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I really do love fall produce. Yesterday, I snatched up two pounds of quinces, two pints of fresh chestnuts, a large knobby celery root (celeriac) and a half-dozen Yukon Gold potatoes. Today I added one of my favorite varieties of apples, the newly-available Honeycrisp hybrid. I may use the quinces to make jam, since I’m getting perilously close to the end of last year’s batch, but I’ll probably keep them around for a while to perfume the house and look festive.The rest of my haul got used in tonight’s dinner. All I had planned to make was a simple and comforting dinner of soup and bread, but I found aged Mahon cheese on sale when I bought the apples, which added a first course. The chestnuts I had roasted and peeled last night had to get used for something pretty quickly, and I remembered that the chestnut paste I had made for the chestnut risotto in The Olives Table had been much tastier on its own than in the risotto, so I thought I’d experiment with making it into a spread to have with the soup. I also remembered while roasting the chestnuts that I had two unused roasted sweet potatoes in the fridge, and, having been tempted by a pumpkin pie while buying bread, I decided to throw together a brulee-like sweet potato custard baked in ramekins (because I was too lazy to bother with pastry).

Bit by bit, without even intending to, I managed to put together a meal so full of fall flavors and so unpretentiously grand that it could easily count as a feast. I’ve spent three times as long on Thanksgiving menus less well-rounded than this. As a matter of fact, I may use some of these elements for Thanksgiving this year. This dinner was a lovely way to wind down the weekend and ring in the season, and I didn’t even break a sweat. Don’t you just love it when things work out this well?

A Celebration of Autumn

First Course
Honeycrisp Apples and Aged Mahon Cheese

Main Course
Celeriac and Yukon Gold Potato Soup
Thyme-scented Chestnut Pate on Toasts

Dessert
Sweet Potato Brulees

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Celeriac and Yukon Gold Potato Soup
Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 large shallots, finely chopped
4 ribs celery, roughly chopped
1 large celery root, peeled and diced
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
6 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste (depending on saltiness of stock)
Half a dozen grinds black pepper, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground celery seed
1/2 cup to 1 cup half & half

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large pot until the butter is melted. Add the onions and shallots, and saute until softened. Add the celery and continue cooking for two minutes. Add the celery root, potatoes, stock, salt, pepper, and celery seed, and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to maintain a simmer until the celery root and potatoes are soft, approximately 30-40 minutes.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender or food mill until smooth. Stir in enough half & half to thin to desired consistency, correct the seasonings, and serve.

Notes: Leeks would certainly work well here, but I only had onions and shallots on hand.

Thyme-Scented Chestnut Pate
Makes 2 cups

1 1/2 cups chestnuts, roasted and peeled
1 onion, minced
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the above in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer gently until the chestnuts are tender, approximately 20 minutes. Puree in a food processor until smooth, adding additional cream if necessary. Season to taste and serve with good bread, preferably toasted.

Notes: Since this made way more than the Lord and I can reasonably finish in the next few days, I’m thinking of freezing it and using it later as a filling for ravioli, as suggested in the recipe notes.

Sweet Potato Brulees
Makes 4 large brulees or 6-8 in ramekins

2 large sweet potatoes, baked and mashed (approx. 14 oz)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large eggs
1 cup plus two tablespoons half & half
2 tablespoons rum
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Coarse sugar for bruleeing

Preheat oven to 375F.

Whisk together the sweet potatoes, sugar, and dry ingredients until smooth. Whisk in the eggs, half & half, rum and vanilla, then pour into brulee molds or ramekins. Place on a baking sheet lined with a towel, and pour in enough hot water to thoroughly soak the towel, being careful not to splash into the custards.

Bake the custards until no longer jiggly in the center when shaken gently, approximately 20 minutes. Cool completely.

Just before serving, sprinkle the tops of the custards with a thin, even layer of sugar, and brulee with a kitchen torch or under the broiler until bubbling and caramelized. Once the sugar hardens, serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Notes: The spices were a tiny bit heavy in this recipe, which I modified from last year’s pumpkin pie. While you don’t really expect to taste much pumpkin flavor in pumpkin pie, I do like the taste of sweet potatoes and I would have preferred that their flavor had been a little more prominent here. Next time, I’ll probably cut the spices by at least a third, and use bourbon instead of rum for a more Southern note.

I didn’t actually brulee them, since my torch is out of butane, but I definitely would have if I’d had the gas. Besides the fact that I just love playing with the torch, I think the crunch of the sugar would make a nice contrast with the smoothness of the custard.

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