Sure enough, it has happened again this year, just like clockwork. It's been this way for millenniums: It's autumn!
Where I live, it usually comes with a blast of uninvited frigid air whipping off the North Atlantic as salty and crisp as a Lay's potato chip.
I have mixed emotions about this season. I don't look forward to dragging the charcoal grill into the shed or tucking my vegetable garden into bed. The only thing standing at this point are Brussels sprouts waiting for a frost to nip them and mellow out their flavor.
I'll miss the summer sizzle of the grill, and the BLT sandwiches made with home-grown beefsteak tomatoes and lettuce – probably my favorite summer meal.
But ready or not, it's time to move indoors.
As I am a compulsive cook, one thing that lures me back into the kitchen is poring over stacks of cookbooks and faded, old recipe cards and coming up with a savory stew or two.
Nothing is more comforting than coming in from raking leaves and being greeted by the sweet and pungent aroma of a meat and vegetable concoction that has been simmering in a piquant herb-flavored stock. Nothing is more rewarding than inviting a group of guests over to enjoy it, and nothing's more fun and challenging than coming up with an original recipe of your own.
That's the beauty of stews: You can play with them and have the satisfaction of adding your own personal touch to make them your own. I can't think of any stew recipe where all the ingredients are written in stone – even the most classic ones.
Don't have any leeks? Use onions. Don't like turnips? Use carrots, or better yet, parsnips. Don't cook with wine? Use beef or vegetable stock.
One thing I've discovered is that there aren't a lot of pork stews out there. There are plenty of beef, lamb, and chicken stews, but far fewer pork ones.
Some of this is for cultural or religious reasons of course, but even so, most of us eat our share of hams, bacon, ribs, and roasts, even pigs' feet and smoked hocks.
So the past few weeks I've been playing around with pork stew, and I've come up with one that has received good reviews from my friends (see recipe).
The chicken stew recipe (adapted below) appeared on the cover of a local public radio station magazine some 40 years ago. The article featured a photograph of a beaming Julia Child and James Beard over the headline "Chicken With Forty Cloves of Garlic."
The subhead read, "Forty cloves may not be enough."
In the original recipe, the garlic cloves are unpeeled to keep them intact, but you may remove the skin if you prefer.
Although the original recipe calls for dry vermouth, chicken broth may be substituted.
I recently served this dish to a number of guests and all agreed I could have doubled the garlic. When cooked, the garlic loses its strong flavor and becomes remarkably sweet. So don't be shy.
PORK STEW WITH APPLE, APRICOTS, AND SQUASH
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-1/2 lbs. boneless pork, cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 bay leaves
3/4 lb. butternut squash, cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
12 dried apricots
1 Granny Smith apple, cored, peeled, and cubed
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add pork and sauté, stirring until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Add onion and pepper; cook
5 minutes, or until onion is soft. Add garlic; cook another 2 minutes.
Add chicken broth and herbs. Cover and simmer 20 minutes.
Add squash and carrots. Cover and simmer 10 minutes.
Add apricots and apple. Cover and simmer an additional 10 minutes.
CHICKEN WITH FORTY CLOVES OF GARLIC
Serves 6 to 8
1/4 cup olive oil
4 to 5 lbs. of chicken pieces
2 ribs celery, cut into 4-inch strips
2 medium onions, chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 4-inch pieces
1 bunch flat-leafed parsley, chopped
1 small sprig of rosemary, or
1/2 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1-1/2 cups dry vermouth, white wine, or chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
40 cloves (or more) garlic, unpeeled
Place all ingredients in a large Dutch oven or heavy saucepan, saving some parsley for garnish.
Stir to coat and heat to boiling. Turn down to simmer and cover tightly. Cook undisturbed for about 1 to 1-1/4 hours, or until chicken and garlic are very tender.
Divide into separate dishes and garnish with parsley and a copious amount of black pepper.
If you elect not to peel the garlic, it should be squeezed from its papery skin with a fork and spread on the French bread. Dip bread into the broth.