A Harvest Moon Dinner
By Alison Boyd and William Sertl
Only yesterday you caught yourself thinking: “Once the kids are back in school I want to have some fancy dinners again. Lay out a big spread with candles all across the table.” (Yes, you did.)
There’s nothing new about celebrating the fall season. The urge to feast is as ancient as Samhain, the Gaelic festival to mark the end of the harvest. Every time you brake for pumpkins along Route 25 or hang sheaves of corn on the door, you’re conjuring the Aztec autumn festival, a last ditch effort to ward off the coming darkness. They say the Druids used to party like crazy around this time of the year too, presumably after the kids were back in school.
If the weather permits, serve your dinner outside or on the porch during the full moon on October 5 or any time this month while the fruits and vegetables last. Don’t worry if the night before the big event you’re terrified, wishing you were dead or at least hadn’t invited the idiots next door. Think of the whole thing as one big Halloween prank. In truth, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of: these recipes are easy, with lots of make-ahead options.
Like the fire in the hearth, a proper fall dinner lures guests in with swirling aromas—in this case of sizzling bacon and steaming leeks—all part of a one-dish Chicken Cobbler topped with biscuits that’s easy to assemble and pop in the oven before the doorbell rings. Instead of flowers, set the table with gold, purple, and linen-white cauliflower, maybe with some romanesco or broccoli, for an easy sauté. While at the farm stands, pick up some nut-brown Bosc pears; we’re going to poach them in a syrup made with one of our fine North Fork dessert wines.
Chicken Cobbler With Leeks and Bacon
5-6 pound plump organic chicken<
1 sprig thyme
1 large onion, halved
1 rib of celery
1 Tsp salt
Place chicken in a large heavy pot (like a Le Creuset) half filled with water. Add thyme, onion, celery, and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer without lid for about 1½ hours. Let cool for an hour. Remove chicken and cut meat into 1-inch cubes. Reserve 3 cups broth, saving the rest for another recipe. (chicken and broth can be left in refrigerator overnight before proceeding to next step)
It’s tempting to add mushrooms, carrots, and celery to the mix, but with such big and beautiful leeks now available across the East End, we like letting their strong flavor speak for itself. (filing can be made up to 12 hours in advance)
4 slices thick-cut bacon, trimmed of excess fat, cut into bite-size
4 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter
4 large leeks, white and pale-green parts finely chopped
4 small shallots, thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs flour
½ cup heavy cream
Fry bacon pieces until done but not crisp; remove and drain on paper towel. When cool, wipe pan and add oil, butter, leeks, and shallots, gently sautéing until vegetables are soft. Sprinkle flour over pan and stir gently to blend. Slowly add 2½ cups of reserved chicken broth and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until liquid thickens. Stir in reserved chicken and bacon, and heat through for 2 minutes. When mixture starts to bubble, stir in cream. Remove from heat and add a few grinds of pepper. Mixture should be moist enough to absorb liquid while baking but not soupy. If dry, add more broth.
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp cream of tartar (optional)
1 cup chilled unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup loosely packed grated Parmigiano
6 scallions, white and pale-green parts finely chopped
1¾ cups buttermilk
1 egg, beaten and added to buttermilk
1 egg, beaten with a few tablespoons of milk added
Pulse flour, salt, baking powder, cream of tartar, and butter in food processor until fine-grained but still gritty (do not over-blend). Add Parmigiano and quickly pulse a few more times. (biscuit mix can be left in refrigerator overnight before proceeding to next step) Remove to a mixing bowl and add scallions. Blend in buttermilk with egg to make a soft, moist dough. Place dough on a flowered surface and roll out to a 1-inch thickness. Cut out rounds using a 3-inch biscuit cutter.
Add chicken-and-leek mixture to an ovenproof dish also to be used for serving. Arrange biscuits on top in a single layer, with enough to cover baking dish but with slivers of space in between to allow biscuits to puff up while baking.
Lightly brush biscuits with beaten egg blended with milk. Bake cobbler in 365-degree oven for 30 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown and filing is cooked through.
Cut cauliflower, romanesco, and broccoli (if using) into florets and sauté in olive oil, shallots, and garlic until soft but still crunchy, adjusting the oil for the amount of vegetables. Add salt while cooking.
Poached Pears in Riesling
Combining the sweetness of dessert wine (like late-harvest Reisling or eiswein) with a medium-dry white (such as pinot blanc) produces the perfect balance for these wonderful pears found all over the Twin Forks this month. Bosc and Barletts are the ones to look for.
1 vanilla bean, split open
1 thin strip of lemon zest, yellow part only
2 cups dessert wine
2 cups medium-dry white wine
1 cup sugar
6 medium-ripe pears, thinly peeled with stalks in tact. Cut a small
slice off bottom of pears so they sit upright during cooking and for serving
Combine vanilla bean, lemon zest, wine, and sugar in a heavy pan, tall enough to hold pears upright in a single layer, and bring to a simmer. After sugar dissolves, add pears and poach gently until they are just soft, about 20 minutes, and can be pierced easily with a sharp paring knife. (pears in juice can be left in refrigerator overnight before proceeding to next step) Pour 2 cups of poaching liquid into a small heavy pan and simmer slowly until reduced to the consistency of syrup—about one cup. Chill syrup and pears separately in refrigerator. To serve, place one pear on each individual plate and gently coat with a couple of tablespoons of syrup. Add a generous dollop of English Devon Cream (available at King Kullen) on the side.
Giving Turkey the Bird
This Thanksgiving, we’re saying “stuff it” to another 20-course meal. Our E-ZPass Dinner is a real feast, but it won’t take a toll on you.
Alison Boyd ran a catering business in her native London before working as a private chef in Bridgehampton. She has since decamped to the North Fork where she cooks frequently with William Sertl, Culture Editor of the Beacon and former travel editor of Saveur and Gourmet magazines. Every Thursday, before their spouses arrive for the weekend, they dine out and plot their next home-cooked meal.