Winter brings traditional fare to the table with stalwarts such as cranberry sauce, apple pie and casseroles — dishes made with seasonal ingredients that make the end of the year all the more special. The next time you’re cooking with highlighted ingredients, consider this host of underutilised cold-weather produce to introduce new takes on classic seasonal preparations. Pears, sweet potatoes, chestnuts and figs are all apt ingredients you can use to renovate your winter menu.
Pear and Pecorino Salad
Sweet pears and pecorino play off each other masterfully in this fresh autumn salad.
Soak 3 to 4 tablespoons sultanas in 1 cup boiling water for 15 minutes and then drain them. Slice two ripe pears (Asian varieties and "Anjou" pears work best) into ¼ -inch slices and toss them with a little bit of lemon juice to prevent browning.
Season 6 to 8 cups rocket lightly with salt and arrange it in an even layer on a large salad plate or platter. Layer the pears over the rocket. Shave pecorino over the pears and add the sultanas along with a cup or so of toasted pine nuts.
Add 2 parts extra virgin olive oil and 1 part aged balsamic vinegar to a jar. Tighten the lid and shake the jar for 30 seconds to emulsify the oil and vinegar. Drizzle the dressing over the salad (to taste) and serve immediately.
Sweet Potato Gratin
This sweet potato gratin layered with Parmesan cheese and thyme shows the versatility of an autumn favourite.
Peel an equal amount of sweet and russet potatoes. Four large sweet potatoes and 6 to 8 russets are enough for an 11- by 7-inch shallow baking dish. Use a mandolin to slice the potatoes crosswise into slices measuring about 1/8-inch thick, or the thickness of a penny. Place each sliced sweet potato in a bowl of cream and let sit for about 30 minutes. .
Layer the slices in the bottom of the dish, overlapping each slice by about ¼ inch. Sprinkle the layer lightly with grated Parmesan, freshly ground black pepper and freshly chopped thyme. Continue layering in the same manner until you use half the potato slices. Pour half the cream over the layers and continue layering the slices until finished. Pour the remaining cream over the potatoes.
Cover the tops of the gratin with a mixture of grated Parmesan and shredded white cheese (semi-soft cheeses that melt easily, such as Gruyere, cheddar or aged Monterey Jack, work best). Bake the gratin for 30 minutes at 180 C, or until the cheese browns on top.
Chestnut and Fig Stuffing
The marriage of chestnut and figs makes a stuffing suitable for a holiday dinner. Serve it with its best pairings — roast chicken or duck.
Soak ¾ cup chopped figs in boiling water for 20 minutes and drain them. Sauté 3 or 4 diced shallots and 2 tablespoons of butter over low heat until they soften. Transfer the butter and shallots to a mixing bowl.
Add the figs, 1 ½ cups sliced wild mushrooms, 1 ½ cups cooked chestnuts (halved), 1 cup crumbled Italian sausage, 3 cups panko breadcrumbs, 8 slices chopped uncooked bacon, 2 eggs and ½ tablespoon each freshly chopped sage and thyme.
Mix the stuffing and transfer it to a baking dish. Bake at 325 F until the center of the stuffing reaches 165 F, about 30 minutes.