Inside Our Test Kitchen: Preparing Fall Vegetables

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Inside Our Test Kitchen: Preparing Fall Vegetables

While it’s sad to say farewell to summer’s fresh tomatoes and corn, the autumn farmers’ market has much to offer, from cauliflower and kale to mushrooms and squash. We checked in with the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen to discover the cooks’ favorite ways to prepare fall vegetables. Here, they share some tips and delicious recipes for everyday meals as well as for Thanksgiving entertaining.


Whole Roasted Cauliflower


The Test Kitchen’s pièce de résistance: a roasted head of cauliflower. The cooks had eaten a great meal at Cotogna in San Francisco, where they dined on a whole cauliflower that had been cooked on a rotisserie.


“It’s the first time I had seen a restaurant do this,” said Amanda Haas, Test Kitchen Manager. “They treated cauliflower like an entrée, not a side dish. It was such a fun idea that really inspired us. We wanted to try and make this dish approachable for the home cook.”


The impressive result: a recipe for a whole cauliflower that is first poached in water, white wine and aromatics on the stovetop, then roasted in the oven and finally sprinkled with garlicky bread crumbs—all easy to do at home. Serve this dish for a meatless Monday or as a showstopping main course for vegetarians at your Thanksgiving table. And to really wow your guests, Amanda suggested presenting the cauliflower whole on a wooden board and carving it tableside.


Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Garlicky Bread Crumbs


For the cauliflower:

6 quarts (6 l) water

1 bottle (750 ml) Sauvignon Blanc

1/4 cup (2 oz./60 g) kosher salt, plus 1 tsp.

2 Tbs. sugar

3 tsp. red pepper flakes, plus a pinch

3 tsp. fennel seeds

1 1/2 lb. (750 g) whole cauliflower (1 large or 2 small), leaves removed, core left intact but leveled

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) olive oil


For the topping:

1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 tsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. anchovy paste

1 cup regular or gluten-free panko bread crumbs

Sherry vinegar for sprinkling

2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


To prepare the cauliflower, position a rack in the center of an oven and preheat to 450°F (230°C).


In a very large stockpot, combine the water, wine, the 1/4 cup salt, the sugar, the 3 tsp. red pepper flakes and 2 tsp. of the fennel seeds. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and poach until a knife can be easily inserted into the center, 10 to 15 minutes. Using slotted spoons, transfer the cauliflower to a paper towel-lined baking sheet, then pat completely dry.


Line another baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a bowl, combine the 1 tsp. salt, the remaining 1 tsp. fennel seeds, the oregano and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Place the cauliflower on the baking sheet and brush on all sides with the olive oil.  Sprinkle evenly with the salt mixture. Roast, turning once, until the cauliflower begins to crisp and is very brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a carving board.


To make the topping, in a small fry pan over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and anchovy paste and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the panko and cook, stirring constantly, until the crumbs begin to crisp, 1 to 2 minutes.


Pour the bread crumbs over the cauliflower. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a few drops of vinegar, and the parsley. Slice the cauliflower into steaks or cut into florets. Serves 6.


Great Greens


Hardy greens such as kale, mustard and collards can be cooked in many different ways, said Sandra Wu, Test Kitchen Cook. For a simple and healthy side dish, she recommended sautéing them in olive oil with minced garlic and adding a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten the flavor.


Or try the Test Kitchen’s splurge-worthy recipe that combines blanched greens with cream and chestnuts. “It’s rich and decadent, so it’s great for a holiday meal,” said Sandra. “You can use any type of sturdy greens. Choose whatever looks best at your farmers’ market.”


Great Greens

Creamed Greens with Chestnuts


Kosher salt, to taste

3 or 4 bunches mixed hearty greens, such as kale, mustard and collard greens, stems removed, leaves torn into 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces (about 20 cups)

4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) (2 oz./60 g) unsalted butter

1 yellow onion, sliced

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) dry white wine

1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) heavy cream

1 cup (6 1/2 oz./200 g) roasted and peeled chestnuts, coarsely chopped


Have ready a large bowl filled with ice water. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the greens and simmer until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Drain the greens and transfer to the ice water to cool, then drain and pat dry.


In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. When it foams, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly caramelized, 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and pour in the wine, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Simmer until most of the wine has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the cream and simmer until reduced by half, about 6 minutes.


Reduce the heat to medium, stir in the greens and chestnuts and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Serves 8.


Versatile Mushroom Ragout


Wild mushrooms are plentiful in the fall, the perfect time to make a warming ragout. The Test Kitchen’s version includes leeks, garlic, fresh thyme, sherry, a splash of cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to produce deeply satisfying flavors.


The beauty of this ragout: it can be made in advance and is exceptionally versatile, said Sandra. Her suggestions:

  • Serve on crostini for an impressive Thanksgiving appetizer.
  • Stir into scrambled eggs for an easy breakfast during the holiday weekend.
  • Use as a filling for a savory tart.
  • Toss with hot pasta or spoon over warm polenta for a quick weeknight supper.


Wild Mushroom RagoutWild Mushroom Ragout


3 Tbs. unsalted butter

1 leek, halved lengthwise, white and light green parts thinly sliced crosswise

2 Tbs. water

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 3/4 lb. (875 g) mixed fresh wild mushrooms, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces

2 tsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) sherry

1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) heavy cream

1/4 cup (1 oz./30 g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh chives


In a large nonstick fry pan over medium heat, melt 1 Tbs. of the butter. Add the leek, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 7 to 8 minutes, adding the water halfway through cooking. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl.


In the same pan over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 2 Tbs. butter. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the excess moisture has evaporated and the mushrooms are just beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute.


Return the leek to the pan, add the sherry and cook until evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the cream and cook until thickened and nearly evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Fold in the cheese and sprinkle with the chives. Use the ragout immediately, or let cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Makes about 4 cups.


See more quick and easy fall recipes from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen here! 

2 comments about “Inside Our Test Kitchen: Preparing Fall Vegetables

  1. Audrey

    These look amazing! Need to try for the holiday season. I wish I could get to the farmers’ market more often too; it has such a more festive fall spirit than the local grocery store does.

  2. Preparing the Fall Kitchen - The Culinary Exchange

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