What to cook in September: Butternut squash, kale — and grab beets before they're gone!
Plus, it's peak apple season. Check out alllll the ways to enjoy them beyond raw.
This article was originally posted September 6, 2018 and was updated September 2, 2020.
Summer may be wrapping up, but that doesn't mean the local produce is. In fact, now's the time to get even more excited about the seasonal treats growing right in your backyard — or close to it! The foods being harvested from now on tend to be tougher and keep well, making them perfect for weekday lunches and times when you can only get to the grocery shop once a week.
Uncooked and properly stored, a winter squash like butternut will last longer than a summer squash like zucchini. Beets, kale, apples — they're a little more dependable too. Even concord grapes (which we'll get into below) have those thick skins and don't require you to attend to them as quick as something like a raspberry. That's not to say you can leave them toooo long, and you won't want to with all the easy ideas we've got for cooking these seasonal items now.
Butternut squash's smooth skin makes them easier to handle (peel and prep) than other winter squash varieties like acorn. Look for unblemished, firm ones and use a sharp vegetable peeler to remove their thin skin.
Cut up the flesh into wedges or cubes for roasting at least once this fall. Before they go into the oven, sprinkle them with plenty of salt and a spice mixture made up of equal parts crushed chili powder and ground cumin and coriander. Bake in a 400F degree oven, watching them closely and flipping them once, until the surfaces begin to caramelize and crisp up. Use up this seasoned squash in kale or grain salads, or layer thin on homemade white pizza with gorgonzola, mozzarella and walnuts.
If the word gorgonzola catches your eye, you'll definitely want to explore more of this perfect pairing. Make gorgonzola butter to top squash wedges to serve as a side, or alone for dinner. To make gorgonzola butter, grind down a garlic clove and salt with a mortar and pestle, and stir that into equal parts softened butter and gorgonzola cheese. Softened, you'll be able to divide it into tiny clumps and serve on top of the butternut squash wedges for people to smear themselves.
Get the kids into this crowd-pleasing vegetable too by pureeing it up for a mac and cheese sauce. You can find recipes for this online and trust me on this! It's one of the easiest ways to get more good stuff into a picky person's diet.
Kale is the summer green that keeps giving into the fall. It's been touted as tasting EVEN SWEETER after the first frost. That's good news for your green smoothies folks. Grind a few tablespoons of oats up in a blender, add a handful of kale, a banana, a bit of honey to taste and your favourite milk. Whiz that up for a healthy breakfast on-the-go.
Destemmed kale is great in salads, sliced thin or torn into bite-sized pieces. Massage olive oil and lemon juice into the kale with your hands, and season with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Or give it the same kind of love with your fave dressing — Caesar works especially well. It needs to sit a bit to wilt and soften, which is why it's ideal for transporting to lunch.
To get ahead on meals, mix up a triple batch of kale pesto and freeze. Pull that out at any time to use for pastas or as a sandwich spread. Make this superfood pesto easily by using a two parts destemmed kale to one part basil ratio in your favourite pesto recipe. And don't throw out those stems! They make a great pesto too, just swap them in for some of the leaves.
This isn't the first month you've been able to get local beets, but this just might be the last. Scoop them up, then peel and grate them raw for salads. If you want to get extra fancy, toss them with grated carrots and dress the whole thing up with a thyme vinaigrette, to serve as individual scoops in a whole leaf of butter lettuce for a utensil-free salad wrap.
And befriend your mandoline for beet chips. To get that crispy texture right, it's worth taking the extra step to salt them first and let a bit of moisture drain off. Then oil them and bake in a 300F degree oven, checking frequently and flipping them once during cooking. It should take about 45-60 minutes to get them crunchy. Kept checking and tasting so they don't burn.
Or make nutritious beet pasta by spiralizing them. Roast those pretty curls so they sweeten and soften a bit, then toss with a your favourite vinaigrette to serve. And don't toss healthy, beet greens tops. They are needed for a smoothie.
And we can't talk about beets without discussing their inclusion in baked goods. They pair perfectly with chocolate, which you'll see in the velvet cake recipe below. Or try them in other doughs like pizza and bread for a unexpected pink twist.
Your grape vines have been giving you shade all summer but September is when they reach their full potential. We're big fans of concord grapes with their punchy, grape flavour. They taste just like the purple bottled juice!
While you may find concord seedless grapes, the ones growing over the trellis in your backyard probably have seeds. Removing them isn't hard; just slice the grapes in half and remove the seeds (there's usually four) with the tip of a sharp paring knife. Or keep them in, make jam and strain them out at the end.
Deseeded grapes can be used in baking, just swap them in for the blueberries in your fave treats or make pie. And be sure to try grape focaccia, an Italian favourite. Grab a recipe online and serve with a glass of red wine, may we suggest.
For another fun sipper, extract the juice from the grapes to drink. To do this, simmer one pound of concord grapes with the zest and juice from one lemon and half a cup of sugar. Cook until all the grapes have broken down, about 20 minutes, and press through a fine-mesh sieve. To serve, mix with soda water (or Prosecco) and more fresh lemon juice. Alternatively, pour over ice and a shot of vodka or gin for a late summer cocktail.
Snacking on apples is wonderful but why stop there?? While apples can be found year-round, they'll never be firmer or fresher than they are now. Load up on as many as you can carry and make apple chips by dehydrating them in your oven for snacks. Or slice them up thin and slip them into sandwiches, quesadillas, or onto pizza.
Consider grilling them too while the weather's still good. Serve them charred and slightly softened and wrapped in prosciutto as we suggested you do with peaches last month. Or pair them with grilled with pork — always a match.
Enjoying them fresh doesn't have to be boring either. Slice them into matchsticks and mix with grated kohlrabi and your favourite coleslaw dressing for a stunning autumn salad. Pomegranate seeds or a crunchy nut will round that dish out.
And while apples pies and crisps may be top of mind, try apple dumplings too. Peel and core the apples but leave them whole. Sprinkle the outside with cinnamon sugar. Make a pastry dough with baking powder for added lightness, and wrap each apple up as individual packages and egg wash each one. Drizzle with a sugar syrup made by simmering the peels with brown sugar and water and bake in a 375F degree oven for about 45-60 minutes until the pastry is cooked and apples inside are nice and soft. Different than a pie but just as good with ice cream!
With all those ideas, it's time to get cooking. If you need a little more direction, start with one of these recipes below. Bring fall to your table and make these your own!
Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.