Even here in Miami, the signs of fall weather are starting to show. Sure, it’s not like in New England, where the leaves are all changing colors and people are heading out into the countryside to try to beat the pictures they’ve captured over previous years. Still, the weather is starting to cool down and there is a definite feeling that summer has come to an end.
As this continues, I start to crave more autumnal foods than the ultra-light, cool and crisp dishes I prefer during the heat of the summer. Still, in the name of health and of the mild Miami weather, I try to lighten up my fall meals to keep up their appeal and keep down their impact on our waistlines.
I’ve found a number of recipes over the years that both Peter and I absolutely love. They still feature the fall ingredients we crave at this time of year, but they avoid the very high amounts of fat, salt and sugar that we shouldn’t be eating anyway. These are recipes that I’ve collected and tweaked over time and that I have stored in a special “fall foods” part of my recipe box. More recently, I’ve stored my favorites in my phone to be able to share them with friends and family and to keep them handy since I’ve become one of those people who now brings her phone everywhere she goes (despite promises to myself never to do that).
These lighter versions of delicious fall meals contain all the flavor, color and seasonality of the dishes we want at this time of year and leave the recipes based on heavy cream, butter and sugar to special occasions when we don’t have to feel guilty about indulging.
From Peter and I to you, here are some of our top fall dishes and how we keep them light despite the fact that they’re perfect for autumn weather (regardless of whether your fall weather is in Florida or New England).
• Roasted pork tenderloin with figs and apples – Instead of adding richness with butter, cheese and/or Dijon mustard, I layer on the flavors of my pork tenderloin using roasted apples and figs. Make sure to choose an apple variety that isn’t intensely sweet. I always look for a more tart option. If I were just using apples, the sweeter ones would be fine, but the figs impart a lot of sweetness, which can make things slightly cloying if the apples are sweet, too. Let the figs provide the sweet earthy notes while your apples give a crisp acidity to break through it all. This is very easy to make but it’s one of my favorites to serve to guests because it looks and tastes like it should be complicated.
• Roasted spaghetti squash – No matter how many times I make this, it still wows me. Maybe it’s the kid in me, but I just love the feeling when I use a fork to pull the “spaghetti” from the squash. Suddenly, it’s as though I’ve prepared an all-veggie angel hair pasta. It’s as easy to make as cutting the squash in half, scooping out the seeds, placing each half face-down on a cookie sheet with a silicone lining (you’ll need to spread a bit of olive oil on the pan so it won’t stick). Then, poke a few holes in the outer shell with a fork. Bake for around an hour until the inside is soft and pull it apart with a fork. I serve it like spaghetti with a mix of sautéed vegetables such as zucchini and mushrooms. Drizzle with a garlic olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. You’ll feel as though you’ve treated yourself to a meal by a master chef, even though your prep time likely wasn’t more than ten minutes.
• Turkey “shepherd’s pie” with vegetable mash – Peter absolutely loves shepherd’s pie. He grew up with it and it was always a favorite. It’s never really topped my comfort foods list but I’ve always made it a few times every fall and winter because it means so much to him. That said, when I decided to get experimental with the recipe, I finally came across an alternative we can both enjoy. I’ve substituted ground turkey for the ground beef or lamb, and I took out the white potatoes in favor of mashed cauliflower or sweet potato. All the rest of the ingredients remain the same. Suddenly, the recipe is bursting with flavor, so Peter no longer reaches for the ketchup to give it that little something that is always missing from a shepherd’s pie. I like to sprinkle a bit of Parmesan cheese over the top before baking it. When that browns, it brings out a wonderful flavor and complements the rest of the dish perfectly.