6 Fall Ingredients Chefs Are Excited About—And You Should Be Too
Cucamelons and crosnes don’t exactly spill out of your average horn of plenty; in fact, if you’re like most of us, you couldn't pick them out of a lineup. But that’s about to change. These greenmarket treasures—along with a handful of other, lesser-known finds—are currently generating serious interest among chefs across the country. And where chefs go, we follow. Here’s what we learned about six of the season's trending-est ingredients, along with the best places to try them.
You could argue it’s the pom-pom shape of their flowers that make chrysanthemums so perfect for football season, but what gets chefs’ attention is the rich nutrients in their leaves. “Hardy” is an overused word, but in this case it’s just right. Chrysanthemum greens are sturdy; along with their grassy, mildly bitter flavor, that makes them perfect in soups, stews, or sautés. Cooks in Asia have long known that, of course. Now we’re discovering it in the US, too, through chefs like Edward Kim of Chicago’s Mott Street, who recreates a family recipe by stirring them into a hot pot of mussels, anchovies, tofu and vegetables. Two Italian restaurants in New York City have also embraced their rough charms. Chef Fortunato Nicotra of Felidia sautés them with garlic oil and pistachio before shaving aged Rupert cheese on top and serving alongside a grilled wagyu beef tartare. "I like the texture of chrysanthemum leaves much better than that of spinach, and I love the taste—a mix between mustard greens and dandelions,” says Nicotra. At Don Angie, husband-and-wife team Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli highlight the leaves’ “lacy” texture in their spin on a Caesar salad, loaded with garlic, parmesan and a crunch of sesame seeds.
Sometimes called Chinese artichokes and often compared to sunchokes, crosnes (pronounced “crones”) look like bulbous, misshapen garden worms. Hold your judgment, though. They’re actually tiny tubers, and they’re gently nutty and earthy and deliver a poppy crunch like the one you get from a water chestnut. They’re good raw, pickled, roasted or sautéed in butter, which makes them a chef’s secret weapon for adding texture to any dish. Franklin Becker of Claudio’s Waterfront in Greenport, New York, likes to sear them and combine them with Peconic bay scallops, mushrooms, and leeks in brown butter—or, if he’s feeling even earthier, with snails, scallions, and black garlic. Michael Tusk of Quince in San Francisco shares Becker’s fondness for the seafood match; he likes how they counterbalance the soft texture of fish while offering a bit of a “surprise” element to the palate. He’s paired crosnes with spiny lobster, pumpkin, and lemon verbena; with razor clams plus cardoons and potatoes; and with Nantucket bay scallops dressed in yuzu.
No mystery in this name: the cucamelon is, yes, a tiny hybrid of cucumber and melon. It also goes by the far-less-fun-to-say name “Mexican sour gherkin.” And while they may resemble watermelons fit for a dollhouse, they actually pack big flavor— tart and citrusy. They don’t require much preparation, either; they’re terrific raw, great for jazzing up salads and relishes. Chef Rhys Lewis of The Woodstock Inn in Woodstock, Vermont, harvests cucamelons from the Inn’s 3-acre garden, and then, taking cues from the fruit’s Mexican heritage, uses them in a salsa with shishito peppers and teardrop tomatoes to top swordfish. In New York City, Atla chef de cuisine Marisol Corona features them in a colorful crudité alongside rainbow carrots, lemon cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, cauliflower, kohlrabi, chayote, and little gem lettuce. They make great dippers for guacamole, she says.
You've always known these sunny flowers can dress up a room; turns out they can also brighten up a dish, lending it saffron-like color and a faintly bitter, herbal, peppery zing. At Elske in Chicago, chefs Anna and David Posey serve marigold petal crackers with a tea of smoked fruit and vegetables. “The cracker is a Danish-style seeded rye bread with mushroom duxelles, roasted shiitakes, black vinegar and citrus marigolds,” says Scott. The cracker, he says, brings a floral note to an otherwise very savory bite. Chef de cuisine Madison Tessener at Jolie in Raleigh, North Carolina, makes a butter sauce with marigold petals that come straight from the restaurant’s rooftop garden. The sauce lends delicacy and bold color to their escargots.
The return of braising season may be the best thing about Fall, and few meats take better to the method than the neck cuts of chicken, turkey, pork, and lamb. Low-and-slow brings out the best in necks, coaxing a soft texture and irresistibly rich flavor. Chef Ray Garcia at Broken Spanish in Los Angeles makes a righteous taco out of chicken necks, chile de arbol, and lime salt. At Juniper and Ivy in San Diego, chef Anthony Wells wraps za’atar-seasoned lamb neck in puff pastry for a Middle Eastern-tinged Wellington. And chef Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s pork neck “gravy” is more than just a sauce at Chicago’s The Purple Pig: it’s a substantial meal unto itself, made of stewed meat topped with ricotta and sweetened with San Marzano tomatoes.
Sweet Potato Leaves and Vines
Sweet potatoes are the quintessential fall vegetable, a holiday signature without which the Thanksgiving table just isn’t complete. But they’re so much more than that famous root. Their sharply-flavored leaves and vines are edible, too, and sturdy enough to stand up to cool-weather cooking methods like braising, sautéing, broiling, baking, or simmering in soups and stews. Chef Brandon Chavannes of St. Cecilia in Atlanta likes that “the vines have a delicate crunch, and the leaves can be used to wrap poached fish or can be cooked down like kale or any other hearty green.” These days, Chavannes is using wilted leaves as a bed for quail stuffed with paella. You’ll also find the leaves on chef Charleen Badman’s menu at FnB in Scottsdale, Arizona. She loves to use them “when they’re small and tender in a salad, and when they’re larger in a broth with Arizona’s fall corn.”