BY CAROLYN O’NEIL
Fall fashions with richer colors, sleeker shapes and sturdier fabrics signal a time to put summer’s gauzy pastels away and get ready for a change in the weather.
The same thing’s happening on seasonal restaurant menus as chefs turn to autumn’s rustic flavors.
Melons and berries make way for baked apples and roasted acorn squash. Citrus sauces recede, and toasted nuts arrive.
“It’s actually one of the easiest seasons to cook from,” said Clifford Pleau, executive chef and director of culinary development for Seasons 52 restaurants, “because summer’s sun leads to autumn harvests.”
So why not enjoy three varieties of squash at once?
Pleau created a squash trio of delicata, acorn and butternut, but rather than slathering on the butter, he livens up the vegetable side dish with a tasty glaze of maple syrup, chipotle, mint and lime juice.
Even though the menu at Seasons 52’s two Atlanta restaurants boasts the light promise of “every item under 475 calories,” dishes are dressed warmly for fall with robust flavors created through roasting meats and vegetables.
“The mushrooms for the chicken cabernet are cooked in a basket over the grill to capture smoky aromas before we add them to the red wine sauce. Roasting brings out the essential flavors in foods with very little additional seasoning,” Pleau said.
Other healthy signs of fall on the menu are high fiber foods including wild rice, dried cranberries, Brussels sprouts, roasted beets and mashed sweet potatoes.
Another nutritional plus: The inspiring spectrum of pigments found in autumn’s harvest, from deep orange squash to dark green kale, indicates these foods are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants and healthful plant compounds called phytonutrients.
Healthful options from autumn harvest
Apples — vitamin C and fiber. There are 5 grams of fiber in one medium apple. Rediscover baked apples for dessert, and don’t forget apple appeal in savory dishes. At JCT Kitchen in Atlanta, executive chef Ford Fry’s fall menu features North Georgia apple and fennel sauce with pork tenderloin.
Brussels sprouts — fiber, vitamin C and folate. There are 3 grams of fiber in four sprouts. You can eat four of them, can’t you? Pleau roasts Brussels sprouts and serves them with a wasabi sour cream.
Cauliflower — vitamin C and folate. Very low in calories, with just 25 in one-sixth of a head. Roast, again. Fry uses high heat to make a roasted cauliflower soup at JCT Kitchen.
Collard greens, turnip greens and kale — vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber and calcium. That’s right: The mineral calcium, known for being in milk, is also found in these greens. JCT Kitchen’s collard greens are gussied up with a hot pepper vinegar.
Mushrooms — low calorie, high in riboflavin, good source of niacin. Mushrooms add rich flavors to soups and stews. Pleau said, “Mushrooms are sponge food! They soak up flavors and add volume to dishes with little calorie impact.”
Winter squash and pumpkin — vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, fiber and folate. Seasons 52’s shot-glass-sized pumpkin pie with ginger snap crust satisfies fall dessert cravings in small servings.
Sweet potatoes — fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium. Count 100 calories for one medium sweet potato. Roast and enjoy without added butter.
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@ carolynoneil.com.