North Fork chef: Hello, fall flavors

JOHN ROSS PHOTO Baked apples filled with walnuts and oatmeal.

Baked apples filled with walnuts and oatmeal. (Credit: John Ross)

September on the North Fork is when the farm stands come alive. The summer produce is winding down and the fall produce is coming in. The air can be very hot and also pretty cool, but it has the smell of autumn, no matter what.

Corn and tomatoes are delicious but on their way out, along with peaches, plums and berries. Squash and pumpkins and all kinds of roots and tubers are on their way in, along with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and hardy greens. Apples, pears and lots of potatoes are just coming in. The only problem for the chef is buying more than you can use for any one meal. Don’t even think about buying imported produce at this time of year.

Here are a few ways to enjoy September: 

Deviled Oysters with Tuscan Kale and Pancetta
Scrub 2 dozen oysters under water and shuck them with an oyster knife. Place the meats and any juice in a bowl. Rinse the bottom shells and reserve.

Spray a large sauté pan with no-stick and place it on medium heat. Add a 3-ounce package of pancetta and cook until crisp. Remove the pancetta and place it on a paper towel-lined plate.

Rinse 1 small head of Tuscan kale (or spinach) and cut the leaves from the stems. Chop the leaves and add them to the sauté pan along with 6 shredded radishes. Cover the pan and cook at medium heat for 3 minutes. Remove and place in a colander to drain.

Place the bottom oyster shells on a foil-lined sheet pan (or bury them in coarse salt if desired). Fill the shells with the kale mixture and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of Pernod liqueur over all.

Separately, combine 1/2 cup melted butter with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard. Place 2 cups panko crumbs in a shallow pan and season with salt and pepper. Dip the oysters in the butter mixture, then in the panko crumbs. Work in small batches and place the breaded oysters on a tray.

Heat a clean sauté pan and add 1/4 cup olive oil. Cook the oysters until golden, cooking in batches to avoid crowding. Put the oysters on top of the kale-filled shells and chop the reserved pancetta to place on top. At service time, heat the oysters in a hot oven.

Grilled Pears with Duck Breast and Raspberry Gastrique
Trim the excess fat from 2 packages duck breast (4 pieces), leaving the skin on. Score the skin in crosshatch marks with the tip of a sharp knife.

Mix together 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground pepper and 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder. Rub this mixture over the duck breast and refrigerate.

Cut 4 pears (any variety that is ripe but firm) into halves and remove the core with a teaspoon. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and brush it on the cut side of the pears and refrigerate.

For the gastrique, add 1/2 cup honey to a small saucepan and stir in 1 teaspoon water. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the honey darkens and begins to caramelize. Add 1/2 cup raspberry vinegar and continue cooking until it reduces by half into a thin syrup. Add 1/2 pint of fresh raspberries and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Purée this mixture in a food processor and strain back into the pan to remove the seeds. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

At service time, prepare the grill, waiting until the coals turn white. Rub the grate with an oil-soaked paper towel. Cook the duck breasts, skin side down, at high heat, turning 90 degrees to create attractive grill marks. Turn them over and move to a cooler part of the grill and cook until medium rare, about 7 minutes total.

Grill the pears, cut side down, alongside the duck breasts. Let the duck rest for 10 minutes and slice into a spiral design. Place the pears on the side and spoon the sauce over all.

Makes 4 portions.

Cauliflower Gratin with New Potatoes and Smoked Bacon
Working from the bottom, cut 1 head of cauliflower into small florets. Cut about 1 pound of new potatoes into 2-inch pieces, leaving the skin on.

Add 1/4 cup canola oil, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon ground pepper to a large bowl and add the cauliflower and potatoes, tossing them all together. Place them on a foil-lined sheet pan.

Trim the top off 1 head of garlic, drizzle a little oil over it and wrap loosely in foil. Place it on the pan with the cauliflower.

Place 8 ounces of applewood-smoked bacon on a separate sheet pan and put both pans in a 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes. The cauliflower and potatoes should be fully cooked and the bacon crisp.

For the sauce, heat 2 cups milk in a saucepan and season with 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and a dash of ground nutmeg. In a separate small pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter and stir in 3 tablespoons flour to make a roux. Cook for 3 minutes and whisk into the hot milk. Let the sauce thicken, stir in 1/4 cup prepared horseradish and set aside.

Squeeze the cooked garlic from the skins, chop finely and add to the sauce. Transfer the sauce to a large bowl and add the cauliflower and potato mixture. Fold in 1 bunch of finely chopped green onions, chop the bacon and add it to the bowl. Transfer to a shallow casserole and sprinkle with 1/2 cup panko crumbs.

Before serving, place in a 400-degree oven and heat for 20 minutes.

Serves 6.

Baked Apples with Walnuts and Oatmeal
Add 1 quart water and 1 tablespoon lemon juice to a large bowl. Peel 7 large cooking apples (like Mutsu) and dip them into the lemon water and remove.

Cut the stem end of 6 apples about 3/4 inch down from the top. Hollow out the core with a spoon and dip in the water again. Peel and chop the 7th apple and set aside.

Heat a large sauté pan and add 4 tablespoons butter. When it melts, add the diced apple along with 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, 1/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook for 5 minutes on medium heat and remove.

Place the 6 hollow apples in a casserole and spoon the filling into them. Combine 1/2 cup pure maple syrup, 1/4 cup dark rum and 1/4 cup apple cider in a bowl and pour it over the stuffed apples.

Bake, uncovered, in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes and serve with vanilla ice cream.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.