Falling for the flavors of fall

Fall is the time to prepare-and enjoy-heartier recipes with seasonal fruits and vegetables.

One of the reasons I love living in New England is fall. It is my favorite time of year, and it goes by much too fast.

Nothing but the hand of divine intervention could splatter such vivid and fantastic foliage colors of red, gold and rust in such sweeping, broad strokes across a wide swath of landscape. It makes me thankful for the gift of living in such a beautiful, natural place. And no matter where I travel to experience other places of beauty and wonder, there is nothing more sacred to me than coming home and saying to myself, "Never leave your personal paradise."

Fall is my signal to "settle in for the season." I look forward to the crisp days with brilliant sunshine and to the chilly nights that call for bulky sweaters and lighting a fire where I can cozy up with the crackling sounds of the logs and get lost in a novel or food magazine.

Cooking takes on more significance in my kitchen in the fall. I still use my grill until the snow flies, but I gravitate to making heartier, oven-cooked meals. Everyone has favorite go-to recipes that come out season after season to define our cooking.

For me, fall is for crusty casseroles oozing with cheese or for simmering bean and vegetable soups permeated with the flavor of a ham bone. Fall is for juicy pot roasts cooked in wine and perfumed with neatly tied bunches of herbs. Fall is for kitchen-sink stews that can cook unattended in a slow cooker, Crockpot or a favorite pot on the back burner. Served with crusty potatoes or smooth-as-silk mashed potatoes, a stew is a quintessentially fall food.

Fall is also for fruits, such as pears and apples nicely nestled in green salads, or poached or baked and then served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Fall is for baking cookies and breads, for pies and cakes, or for anything else that goes well with a cup of steaming tea on a late autumn afternoon.

Fall steadies us and readies us for shorter days and longer nights, and offers us the chance to slow our pace and make a place for all that really matters.

Beef Stew with Roasted Vegetables

Serves 6-8

Beef stew with vegetables has much more flavor if you roast the vegetables before adding them to the meat.

3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/4 pound pancetta, diced

2 pounds stew beef, cut into 1- inch cubes

1/3 cup flour

Salt, to taste

Grinding black pepper

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

3 cups dry red wine

6 carrots, peeled and cut into thirds

4 red-skin potatoes, scrubbed and quartered

4 stalks celery, washed and cut into 2-inch chunks

1. To brown the meat, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven or similar pot. Add the pancetta and cook over medium heat until it begins to wilt and render its fat.

2. Place the meat in a brown paper bag and add the flour, salt and pepper. Close the bag and shake it to coat the meat in the flour mixture. Add the meat to the pan and brown the pieces well on all sides. As the pieces brown, transfer them to a bowl.

3. Stir the onion and garlic into the pan; if the pan seems dry, add a little olive oil. Cook until the onion wilts. Return the meat to the pan. Add the rosemary. Raise the heat to high and pour in enough wine to just cover the meat. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pan and cook until the meat is fork tender, about 45 minutes to an hour.

4. Meanwhile, toss carrots, potatoes and celery with 2 tablespoons olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350ºF until the vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes.

5. When the stew meat is cooked, add the vegetables to the stew pot.

Note: Save leftover bottles of wine to use for making stews and sauces.

Roasted Pear Salad

Serves 4

This salad is especially welcome in the fall and winter when the pickings for salad greens are pretty grim. The flavor of the pears is intensified by roasting them first.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 tablespoons white vinegar

2 not-too-ripe Bosc pears, washed, cut in half, cored and cut into thin, lengthwise slices

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 small head radicchio, leaves torn into bite-size pieces

1 small Belgian endive, leaves torn into bite-size pieces

1/2 cup cubed Swiss cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Whisk the olive oil, honey, salt and vinegar together in a small bowl and set aside. (Note: You can also make the dressing ahead and refrigerate it.)

2. Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Then, lay the pear slices in a single layer on the paper and brush them with the melted butter on both sides. Bake the slices for 5-8 minutes, turning the fruit once, until slightly golden brown along the edges. Transfer the pears to a dish and set aside.

3. Toss the radicchio and Belgian endive in a salad bowl. Pour half the dressing over the salad and toss again.

4. Plate four salad dishes. Arrange two or three pear slices on top of the greens and drizzle the remaining dressing over the pears. Top each salad with a few cheese cubes and serve.

Pear and Apple Cream Tart

Makes one 9- or 10-inch cake

This tart, with a custard-like topping, looks like it takes hours to make when it only takes about 30 minutes. The crust is literally placed in a pan and patted down; no fuss and no tedious rolling. This is the perfect tart to welcome fall.

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

¾ cup sugar, divided

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking powder

½ cup cold butter, cut into bits

2 medium Yellow Delicious apples, peeled and thinly sliced

2 medium not-too-soft Anjou or Bartlett pears, peeled and thinly sliced

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cloves

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

2 egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Combine the flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Pat the mixture evenly into a
9- or 10-inch greased cake pan. Set aside.

2. Arrange the apple and pear slices on the crust in an overlapping pattern, filling in the entire surface.

3. Combine the remaining sugar, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg in a small bowl, and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the apple slices. Bake the tart for 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl with the heavy cream. Pour evenly over the apple-pear mixture, and bake for 30 minutes more or until the top is golden brown.

5. Remove the tart from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Variation: I sometimes use Cortland apples, which also make a delicious tart.c