- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

Sunset arrives earlier and daylight later. There is a nip in the air. It must be fall. But it’s the butternut squash sitting in the bowl on my counter — where all summer I kept tomatoes, peaches and plums — that drives the fact home.

The markets are filled with hard-skinned squash: the easily recognizable dark green scalloped acorn, the old-fashioned giant-sized Hubbard, the easy-to-cut buttercup with its squat, drumlike shape and the turban-shaped kabocha. But always, the first squash I cook in the fall is acorn.

Acorn makes a rich, creamy soup delicious when served with crisp pieces of bacon sprinkled on the top. I like it cut up and cooked in beef stew or steamed in a rice pilaf, but when I need a side-dish vegetable, I simply cut it into long wedges, sprinkle it with olive oil and roast it in a hot oven.

In the following recipe, I cut the squash into large cubes and roast it along with red bell peppers, potatoes and red onions. A seasoning of crushed dried coriander seeds and black pepper adds a little zip to the sweet, rich taste of the roasted squash.

I like it served with boneless pork chops (sometimes called pork cutlets) that have been seared in a hot skillet and drizzled with a light sauce of apple cider that has been boiled down to a syrup in the pan drippings. For dessert, serve a warm applesauce flavored with maple syrup.

Boneless pork chops with apple cider sauce

The preparation time is 10 minutes, and the cooking time is 20 minutes.

4 thick (or 8 thin) boneless center-cut pork chops or cutlets

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups apple cider

2 garlic cloves, bruised with the side of a knife

1 cinnamon stick

Sprinkle chops well with salt and pepper. Heat a thin film of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet until very hot. Add chops and cook, adjusting heat to maintain a steady sizzle. Cook pork chops uncovered, turning once, until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes per side depending on thickness. Do not overcook, or they will be tough. Remove to a serving platter, and cover with foil.

Add cider, garlic and cinnamon stick to skillet, and heat to boiling over high heat. Boil, stirring, until cider is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Tip the plate with the pork over the skillet, and drain any juices on the plate into the skillet. Continue boiling until reduced to about cup, about 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick. Pour sauce over pork, and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Roasted acorn squash, red bell pepper and potatoes

The preparation time is 15 minutes, and the cooking time is 45 minutes.

1 acorn squash (about 1 pounds), halved, seeds removed

1 pound new potatoes, halved or quartered; if large, peeled and quartered

1 large red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, cut into 1-inch wedges

1 large red onion, cut into -inch wedges

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon dried coriander seed, crushed with the side of a knife or a mortar and pestle

teaspoon kosher salt

teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cut squash into 1-inch pieces. Combine squash, potatoes, bell pepper and red onion in a large, shallow baking pan.

Drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with crushed coriander seed, salt and black pepper. Roast in 400-degree oven, turning once, until vegetables are golden and tender, about 45 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

Warm applesauce with maple syrup

If you have a food mill, don’t peel the apples. It saves time and preserves some of the nutrients found in and near the skin.

11/2 pounds McIntosh, Jonathan, Golden Delicious or other flavorful apples, washed thoroughly in warm water

1 cinnamon stick

2 tablespoons maple syrup, or to taste

Quarter apples, and cut out the stems and cores. Halve each quarter crosswise directly into a large saucepan.

Add cinnamon stick and about cup water to the apples, and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring often until apples are very soft, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Remove cinnamon stick.

Place a food mill over a large bowl, and puree the apples through it. Discard the skins. Return cinnamon stick to the applesauce, and add maple syrup to taste. Serve warm or chilled. Makes 4 servings.

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