Falling For Fruit
When it comes to dessert, Ryan Nelson, the chef/owner of Late Harvest Kitchen, possesses the restraint we probably all wish we had: He's not too crazy about sweet stuff.
So when Edible Indy asked him to share savory fall recipes that call for fruit – that meant no pies, no tarts, no crumbles – we had unwittingly picked the right chef for the job.
The impulse when contemplating fruit in the kitchen is to tuck it into buttery dough, but fruit also excels at perking up pork, poultry, fish and other produce, even into the late months of the season.
"You need to have brightness in your food," says Nelson, and fruit does the trick in the cooler weather. Nelson opened Late Harvest Kitchen late last year at Keystone at the Crossing. His seasonally driven menu and relaxed but elegant dining room is quite welcome in the middle of chain-ville.
Cooking with autumn fruit is a chance to use apples and pears from farmers' markets and orchards. Nelson visits Apple Works in Trafalgar, about an hour south of Indianapolis, to gather local apples – but also get "good photo moments" with his wife and their 2-year-old son.
Nelson suggests adding apples to a salmon dish and slicing pears into a salad with bacon and Parmesan (see accompanying recipes).
He's also thought up a twist on a Thanksgiving staple – cranberries – which aren't grown in central Indiana, but are local to Nelson, in a way. Nelson, who is from Minnesota, recalls driving to his family's cabin in Wisconsin when he was young and seeing "fields of brilliant red" out the car window – those were cranberry bogs, many of which supplied Ocean Spray.
His remake of cranberry sauce calls for brandied shallots.
"You need to have brightness in your food."
At Late Harvest Kitchen, Nelson, 36, hones in on seasonal ingredients and finds them locally when possible. An herb garden on the restaurant's patio keeps the kitchen supplied with rosemary, basils, mints, marjoram, sage, thyme and cilantro. And the staff is known to share produce from their own gardens.
Nelson got his start at the Oceanaire Seafood Room, first in Minnesota, then in downtown Indianapolis, where he was the executive chef.
That might explain his intrepid preparation of salmon with apples. A filet is pan-seared and topped with agrodolce sauce, an Italian sauce that blends sweetness and acidity. Nelson's version has chopped apples, golden raisins and smoked almonds.
"A lot of people wouldn't traditionally pair fruit with seafood, but with salmon I think it's an awesome pairing," Nelson says. Nelson crafted a similar salmon dish with cherries for the summer menu at Late Harvest Kitchen.
In imagining a pear salad, Nelson thought of this old Italian saying: Eating pears and Parmesan can make a peasant feel like a king, if only for a moment.
Both are combined with thick hunks of bacon and tossed with arugula from Harvestland Farm or FarmIndy. Meanwhile, Nelson's cranberry dish came about the first Thanksgiving that Nelson spent with his future wife.
He wasn't planning to make cranberries, but she insisted, knowing that her dad would love it. Nelson made the dish a day ahead so that the flavor and texture would come together overnight. And what did his future father-in-law think?
"He thought it was great," Nelson says, adding that he's made it for several Thanksgivings since then. "Sometimes the best dishes are the ones you throw together at the end."
Consider fall fruit for cocktails, too. Late Harvest Kitchen bartender Jason Foust crafted two pear cocktails – one called the French Rose (pear brandy, rosemary simple syrup and ginger liqueur) and the Grin and Pear It (pear-fennel puree and pear vodka and brandy).