Fall is my favorite time for food,” says Deb Paquette, chef and co-owner of Zola. “I find it more entertaining to cook fall food. There’s more texture and depth and flexibility. Summer food is light and simple; fall food is more complex, so that’s very stimulating.”
Paquette’s seasonal sentiments are echoed by her culinary colleagues. Gardens, produce stands, and the Farmers Market are brimming with late summer bounty. Fall is still three weeks away, but already Nashville chefs are tinkering with their menus, pulling out the cookbooks, taste-testing some early fall specials, and looking forward to fall’s hearty harvest of comfort foods: soups, stews, game, squash, beans and root vegetables, apples and raisins, figs and puddings.
If you could create a fantasy fall feast, what would be on the menu? We approached five Nashville restaurants (a total of six chefs) and asked each to contribute a course that delivered an unmistakable aura of autumn. Chefs were asked to make their recipes accessible to home cooks, with ingredients available locally, as well as to suggest a wine to complement the course. (But if you prefer to leave it to the experts, all of these dishes are currently on, or will soon be added, to their respective restaurants’ menus.) Bon appétit!
Maple syrup-glazed grilled salmon
on tamarind lentils
Estancia Pinnacles, Pinot Noir,
Michael DeGregory, Mirror,
2317 12th Avenue South
DeGregory, the chef and owner with pastry chef/wife Colleen of the brand-new restaurant Mirror in 12South, began his cooking career in Delaware, where he was raised. After a stint in Miamiwhere he met and married Colleenhe moved to Nashville and the Bound’ry kitchen for a year. Mirror’s focus is on tapas, small, three- to five-bite dishes that can either be eaten in small quantities as appetizers or, if several are ordered together, as a light meal. In Spain, where the style of dining originated, they customarily bridge the gap between late lunch and even later dinner. They are passed around the table for sharing and are usually enjoyed with sherry or sangria.
A tapas menu gives a chef the opportunity to explore and present intense flavors in small doses. This summer DeGregory was doing an anchovy bruschetta with fresh tomatoes and a spicy chorizo sausage plate with a fresh tomato sauce, among others. Now he’s looking forward to the transition to fall. “I love the change. Every season, it’s like starting all over again.”
Lentils and maple syrup came to mind when DeGregory was thinking of a way to commence this fall feast. “I like the way the tamarind adds a tartness to the sweet maple syrup. It’s a nice contrast that balances well.”
Roasted-tomato corn chowder
with cumin pumpkin seeds
Heath Williams, Provence
Mention soup to any Nashville chef, and the name they immediately bring up is Heath Williams, executive chef at Provence Breads & Café. While he oversees every aspect of the menu and the cheese selection in the Hillsboro Village store, soups are his specialty, a skill he honed nearly 10 years ago during a tenure as sous chef at F. Scott’s. In many restaurants, soups are created from the previous night’s leftovers or the surplus of a produce order, but Williams focuses on the classic winter comfort food, making it a centerpiece of a menu.
“Soup tends to be an afterthought in many restaurants,” he says. “Here, in a café, where most of the foods are served at room temperature, hot soup is one of our premier items. Salads and soups are where we get to be most creative; they are constantly evolving, depending on the season and local produce.”
Provence offers at least two soups du jour, three in the summer with the addition of gazpacho. With autumn on the horizon, Williams is heading toward heartier and more substantial fare, with more beans, pumpkin, squash, and potatoes. (He advises adding some fresh herbs like basil to offset the heaviness.)
For this meal, he made a soup that would take advantage of the huge late-summer bumper crop of tomatoes and corn (canned tomatoes can be used in winter). The golden-orange hue, the cumin pumpkin seeds, and sage garnish announce fall is on the way.
Goose confit salad on spinach and beet greens
Macon Lugny Chardonnay (French)
Richard Graham &
Kevin Alexandroni, Le Cou Rouge
Will Le Cou Rouge, chefs/partners Richard Graham and Kevin Alexandroni’s new restaurant in Green Hills, address Nashville’s gaping void of French restaurants? They will if Graham’s first restaurantalso named Le Cou Rouge, in Dyersburg, Tenn., which compelled a loyal following of Memphians to drive 90 miles for a mealis any indication. Graham, a native of Union City, and Alexandroni, a native of Israel, met at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. After graduation, they went their separate ways but teamed up again in Dyersburg after Graham opened Le Cou Rouge and Alexandroni made several appearances there as guest chef.
They describe their food as French/Southern fusion, but that doesn’t translate to foie gras on a biscuit or pinto bean cassoulet. Rather, they take traditional Southern foods and regional ingredients, and apply French cooking methods. While there are some dishes that make regular appearancesone of their signature dishes in Dyersburg was a gumbo saladthe menu changes daily according to what is available. While their restaurant, in the former Bandywood Sylvan Park location, is undergoing a major reconstruction, the two are scouting purveyors and local markets. Both are pleased that they will be introducing their food to Nashvillians during their favorite season.
“We love winter foodstews, blanquettes, braises,” says Graham. Alexandroni concurs, “It’s hard for us to cook light, summery food. It’s not our style. We much prefer to go for the triple cream than light sauce.”
Thinking of a salad course, the chefs wanted one that would represent the season and felt that confit was a traditional, classic winter dish, with a richness that would work well with more bitter greens like spinach, radicchio, and beet greens. All ingredients were purchased from local grocery stores. Duck can be substituted for goose.
Spice-marinated grilled pork loin
with onion-apple chutney,
bourbon-sesame sweet-potato hash and curried brussels sprouts
Bouchaine Pinot Noir
Deb Paquette, Zola
“I grew up in one of those families where you ate hearty, big meals three times a day,” says Paquette, who co-owns Zola with husband Ernie and partners Vicki and Rick Bolsom. “That isn’t necessarily how I eat anymore, but it is how I cook. I am better at, and enjoy more, preparing foods that are heartier.” Paquette grew up in Florida, where the year-round growing season had an effect on how she would cook. “Every fruit and vegetable we use is fresh. Other than tomatoes, we have no canned food in this kitchen,” she says. She has passed along her love of vegetables to her children and relates a funny story of her mother threatening at dinner one night to take away Paquette’s sons’ beets if they didn’t eat their meat.
Brussels sprouts are another Paquette family favorite, and for this meal, she flavored them with a bit of curry powder. “A lot of people think they don’t like brussels sprouts or beets, but it’s because they have only ever tasted the canned kind. Fresh brussels sprouts are fantastic, and the curry gives them a nice undertone that blends well with the sesame in the sweet potatoes, and the spicy pork.” At home, she says she cooks pork at least once a week. “Pork is my favorite meat; I think it has an incredible flavor and is so versatile. It takes on savory or sweet or spice so well. This rub is a mixture of Moroccan spices but with a little pepper, like a Moroccan barbecue sauce. It tastes exotic, but is very accessible and easy to cook.”
Sweet potatoes, like squashanother Paquette favoriteare a traditional fall food, but instead of a traditional preparation with cinnamon, Paquette uses sesame. “I like to cook things that people are familiar with but do it in an unfamiliar way.”
Caramelized sugar cake
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise,
Sylvia Harrelson, Cibo
When Sylvia Harrelson comes back from spending the Labor Day weekend on her family’s farm in North Carolina, she’ll be bringing back three bushel baskets of figs picked from trees on the property. Back in Nashville, she’ll use them to make the fig preserves for her caramelized sugar cake, for one. But this chef, who says she dreams about desserts, will no doubt find other ways to use the delectable autumnal fruit.
A self-taught chef, Harrelson bakes all the breads and prepares more than a dozen salads and sandwiches daily for Cibo, the downtown restaurant she owns with partner Greg Fox. But her passion lies with dessert, and many of her customers line up as early as 7 a.m. for a piece of her signature amaretto carrot cake.
“Desserts are a seduction of the senses,” Harrelson says. “You have an opportunity to create something with so many different levels, like a complex wine.”
That would describe this spectacular cake, which has the flavor of a pound cakebut not the heavinessand is filled with rum-soaked raisins, currants, and fig preserves, then topped with a classic Southern-style caramel frosting. She finishes the version she sells at Cibo with a chocolate molasses glaze and fresh figs cut in half. It is simply remarkable and sinfully seductive.
Maple syrup-glazed grilled salmon on tamarind lentils
8 oz. green lentils
2 C. water (soak lentils two hours before using)
1 carrot, peeled, diced fine
1 yellow onion, peeled, diced fine
2 celery ribs, diced fine
1 T. chopped garlic
1 T. curry powder
1 C. white wine
1 bay leaf
4 oz. tamarind paste (reconstitute in water and remove solids, leaving only purplish-brown paste)
1 T. Kosher salt
1 t. fresh ground black pepper
4 sprigs cilantro
In a saucepan, bring lentils and soaking water to a boil. Turn to simmer and cook 30 minutes. While lentils are cooking, sauté the onions until clear, about 5 minutes, then add carrots and celery and sauté additional 5 minutes. Add white wine and bay leaf, reduce until there is about 1 oz. of wine left. Add to the lentils at the 30-minute mark. Let simmer an additional 20 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. Add tamarind paste, salt, and pepper. Simmer an additional 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Divide onto 4 plates.
Maple grilled salmon
12 oz. pure maple syrup
2 T. sambal pepper sauce
1 T. fresh ginger, grated
12 oz. salmon filets cut into 3 oz. portions by your fish purveyor
Combine all but filets in saucepan. Cook to reduce by 1/2. Season salmon filets with salt and pepper and grill, starting with flesh side down. Baste the back side with the glaze. After 1 min. turn the fish to 2 o’clock and grill 1 more minute, flip over and repeat the process, this time glazing the grilled side. Total grilling time is 4-5 minute. (Glaze can be made in advance but warm before using.) Place salmon filets atop bed of tamarind lentils, garnish with cilantro.
Roasted-tomato corn chowder with cumin pumpkin seeds
Roasted-tomato corn chowder
For the soup:
3/4 C. + 1 T. olive oil
1 lg. yellow onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
1/4 C. chopped garlic
8 ears fresh corn (silver queen)
9 lbs. diced tomato, fresh or canned
1 chipotle pepper (canned in adobo sauce) chopped fine
2 T. adobo from chipotle pepper
1/3 t. nutmeg
bouquet garni of 1/4 oz. fresh thyme,
1/4 oz. fresh sage, and 2 bay leaves
1/4 oz. fresh sage leaves, picked and chopped
1 T. aged red wine vinegar
8 C. water
1 T. salt and 1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
3 C. cream
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut corn kernels from ears and set cobs aside. Place corn on a sheet pan and coat with 2 T. olive oil. Place cobs in a stock pot, cover with 8 cups of water; over medium-high heat allow to boil for 20 minutes, then set aside. Drain diced tomatoes, reserving liquid. Coat tomatoes with 2 T. olive oil and spread on sheet pan. Place tomatoes and corn in 400-degree oven; roast corn for 10 minutes, tomatoes for 15.
Heat 1/2 C. plus 1 T. olive oil in a stock pot. Sauté onions and celery until onions begin to brown; turn heat down. Add garlic, bouquet garni, vinegar, and nutmeg, cook for another 5 minutes. Add 4 C. corn cob stock, 2 C. reserved tomato juice, roasted corn, tomatoes, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, salt, and pepper. Increase heat to medium high and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Before serving, stir in cream and gently reheat, though not to boiling. Stir in chopped sage, garnish with pumpkin seeds and sage leaves.
1 C. pumpkin seeds
1 t. salt
1 T. cumin
Coat pumpkin seeds lightly with olive oil, then toss with spices. Spread on a sheet pan in 400-degree oven until golden brown.
Goose confit salad on spinach and beet greens
2 goose legs
rendered goose/duck fat, enough to cover the legs in a Dutch oven pot
1 head garlic
A few stems of parsley, tarragon, and thyme
Salt goose legs and place a layer of stems between the legs, lean sides together; refrigerate for 24 hours. After refrigeration, brush salt off legs and pat dry with paper towel. Place legs in a Dutch oven pot and cover with fat. Add 1/2 head of garlic and bake in 275-degree oven for 2-3 hours, depending on size of goose legs. Legs are done when juices run clear.
1/2 C. pecans
1/2 C. sugar
1/2 t. sweet Hungarian paprika
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
Toast pecans over high heat in iron skillet until they release their oil. Add sugar, paprika, pepper, and caramelize. Be careful not to burn sugar; when pecans are fully coated with caramelized sugar, remove from heat.
Sweet potato wedges
Cut peeled sweet potatoes into wedges and roll in a mixture of goose fat, paprika, salt and black pepper. Roast in 450-degree oven until crispy outside, tender inside.
1 oz. goose fat from confit
1 oz. vegetable oil
1 oz. red wine vinegar
2 T. of caramelized liquid from pecans
1 T. honey
1/2 t. chopped garlic
1/4 t. each of tarragon, parsley, thyme, marjoram, chervil
Whisk ingredients together
Beet chips and goose crackling
Note that the crackling should be mixed in with the greens; the beet chips serve as garnish.
2 goose legs (same ones used for confit)
After cooking the legs for the confit, remove the skin with the layer of fat that is underneath it from the meat. Slice this layer of skin/fat in short strips. Then deep-fry the strips in the fat from the confit in the same pot. Dry on paper towels, then mix in with rest of salad. Fry the crackling before using the fat for preparing the chips.
For multi-colored chips, use 1 red beet, 1 golden beet, 1 parsnip. Wash, peel, and slice the beets very thin. Keep the different colored beet slices separate. Wash and peel the parsnip. Then, using a peeler, create long strips of parsnip. Strain the fat from the confit and put it back in the same pot. Fry the parsnip strips first until crispy, then fry the golden beets, then the red beets. (This order is to prevent colors mixing.) Season to taste with salt, paprika, and chili or pepper if desired. Arrange decoratively atop the salad.
Layer potato wedges on the bottom of salad plate. Add spinach, beet greens, radicchio, shreds of confit goose, pecans, and toss. When ready to serve, warm vinaigrette and toss with salad. Garnish with red and yellow beet chips.
Spice-marinated grilled pork loin
with onion-apple chutney, bourbon- sesame sweet-potato hash and curried brussels sprouts
5-6 lb. Pork loin, cut into 1 1/2 in. steaks (or 6 pork chops)
Marinade (blend well)
2 T. ground coriander
1 T. ground ginger
1 t. cinnamon
1 T. chili powder
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1 T. paprika
1 T. ground cumin
1 T. salt
2 T. granulated sugar
1 T. ground fennel
1 T. dry oregano
1 T. black pepper
1/2 t. minced garlic
1/2 C. sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/2 C. olive oil
Marinate pork at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Grill to medium doneness for best flavor.
1 C. sugar
1/2 C. water
3 medium Spanish onions, diced medium
3 oz. peeled and minced ginger
3 apples, peeled, diced small
1/2 t. salt
2 T. vegetable oil
1 small lime
In a heavy-bottomed 2- or 4-qt. pot, sauté onions in oil over medium to high heat until browned. Add ginger, water, sugar, and salt. Turn heat down to low-medium and simmer 10 minutes. Add apples and simmer on low 30 minutes. Adjust seasonings, squeeze in lime juice. If you prefer spice, add a pinch of any type, but beware that the pork is already spicy.
Bourbon-sesame sweet-potato hash
4-5 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled, and diced medium
2 onions, diced medium
1/4 C. vegetable oil
1/3 C. molasses (or honey or brown sugar)
1 t. salt
1 t. black pepper
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 C. bourbon
1/2 C. toasted sesame seeds
2 T. sesame oil
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place sweet potatoes on small sheet pan, toss with a pinch of salt and pepper and 1/2 T. of oil. Cover with foil and roast about 15 minutes. Check and if still too firm cook another 5 minutes, but no longer.
While sweet potatoes are cooking, caramelize onions in vegetable oil in large sauté pan. Turn heat to medium and add all ingredients except sesame oil; simmer 2-3 minutes.
Add sweet potatoes to sauté pan and stir gently; cook 5 minutes on low. Add sesame oil. Adjust salt and pepper.
Curried brussels sprouts
2 pounds cleaned, small sprouts. If large, cut in half
1/4 C. vegetable oil
1/2 t. salt
1 T. curry powder
Heat oil in sauté pan. It is important to have your pan hot enough to sear the Brussels sprouts and give them color. Keep stirring so they will not burn. Add salt and taste to see if they are cooked. Add curry and cook 5 minutes more. If they are dry, add a sprinkle of water.
Caramelized sugar cake
1/2 C. unsalted butter
1 1/2 C. sugar
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 C. water
2 t. sugar syrup♦
1 t. vanilla extract
2 1/2 C. plain flour
2 t. baking powder
2 egg whites, beaten until soft peaks form
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar together. Add the egg yolks, water, sugar syrup, and vanilla, beat until blended and light. Stir in 2 cups of the flour and beat a few strokes, just to combine. Sift the remaining 1/2 cup flour with the baking powder, add, beat just until combined. Gently fold in egg whites, being careful not to reduce their volume. Spoon batter into 2 well greased 9-inch cake pans and bake until tested done (about 30 minutes). Place cakes on wire racks for cooling.
♦To make the sugar syrup
Put 1/2 cup sugar into a skillet over low heat and warm until it softens and melts. (Harrelson likes Muscavado, a dark African sugar, but you can use any granulated type of sugar. Note: The darker the sugar the deeper the flavor.) Be careful not to burn or scorch. Remove the pan from the heat and add 1/2 cup boiling water. Stir. Cool in the pan, then refrigerate. (This amount will make enough for 3 to 4 completed cakes, and it will keep well in the fridge.)
Marinate 1/2 cup each dark raisins, golden raisins, and currants in Myers dark rum overnight.
Drain, and combine with 1 cup of fig preserves. Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.
Assemble the cake by spreading the filling between the 2 layers and topping with Easy Caramel frosting.
Easy Caramel frosting
1/2 C. butter
1 C. firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 C. whipping cream
2 1/2 C. sifted powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla
Melt butter in a saucepan. Add brown sugar, cook over low heat, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes, or until sugar dissolves. Do not boil.
Remove from the heat. Stir in whipping cream. Add powdered sugar and vanilla.
Beat with mixer at high speed until frosting is of spreading consistency.
For a truly grand finale, drizzle with chocolate molasses glaze
Heat 3/4 cup heavy cream, 3 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons molasses in a saucepan. Stir to dissolve the molasses, then bring to a boil. Place 6 oz. bitter sweet chocolate in a stainless steel bowl. Pour the boiling cream mixture over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth.
Keep at room temperature for an hour to set. Drizzle over the cake.
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