Celebrate apple season with easy cider recipes




If heirloom tomatoes in all their pink, green and purple glory are the quintessential taste of summer, then apples must surely be the flavor of fall.

Crispy-sweet or pleasantly tart, the fruits of Johnny Appleseed’s labor in the early 19th century are the go-to fruit for any number of autumnal dishes; great for filling pies and adding crunch to a gooey grilled cheese, they also pair incredibly well with pork chops and add texture to soup.

Plus, they’re incredibly easy to find in Pennsylvania, which ranks fourth in the nation for apple production. And because apples come in so many different varieties, they’re a simple way to change up your daily menu or just give it a jolt of color.

But chopping up and cooking with autumn’s favorite fruit is just the start. The juice pressed from apples — what we commonly know as cider — also makes for some wonderful seasonal creations.

Cider adds an sweet earthiness to fall cooking, and it’s as good a culinary friend to savory items such as cider-brined turkey or chicken as it is to sweet dishes such as doughnuts, cakes and waffles. Boiled down into a gooey syrup, cider can be used as a base for a zippy vinaigrette to drizzle over salad greens or roasted root vegetables; a glaze for homemade cakes or fritters; add depth to a crock of baked beans; or lift a craft cocktail to new heights.

At Acorn in Shadyside, for example, bartender RaeLynn Harshman Gigler (wife of PG Munch writer Dan Gigler) is pairing cider with tequila, mezcal and cardamom bitters for a crisp fall drink. Cider also can be used as a steaming liquid for vegetables, pairs nicely with chicken stock in a rice dish, and because of its natural acidity, helps tenderize and add flavor to a pot of beef stew. A good glug or two also will make your mashed potatoes taste creamier. 

And if you prefer the hard stuff?  Fermented cider (or what the Brits simply call “cider”) can be used to poach fish or shrimp or steam mussels; to braise meats such as brisket or a pork roast; create tangy pan sauces; and to help break down a pork shoulder into tender strands of meat for pulled pork sandwiches. In using hard cider, you’ll be paying homage to a beverage that’s as American as, well, apple pie.  The Pilgrims brought cider-making equipment with them to Massachusetts, and by the mid-1700s, the average American — kids included —  drank some 35 gallons of hard cider a year. 

Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson famously brewed hard cider. If you want your cider-centric recipes to be 100 percent homemade, you can, too, using some store-bought apple juice and a couple of inexpensive supplies from your local home brewing store.

Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

Cider Baked Beans

PG tested

I used a blend of regular apple cider and hard cider made by my husband. If you don’t have the time or patience for dried beans, substitute 2 15-ounce cans cooked beans for every cup of dried beans. I forgot to soak mine overnight in water, and it took FOREVER for them to cook in the crock pot. 

3 cups dried great northern beans, picked over and rinsed

6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large onion, finely chopped

1/3 cup tomato paste

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 dried bay leaves

3 to 4 cups apple cider and/or hard cider, as needed

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place beans in large bowl. Cover with water by several inches. Refrigerate, covered, overnight, then drain. 

Preheat a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker.

In large skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes, then drain on paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet, reduce heat to medium-low and add onion. Cook until translucent, about 15 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, then raise heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes. Add Worcestershire, mustard, brown sugar, vinegar, cayenne, bay leaves and 3 cups cider. Stir well to combine and simmer until thickened slightly for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Add beans to slow cooker and toss with cider sauce. Pour cider sauce over beans and stir to combine. If necessary, add up to 1 cup more cider to cover beans. Cover and cook on low until beans are tender, 6 to 7 hours (or on high for 3 to 3½ hours). Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Serves 6 to 8.

— “Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker” from the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living (Clarkson Potter, August 2017, $26)

 

Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash and Fried Sage

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Risotto typically calls for a splash or two of dry white wine to tenderize the rice before adding the chicken stock. This recipe uses hard cider instead. For a sweeter dish, add the squash at the beginning with the butter; it will soften during cooking. 

1 butternut squash (2 pounds)

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 cups chicken stock

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

2 shallots, finely minced

1½ cups Arborio rice 

1/2 cup hard cider

1 teaspoon saffron threads

20 fresh sage leaves

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. Place squash on a sheet pan and toss it with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Place in bowl and set aside.

While squash is roasting, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt  butter and saute shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes until translucent but not browned. Add  rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add cider and cook for 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup stock to rice along with saffron, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Stir and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring every few minutes. Continue until rice is cooked through but still al dente, about 30 minutes total.

While risotto is cooking, fry the sage: Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add sage, toss to coat, and fry until leaves are darker green and crispy. Transfer to a paper-towel covered plate and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set aside.

When risotto is done cooking (it will be creamy and slightly firm to the bite), add the roasted squash  and Parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve at once in warm bowls. topped with fried sage leaves.

Serves 6.

— Adapted from Inagarten.com

Apple Cider Roasted Squash

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Apple cider boils down to a thick, rich syrup that’s the bee’s knees in a tangy vinaigrette for sides and salads. Here, it’s drizzled over slices of roasted acorn squash. 

2 medium acorn squash

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1 cup apple cider

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel squash and cut into 1-inch pieces. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons oil and ¾ teaspoon salt. Roast in oven until golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the cider to a boil in a small non-reactive saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid has reduced to ¼ cup, 12 to 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the reduced cider, vinegar, mustard, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir in parsley.

Transfer squash to a platter and drizzle with the vinaigrette just before serving.

— Delish.com

Vermont Apple Cider Doughnuts

PG tested

The batter will be sticky, so be sure to flour not only the parchment paper-covered pan but also your hands and the doughnut cutter. It’s also crucial to keep the oil at a steady 375 degrees by using a thermometer and to fry only a few doughnuts at a time. If you crowd the pan, the dough will absorb the oil instead of cooking it instantly

1½ cups fresh apple cider

1 cup sugar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

2 large eggs, room temperature.

3½ cups flour

1¼ teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

6 cups canola or safflower oil for frying

Cinnamon-sugar (1½ cups sugar mixed with 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon for sprinkling)

Place apple cider in saucepan over medium heat and cook it down to 1/3 cup, about 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl using a mixer, beat together sugar and butter until mixture is pale and fluffy, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a minute after each. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.

Pour buttermilk, boiled cider and vanilla into the sugar-butter-egg mixture. Mix well and don’t worry if the mixture looks a bit curdled; it’ll smooth itself out. Add the flour mixture and gently mix just until fully moistened. The mixture may appear a bit lumpy, but the most important thing is not to over mix.

Line baking sheets with wax paper or parchment paper and dust generously with flour. Turn dough out onto a baking sheet and gently pat into a 3/4-inch-thickness. Sprinkle dough with additional flour, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Pour oil into a large pot and heat over medium-high heat until it reaches 375 degrees. 

Using a lightly floured 3-inch doughnut cutter (or biscuit cutters), cut out about 18 doughnuts with holes. You can gather the scraps and re-roll as needed, but you may need to chill the dough more to firm it up.

Drop 3 or 4 doughnuts into the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan. Cook until browned on one side, about 1 minute, then flip over and fry 1½ minutes longer. Transfer using a spider, tongs or slotted spoon to lined plate to drain. Repeat the process with the remaining dough. Sprinkle doughnuts with cinnamon-sugar mixture while still warm.

Makes 18 doughnuts.

—  “The Apple Lovers Cookbook” by Amy Traverso (W. W. Norton & Co., 2011)

Apple A Day Cocktail

1 ounce Hornitos reposado tequila

1/2 ounce del maguey Vida mezcal

1½ ounces Sorgels apple cider

1/2 cardamom simple syrup*

3/4 ounce lemon juice

2 to 3 dashes cardamom bitters

Shake all ingredients and stain over ice into a highball glass. Garnish with apple slice

Makes 1 cocktail.

— RaeLynn Harshman Gigler, Acorn 

To make cardamom simple syrup: Crack open 6 or 7 cardamom pods and place in saucepan with I cup of sugar and 1 cup water. Bring all ingredients to a boil and then let simmer for 10 minutes.





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