Serious Entertaining: A Roasted Fall Dinner
Last week Twitter user @etu001 asked me for a recommendation. "Fall dinner for 6 ppl, something meaty and comforting, hopefully braised/roasted, what would you make?"
My answer is pretty easy. Nothing says fall to me like a good roast chicken paired with some roasted roots or squashes, a good soup, and a bracingly bitter salad of crunchy winter greens on the side. Here's my ideal fall menu. What's yours?
Soup Course: Roasted Squash and Raw Carrot Soup
Squash and carrots go very well together. They're both orange (duh), both have a great sweet-and-savory flavor profile, and both take well to conversion into creamy soup form. Just starchy enough to add some body and silkiness to the purée without being overly heavy.
Rather than roasting or boiling both vegetables together, I roast just the squash, adding the carrot juice raw at the end in order to retain some of its fresh flavor. The soup is excellent—a nice salty/sweet contrast, a great combination of deep roasted aromas, and bright freshness. The final step is to emulsify it with some really good olive oil to add some body and texture to it. You can just whisk the olive oil into the puréed soup, but you get a tighter emulsion and smoother texture if you drizzle in the olive oil slowly into the running blender, just like making a mayonnaise.
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Side Dish: Balsamic Glazed Acorn Squash with Shallots and Rosemary
Straddling the line between sweet and savory, squash are the quintessential fall vegetable and go remarkably well with roasted shallots, another one of those sweet-savory twofers. It all gets reinforced with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, which adds a touch of tartness to the mix. When they emerge from the oven, they're golden and tender with crisp, caramelized edges under the sheen of a sweet-and-sour glaze flavored with rosemary.
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Salad Course: Beet and Citrus Salad with Pinenut Vinaigrette
This salad combines two of my favorite fall/winter staples: beets and grapefruits. It takes a little planning to roast beets, but once they're in the oven, they take very little effort to cook and the dish comes together quickly. Sweet as candy, rich and earthy, with a great sorta-soft-sorta-crisp texture, they're one of my wife's favorites. Just like her, it's pretty, colorful, and best served at room temperature.
Cooking beats in a foil pouch in the oven gets them to cook just as fast as boiling, without losing any juices or flavor. This salad combines grapefruit, orange, roasted beets, and bit of arugula for some peppery kick (you can use whatever herb or salad green you'd like instead). I like to serve nuts with my beets, which usually means hazelnuts, but in this case, I've gone with pine. A vinaigrette made with sherry vinegar, shallots, walnut oil, and a touch of agave nectar or honey sweetens the whole thing.
I throw my beets in in the afternoon, make my vinaigrette and segment my grapefruits while they roast, then swap them out with the chicken. In the time the chicken takes to cook, I can let the beets cool, peel them, and cut them. Once the chicken's out of the oven, I just need to toss the salad with the vinaigrette while the chicken rests, and we're ready to eat.
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Main Course: Butterflied Roasted Chicken
The secret to perfect roast chicken with juicy breast meat and tender thigh and leg meat is to butterfly it so that the breasts lay flat and the legs are not protected by the mass of the chicken's carcass. When roasted like this, all of the parts finish cooking at the exact same time. Not only that, but the open position makes it easy for fat to render, giving you extra crisp skin. But wait, there's more! It also cuts down cooking time significantly. AND when you butterfly a chicken, you get a backbone with which you can make a quick jus while the chicken roasts.
Four benefits for the price of a couple of strokes with the chicken shears? Sign me up!
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.