I had such hope.

An advertising flyer arrived a couple of weeks ago from a specialty food shop in our area. It featured a recipe for pumpkin gnocchi.

I had such hope. The picture on the flyer was beautiful. The recipe, straightforward. What a perfect way to usher in the cooler mid-Atlantic weather and celebrate my friend, T’s, birthday.

Now, I’ve made gnocchi before. It ended up in the trashcan. But I’d studied (studied!The Rustic Plate‘s recent post about overcoming gnocchi challenges. And I had such hope.

But nope. My gnocchi was disastrous. Heavy. Raw in the center. Doughy and flavorless. I tossed the batch and made Brussels sprouts instead. (Sorry T.)

***

My pumpkin gnocchi may have tanked, but pumpkin is still one of my favorite ways to celebrate the beginning of autumn. I like to keep a container of it in the fridge, where it’s handy to fold into muffin batter, soups (I swear it’s the secret ingredient in our local sandwich shop’s butternut squash bisque) and pancakes.

pancakes

There’s no science involved. Just spoon a couple of dollops into whatever you’re making and add a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to your dry ingredients (or your soup seasonings). Voila! Fall on a plate.

My other go-to fall favorites:

Sage

sage

Sage gets a starring role in the Thanksgiving dressing, but it languishes the rest of the year.

That’s okay … unless you have an indestructible bush of the stuff growing in your garden. This time of year, I like to clip a few meatballs rawleaves, cut them into thin strips and fry them in a bit of olive oil. The crunchy, earthy bits are perfect for sprinkling over meats or vegetables, giving whatever I’ve made an instant autumn flavor.

If you don’t like your sage crispy, add a leaf or two, finely chopped, to sauces, soups or meat mixtures like the meatballs here. Sage’s winey, dusky flavor adds depth and warmth.

Chili

chili2

I could eat Chocolate Chili year-round, but my family insists it’s a cold-weather dish. Mid-September, I make big pots for weeknight meals and pull out all the toppings: Cheddar, sour cream, scallions and big chunks of lime to garnish our bowls. (Hmmm, maybe it’s the add-ins I really crave.)

Butternut Squash

butternut

It’s growing in the garden now and should be ready for harvesting in about a month. This hearty winter squash can be pureed into soups, stirred into risottos and roasted in big chunks with sweet potatoes and other root vegetables. My favorite way to serve it is in a main-dish salad: Roast 1/2-inch squares with plenty of olive oil, salt and pepper, then toss the warm and tender squash with hearty lettuces, dried cranberries and candied walnuts. (Add some bacon and blue cheese if you feel daring.)

Cast Iron

pie in skillet

Pack those pretty pie plates away with your summer linens. You can bake a pie in a cast-iron skillet. Try Mrs. Hovis‘s deep-dish beauty, or simply use your favorite fall fruit recipe (thank you Four & Twenty Blackbirds for showing us this can be done). You’ll have a rustic presentation and deeply caramelized flavor. Just be sure to grease your skillet well so the pie doesn’t stick!

***

This is my 300th post. And as in years’ past, I take note of that milestone by giving a shout-out to some of my favorite bloggers from the past year:

To Serena, whose Rustic Plate inspires me with its elegance, artistry and attention to cooking detail;

To Kristine, who not only writes with clarity and authority on her blog, candidkay, but who challenges me to look at my own life and attitude with new eyes;

To Andrew at Have Bag, Will Travel, who shows me parts of the world I might not otherwise see and whose passion for travel is contagious;

To Anna, whose Spoonful Of Nature has a wisdom and grace that belie her young years; and

To Katie at Cakes, Tea and Dreams, whose passion for reading sparks my own.

I raise a virtual glass to you all!

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