Fall flavors come alive in these comfort food recipes

With canned pumpkin and fresh squash readily available, there’s no time like the holiday season to serve up comfort food with these two fall favorites (and more) as the stars of a variety of dishes, from soups to desserts.

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Pumpkin soup is a fall and winter favorite and easy to make utilizing canned pumpkin.

Pumpkin soup is a fall and winter favorite and easy to make utilizing canned pumpkin.

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With fall in full swing and winter on the horizon, there’s nothing like comfort food to make us all feel a little warmer on the inside.

And with canned pumpkin and fresh squash readily available, there’s no time like the fall and winter and the holiday season to serve up comfort food with these two fall favorites (and more) as the stars of a variety of dishes, from soups to desserts.

Here are several recipes from the team at America’s Test Kitchen to try in the cold months ahead. The dishes are featured in “Cook’s Kitchen: Vegetables Illustrated,” which features more than 700 recipes.

BraisedCarrotsandParsnipswithDriedCranberries

Braised Carrots and Parsnips with Dried Cranberries

Braised carrots and parsnips with dried cranberries.

Courtesy America’s Test Kitchen

Serves 4 to 6

For a vegetarian version, you can substitute vegetable stock or water for the chicken broth.

  • 3tablespoonsunsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1shallot, minced
  • 1cupchicken broth
  • 1cupapple cider
  • 6sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1poundcarrots, peeled and sliced on bias ¼ inch thick
  • 1poundparsnips, peeled and sliced on bias ¼ inch thick
  • ½cupdriedcranberries
  • 1tablespoonDijon mustard
  • 2tablespoonsminced fresh parsley

1.Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add broth, cider, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper; bring to simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Addcarrotsandparsnips, stir to combine, and return to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 10 to 14 minutes.

2.Remove pot from heat. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves and stir incranberries. Push vegetable mixture to sides of pot. Add mustard and remaining 2 tablespoons butter to center and whisk into cooking liquid. Stir to coat vegetable mixturewithsauce, transfer to serving dish, sprinklewithparsley, and serve.

PumpkinJelly Roll Cake

Pumpkin roll

Pumpkin jelly roll cake.

Keller + Keller

Why This Recipe Works

Perhaps the most famous holiday cake is the Yule Log, which, for good reason, gets trotted out every holiday season. There’s much to be said for this classic, but we wanted to develop a unique variation for the holidays with apumpkinjelly roll cake encasing a simple filling.

We initially thought incorporatingpumpkinpuree into a flexible sponge cake recipe would weigh down the batter, but happily we were wrong. Each additional ¼ cup of puree we introduced did not make the cake heavier; instead, the puree improved the cake’s flavor, gave it a moist texture, and made it more flexible.

Cream cheese frosting seemed like a natural filling, but it made our cake too dense to roll. We tweaked the ingredient proportions to lighten the texture and then considered whether or not the order in which the ingredients were being mixed together mattered. The answer was yes: The batches in which the butter was blended with the sugar before we added the cream cheese were far lighter because the creamed butter aerated the mix, making it the perfect filling for this festive cake.

Serves 8 to 10

Cake

  • 1cup (4 ounces)cake flour, sifted
  • 2teaspoonspumpkinpie spice
  • ½teaspoonbaking soda
  • ½teaspoonsalt
  • 5large eggs
  • 1cup (7 ounces)granulated sugar
  • 1cupcanned unsweetenedpumpkinpuree

Filling

  • 8tablespoonsunsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 2cups (8 ounces)confectioners’ sugar
  • 8ouncescream cheese, cut into 4 pieces and softened
  • teaspoonsvanilla extract
  • 8Spiced Pecans (recipe follows)
  • Confectioners’ sugar

1.For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 18 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper, and grease parchment. Whisk flour, pie spice, baking soda, and salt together in bowl; set aside. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until pale yellow and thick, 6 to 10 minutes. Addpumpkin, reduce speed to low, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Fold in flour mixture until combined. Transfer batter to prepared sheet and spread into even layer. Bake until cake is firm and springs back when touched, about 15 minutes. Lay clean sheet of parchment on counter and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

2.Immediately run thin knife around edge of baking sheet to loosen cake, then flip hot cake out onto prepared parchment sheet, discarding parchment attached to cake. Starting from short side, roll cake and bottom parchment snugly into log. Let cake cool, seam side down, for 1 hour.

3.For the filling:Using clean, dry bowl and paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, 1 piece at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition, about 1 minute. Add vanilla and mix until no lumps remain, about 30 seconds.

4.Gently unroll cake. Spread filling evenly over cake, leaving 1-inch border along edges. Reroll cake gently but snugly around filling, leaving parchment behind as you roll. Wrap cake firmly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. Trim ends of cake, transfer cake to platter, dust with confectioners’ sugar, and garnish with Spiced Pecans. Serve. (Cake can be wrapped loosely in plastic and kept at room temperature for up to 8 hours before serving.)

CreamyPumpkin-Chai Soup

Creamy Pumpkin-Chai Soup

Creamy pumpkin-chai soup.

Daniel J. van Ackere/Courtesy America’s Test Kitchen

Why This Recipe Works:

For a warming soup perfect for chilly fall days, we streamlined traditional spicedpumpkinsoup in several ways.

Since freshpumpkinis rarely in season and requires significant prep work, we kept things simple by using readily available cannedpumpkinpuree. Some softened onion and garlic provided a good base of aromatics, and a little brown sugar brought out the flavor of thepumpkinand added a touch of sweetness.

To give our soup a complex warmth that would complement thepumpkinflavor, we found that chai tea was a perfect one-stop source for a multitude of warm spices. We simply simmered a chai tea bag in the soup to infuse it with subtle chai flavor.

Pureeing the soup at the end gave it a velvety texture, and some heavy cream added just the right amount of richness. You can substitute ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger, ¼ teaspoon of ground cardamom, and ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves for the chai tea bag.

Serves 6

4 to 6 hours on low or 3 to 5 hours on high

4 to 7 quarts

  • 1onion, chopped
  • 3garlic cloves, minced
  • 1tablespoonvegetable oil
  • 6cupschicken broth, plus extra as needed
  • 1(29-ounce)can unsweetenedpumpkinpuree
  • ½cuppacked brown sugar
  • 1chai-flavored tea bag
  • ½cupheavy cream
  • Salt and pepper

1.Combine onion, garlic, and oil in bowl and microwave, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker. Stir in broth,pumpkin, sugar, and tea bag. Cover and cook until flavors meld, 4 to 6 hours on low or 3 to 5 hours on high.

2.Discard tea bag. Working in batches, process soup in blender until smooth, about 2 minutes. Return soup to slow cooker, stir in cream, and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes, adjusting consistency with extra hot broth as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

ButternutSquashandWhiteBeanSoup with Sage Pesto

Butternut Squash and White Bean Soup with Sage Pesto

Butternut squash and white bean soup with sage pesto.

Courtesy America’s Test Kitchen

Why This Recipe Works

This hearty version ofbutternutsquashsoup can stand on its own as a meal. Instead of the usual creamy, rich pureed style ofbutternutsquashsoup, we opted to feature chunks ofsquashpaired with creamy cannellinibeansto give our soup some heft.

Because the bulb portion of thesquashis difficult to cut into cubes that will cook evenly,andbecause it naturally cooks faster than the dense neck portion, we cut the bulb into wedges, cooked them in the broth until they were soft,andthen mashed them to make a “squashstock” that gave our soup base bodyandflavor.

We then cooked the neck portion, cut into chunks, in this stock. Adding butter to the stock at the start of its simmering time allowed it to fully emulsify, giving the soup base richnessanda more velvety texture. A swirl of sage pesto, which we quickly made in the food processor, lent just the right bright, fresh finish.

Serves 6 to 8

Total time: 1 hour

Pesto

  • ½cupwalnuts, toasted
  • 2garlic cloves, minced
  • 1cupfresh parsley leaves
  • ½cupfresh sage leaves
  • ¾cupextra-virgin olive oil
  • 1ounceParmesan cheese, grated (½ cup), plus extra for serving
  • Saltandpepper

Soup

  • 1(2- to 2½-pound)butternutsquash, peeled
  • 4cupschicken or vegetable broth
  • 3cupswater
  • 4tablespoonsunsalted butter
  • 1tablespoonsoy sauce
  • 1tablespoonvegetable oil
  • 1poundleeks,whiteandlight green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin,andwashed thoroughly
  • 1tablespoontomato paste
  • 2garlic cloves, minced
  • Saltandpepper
  • 3(15-ounce)cans cannellinibeans
  • 1teaspoonwhitewine vinegar

1.For the pesto: Pulse walnutsandgarlic in food processor until coarsely chopped, about 5 pulses. Add parsleyandsage. With processor running, slowly add oil until incorporated. Transfer to bowl, stir in Parmesan,andseason with saltandpepper to taste; set aside.

2.For the soup:Cut round bulb section offsquashandcut in half lengthwise. Discard seeds, then cut each half into 4 wedges.

3.Bringsquashwedges, broth, water, butter,andsoy sauce to boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover,andsimmer vigorously untilsquashis very tenderandstarting to fall apart, about 20 minutes. Remove pot from heatanduse potato masher to mashsquash, still in broth, until completely broken down. Cover to keep warm; set aside.

4.While broth cooks, cut neck ofsquashinto ½-inch pieces. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add leeksandtomato pasteandcook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are softenedandtomato paste is darkened, about 5 minutes. Add garlicandcook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Addsquashpieces, ¾ teaspoon salt,and¼ teaspoon pepperandcook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Addsquashbrothandbring to simmer. Partially coverandcook for 10 minutes.

5.Addbeansandtheir liquid, partially cover,andcook, stirring occasionally, untilsquashis just tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in vinegarandseason with saltandpepper to taste. Serve, passing pestoandextra Parmesan separately.

RoastedButternutSquashwithBrownedButterand Hazelnuts

Roasted Butternut Squash with Browned Butter and Hazelnuts

Roasted butternut squash with browned butter and hazelnuts.

Daniel J. van Ackere/Courtesy America’s Test Kitchen

Why This Recipe Works

You may not immediately recognize this dish and its variations as the familiarroastedbutternutsquash, but actually, that’s the point. A recipe in London-based chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s book, “Plenty,” introduced us to an alternativesquashuniverse.

Heroaststhin skin-on half-moons ofsquashand then tosses them with savory ingredients, from chiles and lime to toasted nuts and spiced yogurt, which serve as a surprisingly successful foil to thesquash’s natural sweetness. We decided to bring this approach into the test kitchen and put our own spin on it.

Tasters were equally smitten with Ottolenghi’s approach, but they also had a few suggestions. So our first move was to lose both the skin and the white layer of flesh underneath, both of which tasters found unappealing. (We could have bought pre-peeledsquash, but we’ve found that the flavor of wholesquashthat you peel yourself is superior.)

To achieve deeper caramelization on thesquashslices, we positioned the baking sheet on the lowest oven rack, where it would absorb more heat from the main heating element on the oven’s floor. We then flipped thesquash(and rotated the baking sheet) partway throughroastingso that both sides could caramelize.

Meltedbutterproduced betterbrowningthan olive oil, thanks to its milk proteins that undergo the Maillard reaction, leading to more complex flavors and aromas. These slices emerged perfectly caramelized, wonderfully sweet, and tender.

The crowning touch was to come up with a few toppings that provided a mix of contrasting textures and bold flavors.

Serves 4 to 6

Total time: 1 hour

SQUASH

  • 1large (2½- to 3-pound)butternutsquash, peeled, seeded, and sliced crosswise ½ inch thick
  • 3tablespoonsunsaltedbutter, melted
  • ½teaspoonsalt
  • ½teaspoonpepper

TOPPING

  • 3tablespoonsunsaltedbutter, cut into 3 pieces
  • cuphazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and chopped
  • 1tablespoonwater
  • 1tablespoonlemon juice
  • Pinch salt
  • 1tablespoonminced fresh chives

1.For thesquash:Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Tosssquashwith meltedbutter, salt, and pepper in bowl to coat. Arrangesquashin single layer on rimmed baking sheet.Roastsquashuntil side touching sheet toward back of oven is wellbrowned, 25 to 30 minutes. Rotate sheet and continue to bake until side touching sheet toward back of oven is wellbrowned, 6 to 10 minutes. Removesquashfrom oven and use metal spatula to flip each piece. Return to oven androastuntilsquashis very tender and side touching sheet isbrowned, 10 to 15 minutes.

2.For the toppingWhilesquashroasts, meltbutterwith hazelnuts in 8-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, untilbutterand hazelnuts arebrownand fragrant, about 2 minutes. Immediately remove skillet from heat and stir in water (butterwill foam and sizzle). Let cool for 1 minute. Stir in lemon juice and salt.

3.Transfersquashto large serving platter. Drizzlebuttermixture evenly oversquash. Sprinkle with chives. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Roasted Spirallized Sweet Potatoes with Walnuts and Feta

Roasted Spiralized Sweet Potatoes with Walnuts and Feta

Roasted spiralized sweet potatoes with walnuts and feta.

Steve Klise/Courtesy America’s Test Kitchen

Why This Recipe Works

Roastedquickly in a hot oven,spiralizedsweetpotatoes make a fun, crowd-pleasing alternative to regularroastedwhite potatoes. We decided to use a spiralizer to cut the potatoes into beautiful ⅛-inch-thick noodles that would cook quickly.

We found that simplyroastingthe potatoes in a hot oven, uncovered, for about 12 minutes gave us the result we were after:sweetpotatoes that were tender but not mushy, with just a bit of caramelization.

To finish the dish, we sprinkled on ¼ cup each of tangy feta and rich toasted walnuts, plus a generous sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Sweetpotato noodles are quite delicate; be careful when tossing them with the oil and seasonings in step 2, and again when transferring them to the serving platter before serving.

If you do not have a spiralizer, you can use a mandoline or V-slicer fitted with a ⅛-inch julienne attachment. Make sure to position the vegetables on the mandoline so that the resulting noodles are as long as possible. We do not recommend cutting vegetable noodles by hand.

Serves 4 to 6

Total time: 30 minutes

  • 2poundssweetpotatoes, peeled and ends squared off
  • 1tablespoonextra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼cupwalnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1ouncefeta cheese, crumbled (¼ cup)
  • 2tablespoonschopped fresh parsley

1.Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Using spiralizer, cutsweetpotatoes into ⅛-inch-thick noodles, then cut noodles into 12-inch lengths.

2.Toss potato noodles, oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper together in bowl, then spread on rimmed baking sheet.Roastuntil just tender, 12 to 14 minutes, stirring once halfway throughroasting.

3.Season potatoes with salt and pepper to taste, and transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle walnuts, feta, and parsley over top, then drizzle with extra oil to taste. Serve.

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