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Leisurely Autumn Cooking

One of the pleasures of home cooking is that you’re the boss, and you can cook at whatever pace pleases you. Cooking in fall, especially on weekends, should be relaxing, whether it’s quick and simple or gives you something enjoyable to spend all day preparing.

An ideal quick leisurely meal is the Sicilian-inspired lamb with orange zest, mint and pancetta, which can be cooked in no time.

Onions and pancetta are first sautéed in olive oil until soft, and then you brown half-inch cubes of boneless lamb sirloin. The pan is de-glazed with white wine and, at the very end, you stir in fresh mint leaves and very thinly julienned orange zest. That whole process takes about 12 minutes.

A nice accompaniment for the lamb is sweet and sour squash with mint or spinach with garlic and olive oil. Another nice option is carrots with Marsala, a Sicilian dish that will give you a newfound appreciation for carrots. It’s simple too — just cook the carrots in a skillet with a little water and finish with a bit of sugar and Marsala wine.

But the meal, to be complete, needs an antipasto and a first course of pasta. For an antipasto, I keep it very simple with just a crostini and some kind of cold cut. This can be served while everyone sits in the living room chatting, and I usually don’t want to bother with cutlery and plates when we do that.

You can fold a slice of prosciutto on top, or perhaps a leftover of some kind, depending on whether you’ve got spreadable or appropriate leftovers. Something moist on top is nice, such as a little dice of tomato or dollop of mascarpone cheese. Once I cut up some leftover cooked mild Italian sausage and sautéed green bell pepper strips and put it on the crostini and it was well received.

For a pasta dish, cavatelli with arugula is fun and super-easy. It’s a natural accompaniment to lamb, but also surprising because most people aren’t familiar with arugula as a cooked green.

Perfection in one pot

Sometimes nothing works better for a fall dinner than a one-pot meal. One of the most surprising and delicious ones come from Indian cuisine. For chicken balls in gravy with pistachios and apricots, you need a large nonstick pan, which is your one pot in this case. This rich Mogul dish from northern India is extravagant in taste, which the term “Mogul” has come to mean in culinary circles. Delightfully, this dish can be prepared up to a day ahead of time and is even tastier that way. Don’t be intimidated by the ingredients list; remember, you’re not rushing anywhere on the cold fall Saturday you will make this. Serve with skillet-warmed naan or pita bread and a green salad.

Chicken Balls in Gravy With Pistachios and Apricots

Serves 4


2½ cups chopped onions
2 large garlic cloves, 1 chopped, 1 mashed in a mortar
one 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, half chopped, half mashed in a mortar
¼ cup fresh cilantro (coriander leaf)
10 whole blanched almonds, ground in a spice mill
1 large egg
2 thick slices (about 2½ ounces) French or Italian bread, crust removed, broken up
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground chicken
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
2 tablespoons sour cream or whole plain yogurt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
½ teaspoon ground cumin seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon dried fenugreek powder (optional)
10 dried apricots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon pistachios
1½ cups water
1 cup fresh or frozen peas


  1. Place 1¼ cups of onion, the chopped garlic clove and the chopped ginger in a food processor and pulse until very fine. Add the cilantro, almonds, egg, bread, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and process again until very fine. Add the chicken and process until everything is well blended. Make 25 chicken balls about the size of a small lime using wet hands so the mixture does not stick.
  2. In a large nonstick pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat then cook the meatballs in one layer, shaking the pan and turning once or twice, until they turn color on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  3. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan and heat over medium-high heat then add the cumin seeds and shake the pan, then add the mashed garlic and grated ginger and cook for about 15 seconds.
  4. Add the remaining onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the tomatoes and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in the sour cream and cook 3 minutes while stirring.
  6. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and add the cayenne pepper, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, turmeric, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, garam masala, ground fenugreek, apricots, pistachios, and water and bring to a boil over high heat.
  7. Add the chicken balls, reduce the heat to low and cook until chicken balls are firm and cooked through, about 15 minutes.
  8. Add the peas and cook, stirring carefully, for 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Zester Daily contributor Clifford A. Wright won the James Beard / KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year Award and the James Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food in 2000 for “A Mediterranean Feast.” His latest book is “Hot & Cheesy” (Wiley) about cooking with cheese.

Photo: Chicken balls with apricots and pistachios. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Zester Daily contributor Clifford A. Wright won the James Beard/KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year Award and the James Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food in 2000 for "A Mediterranean Feast." His latest book is "One-Pot Wonders" (Wiley).