This dinner steps into autumn, savoring the season’s deeper flavors and a different seasonal color scheme. It leans into ocher and ruby, with an earthy squash pie and pears with red wine and pomegranate.
But it’s not too taxing to prepare. Most of it can be done in advance, leaving the cook free to spend an afternoon enjoying the glorious cool-but-sunny fall weather.
To begin, something green: a salad of crisp romaine leaves, cloaked in a lemony vinaigrette that’s been flecked with a touch of anchovy. Though this is a very simple salad, it can be exquisite, especially if attention is paid to every little detail. For the freshest version, use the pale hearts of large romaine heads, or whole baby romaine, removing tough or dark green leaves. (Save the plucked outer leaves to make chopped salad, braised lettuce or to add to a soup.) Or choose packaged organic romaine hearts, available at most supermarkets, but be sure they aren’t old. (Check the bottoms of the heads, the root ends. If they are dark brown, the lettuce has been hanging around too long.) Fresh lemons, of course. Good fruity extra-virgin oil. And for anchovies, spend a little more, even for the few fillets in the dressing. (Most cheap grocery store anchovies are mushy and fishy-tasting.) And when you toss, go gently.
For a substantial meatless main course, a savory vegetable pie is always welcome. This pie calls for butternut or any other hard squash variety, like kabocha, Hubbard or acorn. It’s complemented with caramelized onions, kale, provolone and sage, then nestled between two sheets of dough. Make an easy flaky pastryor, to save time, use frozen puff pastry rounds. The beauty of this pie is that it may be baked up to several hours in advance and reheated to serve. This allows the flavors to meld and makes cutting the pie easier. You could serve the pie with roasted brussels sprouts or sautéed mushrooms finished with garlic and lots of parsley, or both.
A classic cool weather dessert, poached pears in red wine, rounds out the meal. They really are best if made a day or two (and up to a week) ahead and given time to soak in the red wine syrup to attain a deep, dark magenta stain. Use firm, slightly underripe Comice, Anjou, Bartlett or Russet pears. A certain restraint with the spicing makes the best syrup: A stick of cinnamon, a tiny amount of clove and a spoonful of black peppercorns do the trick. Serve them chilled with crème fraîche, whipped cream or ice cream. To take it over the top — and you should — garnish the pears with a handful of pomegranate seeds, which add a pleasant sweet-sour pop and a splash of brilliant fuchsia to the color story.