets.

How to Enjoy: Right now, my favorite way to eat them is in my beet hummus. In addition to adding sweetness, depth, and intrigue to a regular ol’ hummus, it’s a pretty stunning pink color.

Beet Hummus

Serves 8

  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup tahini
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 steamed beets, skin removed
  • 2 cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 ice cubes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Black or white sesame seeds to top
  • 1 tablespoon assorted herbs, chopped (I like dill and parsley)

In a food processor, combine the garlic, coriander, lemon juice, tahini, and salt. Pulse until the garlic is minced.

Add in the beets and chickpeas and pulse again into an almost-smooth paste. Toss in the ice cubes and let the blades run until there are no more visible ice chunks.

Slowly pour in the olive oil with the blades running, until the oil is gone and the mixture is finally creamy and smooth. Top with sesame seeds and herbs to serve.

Recipe courtesy of Natasha Feldman

Brussels Sprouts

Claudia Sidoti
Head chef and recipe developer, HelloFresh

New York City

If I had to pick my top two [fall produce], they’d be Brussels sprouts and apples. Brussels sprouts are part of the cabbage family and I have always been a fan, maybe because I love the underdogs, and cabbage in general is like an underdog vegetable.

In Season: September to mid-February.

How to Buy: Shop with your eyes. Colors should be vibrant. Brussels sprouts should be sturdy and bright—look for bright green color, tightly closed leaves. Generally speaking, the bigger they are, the less flavorful. Buying them on the stalk is fun, but sometimes hard to store if you don’t have space in your fridge. (I love tossing them with olive oil, salt, and chili flakes, then wrapping the whole stalk in foil and roasting it—serve it with some fresh lemon wedges and it’s so simple and delicious and offers a dramatic presentation.)

How to Enjoy: Brussels sprouts are versatile and sweet, but also have a bold flavor that can stand up to assertive seasoning and preparations like roasting with bacon and onions, or flash frying and drizzling with high impact flavors like soy and sriracha. One of my favorite ways to eat Brussels sprouts is roasted with candied bacon. I like roasting them on high heat so they get crispy on the outside and stay tender on the inside. Sometimes adding a pinch of brown sugar helps to caramelize them and add additional sweetness; you can also drizzle with a little spicy honey after roasting. Brussels sprouts are also delicious raw, in salads and coleslaw.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Candied Bacon

Serves 4 to 6

  • 24 ounces Brussels sprouts
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 ounces bacon
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F with a baking sheet inside. Trim stems of Brussels sprouts then halve through stem. Cut bacon into 1/2-inch pieces.

Toss Brussels sprouts in a large bowl with a drizzle of oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Place cut side down on the lightly oiled baking sheet. In a small bowl, toss bacon with brown sugar and then sprinkle over Brussels sprouts.

Roast on the top rack of oven until Brussels sprouts are browned and bacon is crispy and candied, 20–25 minutes.

Recipe courtesy of Claudia Sidoti

Chanterelles

Tal Caspi
Chef, Aviv

Portland, Oregon

I’m very excited about the first chanterelles. I am always excited about mushrooms, but fall in the Pacific Northwest is the best time for them. Though chanterelles can take on many hues, I always look for the bright saffron- and marigold-colored versions, as those are the ones that stand out the most in the forest when foraging. They also stand out brilliantly on the plate.

In Season: The season starts when the rain starts. About two weeks after the first heavy rain, we’ll start seeing chanterelles—or we’ll go through the forests to find them.

How to Buy: In terms of freshness and quality, it’s best to look for mushrooms that aren’t bruised. You also want to look for mushrooms that aren’t sticky or slimy—it’s a sign they’re going bad. When the color has darkened, that’s also a sign that they’re getting old.

How to Enjoy: They have a flavor of their own—earthy, fruity, and robust. That’s what makes them so special. I love them with pasta, especially Israeli couscous. My favorite dish is simple and so gratifying: I sauté the mushrooms with (vegan) butter, throw in Aleppo pepper, Urfa biber (a Turkish chile pepper), chard, garlic, and cooked Israeli couscous. It’s a meal I could eat every day.  

Enchanted Forest

Serves 2 as a side dish, 1 as a main

  • 1/2 cup chanterelles
  • 1 tablespoon vegan butter
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon urfa biber
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch of chard, chopped
  • 1 cup cooked Israeli couscous

Prepare the chanterelles: Trim off the bottoms, split open lengthwise, and rinse away any debris found on the inside or outside. Cut into quarters.

Sauté the chanterelles in butter and add the Aleppo and Urfa pepper. Add the garlic and chard. Cook until the veggies are soft, or to your liking. Add couscous to the mixture and cook for another minute on medium heat, then serve on a plate with labneh.

Recipe courtesy of Tal Caspi

Heirloom Peppers

Adam Stevenson
Executive chef, Cedarbrook Lodge & Spa

Seatac, Wash.

I always look forward to heirloom peppers; the variety available, especially coming out of the Okanagan region of Washington, is amazing. This time of season is my favorite time to cook. It is also especially satisfying to me as I grew up in New Mexico, where every October, the smell of roasting Hatch chili fills the air for weeks.

In Season: Heirloom peppers in our region have a short availability, early September to the end of October.

How to Buy: When buying peppers, firm and crisp are your cues. The taste can vary from very sweet to very spicy; some have a slightly bittersweet flavor.

How to Enjoy: There are so many uses for peppers, making them a versatile ingredient to cook with. One of my favorite childhood memories is working with my mom to roast the green chiles on our backyard porch using an old Weber dome charcoal grill. We would roast into the dark hours of the night, filling the house with a wonderful aroma. The next day, we would make green chili stew, one of my favorites, and serve it with freshly made, warm flour tortillas.

Green Chili Stew

Serves 4

  • 12–15 hatch green chilies (if not available, Anaheim will work, too)
  • 2 pounds pork shoulder or belly
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1–2 jalapeños, diced (only necessary if using Anaheim chiles)
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 6 ounces beer (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 10 ounce fresh diced tomatoes
  • 3 large potatoes, diced into 1/2-inch pieces

Grill the green chilies to evenly blister the skins, making sure they don’t burn. Remove and cover with a dishcloth for 10 minutes to steam the skins off.

While the chilies are resting, cube the meat, season with salt and pepper, and brown with onions and garlic in oil in a large pot for 5 minutes. Add jalapeños, broth, half a can of beer, and spices. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for an hour.

Peel skin from chiles, chop, and add to the pot (including the seeds). Let simmer for 30 minutes. Then, add the tomatoes and potatoes (add a cup of hot water if needed). Simmer until potatoes are done.

Recipe courtesy of Adam Stevenson

Honeynut Squash

Nathan Peitso
Executive farmer, Farmhouse

Los Angeles

Honeynut squash is a kind of butternut squash that has been bred specifically for flavor. It seems obvious that you would want to grow the best tasting squash possible, but the economic realities of farming force farmers to grow for size and weight rather than flavor. These little honeynut squash are exactly the opposite. They produce very small fruit but with the sweetest, creamiest flesh I have ever come across. At their best, they taste like butternut squash with a lot of butter and brown sugar all over it.

In Season: They come in season around the last week in of September and stick around most of the winter.   

How to Buy: When selecting these little guys, you should look for firmness, a medium dark color relative to its neighbors, and the thickest neck and smallest bottom bulge possible, as that will get you the most usable flesh. Avoid any with cracked skin or missing stems.

How to Enjoy: I love to split them lengthwise and roast them in the oven with salt and pepper until they start to caramelize. Then, serve them with dukkah, crème fraîche, pomegranate seeds, orange juice-braised kale, toasted almonds, and finish with fresh herbs.

Pears

Miles Thompson
Executive chef, Michael’s Santa Monica

Santa Monica, California

I always look forward to pears in the fall. Pears have this melting texture that is the most amazing thing. There are notes of vanilla and honey, and it is sweet, luscious, and juicy.

In Season: Fall; we’ll likely be able to enjoy them through Thanksgiving.

How to Buy: Pears ripen from the inside out, so if you are holding one and it feels soft on the outside, then it is likely overripe on the inside. You’ll want to gently press the pear near the stem with your thumb. If it has a slight give, kind of like an avocado, it should be ripe in the center. Overall, good fruit should be heavy for its size, which means that there’s a lot of moisture. You could always smell the bottom end—it should smell floral and sweet. I go to Jeff Rieger of Penryn Orchards for my pears.

How to Enjoy: I personally like to eat my pears ripe and whole, but we’ve been playing around with them at the restaurant. We’re currently smoking unripe pears and putting them in a beef ragu—the pears end up being both a complement and counterpoint to the savory meat.

Persimmons

Daniel Kotz
Chef de cuisine, Beauty & Essex

Los Angeles

Southern California has just begun persimmon season. The fruit has a sweet taste reminiscent of honey, with a gelatinous or custard-like texture when left to fully ripen. To me, it is a distinctive fall flavor, as it goes well with the spices that we most associate with autumn—clove, cinnamon, vanilla, star anise, ginger, etc.

In Season: While there are multiple varieties of the fruit, the most popular types, hachiya and fuyu, are available from late September to October.

How to Buy: Look for the same characteristics as a ripe tomato: smooth and free of any bruises. The fuyu variety can be eaten straight off the tree as it will have a crisp, apple-like texture; however, the hachiya type is nearly inedible unless ripe, due to its astringent taste. Whether it be fuyu or hachiya, leaving the fruit in a paper bag to ripen will ensure the ideal consistency. Once perfectly matured, the fruit should be soft to the touch, like an over-ripened stone fruit.

How to Enjoy: I was first introduced to the fruit in its raw form, sliced like an apple as well as being eaten with a spoon. I’ve seen sorbets, ice cream, fillings for pasta, you name it. All in all, one of my favorite things to make is a compound butter. By varying the amount of sugar added, you can have a sweet or savory butter that can easily be used on biscuits, pancakes, French toast, sweet potatoes, or pastas.

Persimmon Butter

Makes 1 quart

  • 1 1/4 pounds peeled and quartered persimmons
  • 5 ounces water
  • 4 ounces sugar (sub Sugar in the Raw, agave, or honey if you would like)
  • 5 ounces fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 2 sticks whole cinnamon
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 14 ounces butter, cubed, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract

Clean and peel persimmons and cut into quarters. Combine water, sugar, orange juice, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and salt in a medium saucepan. Add quartered persimmons, cover, and bring to a low simmer.

Cook over medium heat, stirring as needed, for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the persimmons are soft through and only about one-third of the liquid remains. Cool persimmons for about 10 minutes and remove all spices from the pot.

While still warm, mix half the butter into the pot so that it begins to melt. Stir for 2–3 minutes. Pour mixture into blender or food processor, add vanilla paste, and blend on high while slowly adding the remaining butter. Continue blending on high until mixture is smooth. Adjust with salt if necessary.

Note: If using honey, use 3 ounces, as honey is sweeter. You may also want to reduce the amount of water by 1 1/4 ounce.

Recipe courtesy of Daniel Kotz

Puntarelle

Vito Gnazzo
Executive chef, Il Gattopardo
New York City

I’m always very excited for baby artichokes, long and thin leaves of radicchio di Treviso, and of course, the puntarelle. Puntarelle are a component of Roman cuisine identity, and so they are prepared in homes and local restaurants alike. They are called “puntarelle” because one eats the tender shoots, or tips, of this plant, a variety of Catalonian chicory.

In Season: They are available by mid-October from California, but the real deal comes later in November from Lazio, Italy.

How to Buy: These watery greens should have a vivid green color, with wild, crisp leaves.

How to Enjoy: Puntarelle are bittersweet and crunchy. They possess the spiciness of arugula with hints of fennel, and the shoots have the texture of celery. The best way to eat them is fresh, as a salad with a dressing made from lemon, a touch of garlic, anchovies, and extra virgin olive oil.

Puntarelle Salad

Serves 4

  • 2 heads puntarelle
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 anchovy fillets in olive oil

Trim the puntarelle: cut the hearts out of the large heads and cut them into thin shreds. Immerse them in ice water, a process known as “arriciatura.” The shreds will slightly curl up in the cold water. Set aside.

Mince the garlic very finely, until a powdered texture. Whip together the red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. In a large bowl, mix together the garlic, vinegar and olive oil mixture, and anchovy fillets. Add the prepared puntarelle. Toss and let rest for 10 minutes. Buon appetito!

Recipe courtesy of Vito Gnazzo, Il Gattopardo Group

Winter Squash

Frank Proto
Chef-instructor, Institute of Culinary Education

New York City

In the fall, I get excited about squash. There is a great variety of textures and flavors—acorn, delicata, spaghetti, butternut, kabocha—that can be used in appetizers to mains to desserts.

In Season: Most of the squashes come in during late summer and early fall, and go away in late October. It is possible to get these items year-round, but this is when you see them locally.

How to Buy: I always look for vegetables that are heavy for their size, with no bruises or soft spots. If they are light and soft, that usually means that there is not a lot of usable flesh, or that they may be overgrown or going bad.

How to Enjoy: Most fall squash have an earthy sweetness to them. Home cooks and chefs tend to add sweetness when they prepare them; I go the opposite way. I like to add spicy flavors like Calabrian chilis and garlic to spaghetti squash, or cumin and harissa to roasted butternut squash. I like to use kabocha squash with bacon to make a savory soup.

Kabocha Squash Toast With Arugula, Caramelized Onions, and Parmesan

Makes 6 toasts

  • 1 2-pound kabocha squash, cut into 4–6 wedges, seeds removed
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper as needed
  • 1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced
  • 1/2 pound baby arugula
  • 6 half-inch thick slices sourdough bread
  • 1/2 cup shaved or coarsest grated Parmesan

Heat oven to 400 F. Brush squash pieces with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast squash in oven for 40–45 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

Cool the squash and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Using a fork, mash the squash into a chunky purée. Season with more salt and pepper if needed. Add the cayenne if desired and set aside.

Heat a 10- or 12-inch sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 6–8 minutes, until the onions are tender and beginning to caramelize. Add salt and pepper. Add the arugula and continue to cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring until the arugula is wilted. Remove from heat.

Brush the bread slices with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toast the bread in the oven for 5–6 minutes or until golden brown.

Divide the kabocha squash purée between the six pieces of toast. Top each with the caramelized onion and arugula mixture. Garnish each with the shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve warm.

Recipe courtesy of Sabrina Sexton