What’s Cooking: Savory choices for apples

Bee staff

Apples taste great grilled and combined with fennel, bacon and radicchio in this seasonal salad. Top it with a sprinkle of blue cheese.
Apples taste great grilled and combined with fennel, bacon and radicchio in this seasonal salad. Top it with a sprinkle of blue cheese. Los Angeles Times

Heat does wonderful things to apples, smoothing out the tart edges and deepening the flavor. Throw in some cinnamon or other spices and you have the signature flavor of fall.

But, as wonderful as apple pie or cake are, why stop at baking autumn’s favorite fruit? Keep the grill out and toss some apple wedges on it for salad or salsa. Or braise apple slices in cider to double the flavor with sausages and onions.

Fall officially starts in a week, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these apple dishes now.

Apples and sausage in cider, Asturian style

Dry cider is the traditional drink of Asturias, a coastal province of northern Spain, where it is often served or cooked with chorizo or other kinds of sausage. For this recipe, use a crisp, sweet apple. Feel free to substitute chorizo for the sausage.

Adapted from “Apples of Uncommon Character: 123 Heirlooms, Modern Classics and Little-Known Wonders,” by Rowan Jacobsen (Bloomsbury, 2014).

1 pound lamb merguez sausage (casings on or off)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 onion, cut into very thin slices

1 cup dry (hard) apple cider

1 or 2 apples, cored and sliced into half-moons

Kosher salt (optional)

Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Thin, toasted slices of baguette or ciabatta, for serving

Cut the merguez sausage into 1-inch pieces, then use the palm of your hand to flatten each piece.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the sausage; cook, stirring, until the sausage has browned and is releasing some of its juices and fat, about 5 minutes. Pour off all but a tablespoon or two of the rendered fat, if desired.

Add the onion and cider; cook for 6 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the onion has softened. Add the apple slices and stir to incorporate. Cook for 6 minutes, stirring once or twice; some of the liquid will evaporate, slightly thickening the cider sauce. Taste, and add salt if needed.

Divide among individual small bowls. Garnish with the parsley. Serve warm, with the toasted bread slices.

Serves 4 to 6

Maple applesauce

Skip peeling or a food mill. This skin-on version has a little more going for it in terms of texture and flavor. The recipe is flexible; scale up or down as needed.

Use a mix of tender, thin-skinned apples such as Gravenstein, York and Golden Delicious. Other applesauce-worthy varieties: Cortland, Snow and Yellow Transparent. Serve with roast chicken or potato pancakes, or over ice cream for dessert.

Note: The applesauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Recipe adapted from “Apples of Uncommon Character: 123 Heirlooms, Modern Classics and Little-Known Wonders,” by Rowan Jacobsen (Bloomsbury, 2014).

About 6 medium apples, cored and cut into quarters (see note above)

1 cup sweet cider or water, or more as needed (may substitute lemonade)

Drizzle of good-quality maple syrup, or more as needed

Small pinch ground cayenne pepper or Aleppo pepper, or more as needed

2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Combine the apples and cider or water in a heavy-bottomed pot; cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the maple syrup and pepper; cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples are mushy.

Stir in the butter until it has melted, then use an immersion (stick) blender to puree until fairly smooth (or carefully transfer to a food processor and puree). Taste, and add maple syrup or pepper as needed. Serve warm or cold.

Per serving (based on 6): 140 calories, 0 g protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 21 g sugar

Serves 4 to 6

Grilled apple salad

Recipe from the Los Angeles Times.

1/2 pound bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips

1 head radicchio

1 large head fennel

2 tart apples

2 tablespoons minced shallots

1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme

1/4 teaspoon chopped rosemary

5 tablespoons maple syrup

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces blue cheese, preferably Maytag

Cook the bacon strips over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the strips are crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon on paper towels, reserving 3 tablespoons bacon grease.

Remove any wilted outer leaves from the radicchio and slice it lengthwise into eight wedges. Trim the top off the fennel, halve it lengthwise, then slice it crosswise into half-inch strips, discarding the core. Core the apples and cut each into 8 wedges.

Whisk together the shallots, thyme, rosemary, maple syrup, vinegar, reserved bacon grease and olive oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a grind of black pepper, or to taste. This makes about 1 cup vinaigrette.

Brush the apple wedges with a little of the vinaigrette and place them on an oiled grill heated over medium-high heat. Grill the wedges for about 2 minutes on each side, until slightly softened with defined grill marks. Remove and reserve in a warm place. Do the same with the fennel and radicchio.

Divide the apple, fennel and radicchio among 4 plates. Crumble the blue cheese over the salads, and sprinkle over the bacon. Drizzle 1 to 2 teaspoons of the remaining vinaigrette over each salad. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 412 calories; 15 g protein; 33 g carb.; 6g fiber; 25 g fat (10 g sat.); 45 mg chol.; 22 g sugar; 868 mg sodium

Serves 4

Smoky green apple salsa verde

This is a bright, seasonal salsa, great with chips as an appetizer or as a sauce on pork. Note: You’ll need to soak 1 cup of applewood chips in water for an hour. Recipe adapted by The Washington Post from “Smoke: New Firewood Cooking,” by Tim Byres (Rizzoli, $40, 256 pages).

1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed, then cut in half

1 Granny Smith apple, cut in half

1/2 yellow onion, cut into thirds

2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed and seeded

5 cloves garlic

2 cups water

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves

Prepare a charcoal grill for a medium-hot fire. When the coals are ashen, dump them onto one side for indirect grilling. If using a gas grill, preheat grill with all burners on high. When it reaches 500 degrees, adjust for indirect grilling.

Grill the tomatillos and apple halves, cut sides down, until they begin to blacken, 2 to 5 minutes. Drain the wood chips and add them to the charcoal. If using gas, place the drained chips in an aluminum foil pouch with a few fork holes on top, or in a smoker box, and place on the grate.

Move the tomatillos and apple halves to the cool side of the grill and close the lid. Smoke them for no more than 5 minutes; you don’t want them to get over-smoked. Transfer to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, chop tomatillos. Peel and core the apple, then cut it into small dice.

Combine the smoked tomatillos, onion, jalapenos, garlic and water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low so the liquid is barely bubbling at the edges; cook for about 10 minutes, so the vegetables become tender. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables (only) to a mixing bowl.

Increase heat to high and bring remaining liquid to a boil; cook until it has reduced to 1/2 cup. Pour over the vegetables in the bowl. Stir in the salt. Transfer vegetable mixture (and its liquid) to a blender; pulse to form a salsa that’s almost smooth. Add cilantro; pulse 2 or 3 times just to incorporate.

Transfer to a serving bowl; fold in the diced apple. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Makes about 3 cups