17 Top Foods Chefs Are Buying This Fall
See how experts stock their kitchen and which ingredients they're adding to their fall food list this season
Chef-approved fall food list
Just like juicy watermelon slices are made for summer and hearty soups are perfect for winter, there are certain dishes and ingredients that are intrinsically linked to fall—and it’s more than pumpkin spice. Root veggies, citrus fruits, corn and apples (which we can thank the Pilgrims for—how’s that for a food fact?) are all notable in autumn. Seasonal produce is so distinct this time of year that chefs add them immediately to their fall food list.
We asked four chefs and cookbook authors which items they’re most looking forward to cooking with this season—and just how they use them. The dishes they’re preparing are warm, rich and filling and perfect for baking, cooking or meal planning during a fall reset. Use their ideas to get outside your cooking comfort zone or fill you up after a weekend of fall home maintenance. You just might discover a new autumn favorite.
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Most grocery stores sell potatoes year-round, but between late summer and early winter is when they’re harvested and most abundant. A root veggie, potatoes are especially appreciated during fall and winter, when more people are craving substantial meals. Emma Fontanella, professional pastry chef and author of Simple Pleasures: Easy Recipes for Everyday Indulgence, says that the potato tops her fall food list.
“Everyone loves mashed potatoes, but one thing I love to do is turn them from a side into a main dish,” Fontanella says. She does this by making potato cheese pie, a dish she enjoys cooking with her dad. “It makes an incredible main dish and is comfort food at its best,” she says. Simply mash three cooked potatoes, then combine them in a casserole dish with a cup and a half of cheese, one egg, a half stick of butter and any vegetables you want. Cook the potato cheese pie at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, and it’s ready to be served.
One undeniable seasonal food that’s a favorite for many is pumpkin. If you typically buy canned pumpkin during the fall, Fontanella says to reach for the fresh squash instead. “Many people don’t know you can simply grate fresh pumpkin when making a pumpkin cake or pumpkin bread, like you would when you make carrot cake.” The one exception? Pumpkin pie, she says. Because canned pumpkin has a smooth texture that’s hard to replicate in a home kitchen, go for the commercially prepared stuff for pies.
Beyond baked pumpkin recipes, Fontanella tends to use pumpkin to make soups and as the filling for ravioli. “The filling I like most is a simple mix of cooked pumpkin, sautéed onion, garlic and parmesan. It’s delicious,” she says.
John Kanell, whose cookbook Preppy Kitchen: Recipes for Seasonal Dishes and Simple Pleasures is devoted to seasonal cooking, says that one vegetable he loves on his fall food list is the sunchoke, also known as a sunroot or Jerusalem artichoke. This robust vegetable is in season during fall and then again in the spring. “I like to make sunchoke risotto in fall because it’s so warm and comforting,” Kanell says. “The sunchokes have even more flavor than [standard] artichokes.” Another idea? Roast chopped sunchokes with other root veggies, olive oil and herbs.
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While Kanell makes a sunchoke risotto, self-taught cook and social media favorite Sam Way incorporates another fall vegetable into his risotto: beetroot. “Beets are a vegetable many people dislike, but beetroot risotto is a must-try,” says Way, the author of Sam’s Eats: Let’s Do Some Cooking. Puree the beetroot and fold it into a classic risotto base, then top it with goat cheese, thyme leaves and toasted walnuts. “It’s a standout dish that really portrays the beetroot in a great light.” And just like other fruit and vegetable storage, beets should be refrigerated in the crisper drawer for maximum freshness.
Fennel has a long season, harvested anytime from fall until early spring, and it’s edible both raw and cooked. Raw, it has a crunchy texture, like celery, and can be sliced or shaved into meals. For Kanell, the bulbous vegetable is one of his favorites to roast alongside other veggies. If you’re roasting pumpkin or spaghetti squash, he says fennel is a great pairing. It works well sauteed, with wild rice, in soups and in autumn salads. It’s also one of those foods you wouldn’t think you can grill, but you should.
An uber-healthy vegetable in season during fall, kale is not only great in salads, sauteed with olive oil and herbs or in a winter soup, it’s also great crispy in the air fryer. Fontanella, who splits her time between Rome and New York, makes a Tuscan kale rigatoni, a dish she fell in love with while in Florence. “It celebrates two ingredients that arrive at exactly the same time in fall: cavolo nero (Tuscan kale) and cold-pressed, peppery extra-virgin Tuscan olive oil.” To make it, Fontanella first cooks the kale in boiling water. Then she uses a blender to blend it with fresh garlic. To finish, she combines the mixture with cooked rigatoni, olive oil and pecorino cheese.
Different types of mushrooms are in season at different parts of the year, and fall is peak season for oyster mushrooms. Danielle Kartes, founder of Rustic Joyful Food and author of Butter, Flour, Sugar, Joy: Simple Sweet Desserts for Everyone, says she craves mushrooms most in fall. She likes to pair oyster mushrooms with roasted potatoes or squash, seasoned with woodsy herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme. Another (meat-free) idea: Sauteed or deep-fried oyster mushrooms can be used as the “meat” for vegan tacos.
Is there anything that screams fall more than apple picking at an orchard? In the U.S., apples are only harvested once a year, from August to November. “Everything that isn’t enjoyed during fall sits in cold storage for a long amount of time,” Kanell says. So take advantage of that crisp, freshly harvested apple this season—and remember to always store apples in the fridge.
“Cooking with apples really feels quintessentially American to me, and I love to make pies and cakes with them,” Fontanella says. For Kanell, one simple way he enjoys apples is by baking them with warming spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. And if you’re wondering what’s your favorite fall drink based on your zodiac sign, Capricorns tend to prefer their apples in a mulled apple cider.
Apples tend to be the starring fruit in fall, but Kartes is actually more into pears. One of her favorite ways to use them—in season from August to October—is to make a pear crisp with toffee sauce. “Pears are so bright and juicy, she says. “[They’re] the perfect fruit for kissing summer goodbye and easing into fall.” Besides using them in baked goods, she’ll also stew them or poach them in red wine. Another idea: Use pears in a mocktail.
In season late July and early fall, Kartes also adds plums to her fall food list. Like pears, she says plums are a scrumptious transitional fruit that she enjoys incorporating into pastries or in tarts. “They’re a showstopper,” she says. She also likes to use them to make jam or jelly, which she enjoys throughout the fall and winter, even after the fruit is no longer in season.
Persimmons are a mildly sweet berry in season from October to January. While they do look like a golden-orange tomato, they are in fact a member of the berry family. For Kanell, the late-fall fruit is yet another must-have on his fall food list. He says they can be incorporated into both savory and sweet foods, brightening up a hearty fall salad or used in pastries. “You can use them similarly to how apples are used,” he says.
An often overlooked fall fruit, the fig has a prime spot on Way’s fall food list. “During the first half of fall, figs are in their prime,” he says. They can be enjoyed as-is, for a healthy, high-fiber snack, added to a charcuterie board or roasted with honey until caramelized and tossed into a salad. “I think they’re a gem,” he says.
If you stop and think about it, Kartes says that craving different cheeses in summer compared with fall is quite common. “In fall, people crave more pungent cheeses and often serve them warm, while in summer, people go for milder cheeses served cold,” like burrata, she says. One cheese she especially loves during fall is sharp cheddar cheese. She pairs it with apples for an easy snack—one kids love just as much as adults—or uses that sharp cheddar-apple combo as the base for a delicious grilled cheese. “I also like to use cheddar cheese in my pie crust for apple pie,” she says. “It tastes like heaven.”
Way also gravitates toward more pungent cheeses as the weather becomes milder. One in particular that he loves during fall is gruyere. While there’s no shortage of ways to use the hard, nutty Swiss cheese—try it in a croque madame sandwich, with roasted potatoes and spinach or in mashed potatoes—Way says he likes to top off French onion soup with it. “A warm, rich, umami-packed soup topped with melted gruyere can’t be beat,” he says.
While many people think of cinnamon and nutmeg in autumn, there’s another seasonal spice that Kartes loves to use: sumac. Sumac is a crimson herb with a tangy lemon flavor that’s often used in Middle Eastern cooking. “I love making sumac and pistachio shortbread in the fall,” Kartes says. Sumac also tastes delicious with chicken, in hummus, on roasted veggies such as sweet potatoes or eggplant, or in a fattoush salad with chickpeas.
It would be hard to whip up mouthwatering fall baked goods without reaching for warming spices. “Spices like cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves really give food that fall feeling,” Kanell says. Whenever he’s baking something during fall, he adds those spices straight to the dough so they’re baked right in. “I love making a cranberry marzipan braided bread, which is spiced with cloves,” he says.
Have you ever seen a recipe call for brown butter? Brown butter is simply made by heating butter until the milk solids caramelize, leaving a dark golden color and turning the neutral flavor into one that’s slightly nutty. “Brown butter adds a layer of depth to savory dishes and can also be added to sweet dishes with vanilla and warming spices,” Kanell says. Another tip: Add honey or maple syrup when making brown butter. Imagine your favorite fall baked good topped with a honey brown butter—now that’s perfection.
About the experts
- Emma Fontanella is a chef based in New York City and Rome, and the host of Emma’s Goodies on YouTube. While her professional background is in fine dining and high-end bakeries, she believes the best baking and cooking is done at home. Her cookbook Simple Pleasures: Easy Recipes for Everyday Indulgence is out October 2023.
- John Kanell is a cooking and baking expert and founder of Preppy Kitchen, a digital food and family-focused cooking brand. He has been a judge on Food Network’s Chopped: Sweets, a recurring judge on Disney’s Magic Bake-Off and has appeared on talk shows such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The View, The Today Show and more. His book, Preppy Kitchen: Recipes for Seasonal Dishes and Simple Pleasures, is devoted to seasonal cooking.
- Sam Way is a self-taught home cook at the forefront of TikTok and social media, where he captivates audiences with cooking videos and has amassed more than 13 million followers. His debut cookbook is Sam’s Eats: Let’s Do Some Cooking.
- Danielle Kartes is the founder of Rustic Joyful Food, a food blog dedicated to recipes passed down through generations. She is the author of seven children’s books and four cookbooks, including the upcoming Butter, Flour, Sugar, Joy: Simple Sweet Desserts for Everyone.