Chef Larry Johnson of Bermuda's at Stoney Point enjoys experimenting with early fall fruits and vegetables. 

Apples, sweet potatoes and leafy greens make the list.

"My wife I and I go to the Asheville area every year at this time, for apple picking," Johnson said. "Apples are great for everything from apple sauce to Waldorf salads, french toast and desserts.

"Fall is great for hearty preparations," Johnson said. "This is the time of year you start thinking about wild game, the shrimping season and other dishes that stand up to braising.

"Fall is also a great time to introduce leafy greens -- kale, turnip, mustard, collards, cabbage and escarole," Johnson said, noting many of those also pair well with sweet potatoes and apples.

Mustard greens have a very "assertive" flavor, Johnson said. His suggestion for toning down the pungent, peppery flavor is to combine mustard greens with another, milder green such as kale. 

"If you do one-third mustard greens with two-thirds kale and briefly blanch and then saute the mustard greens, it can take away some of that sharpness," Johnson said. "Adding a good piece of apple-wood bacon to the skillet and rendering it adds the same taste profile to the greens as a ham hock, without having to cook the greens forever."

Sliced apples or even pears can add a touch of needed sweetness to a dish of leafy greens. Adding sweet potatoes to the mix also gives different layers of sweetness and great orange color.

"That sweetness complements the bitterness," Johnson said.  

All varieties of apples are not available all the time. Varieties have different growing seasons and some apples are better suited for cooking and baking than others. Some are tart and some are sweet.

"I look at flavor first," Johnson said. 

 About Chef Larry Johnson: 

He was born in Boston and raised in Atlanta but has been settled in Greenwood for a number of years. His wife, Paula, is a clinical dietitian and they are the parents of two sons.

He is a 1994 honor graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and received a master's degree in psychology from the University of the Rockies in 2013.

Career highlights include working at: Ritz Carlton, Reynolds Plantation, Sage Valley Golf Club, Kiawah Island Club, Buckhead Diner in Atlanta and The Village Grill in Abbeville. 

His hobbies include herb gardening and playing bass guitar.

 

Larry Johnson's CHARRED APPLE AND SWEET POTATO SAUTE WITH KALE

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced

1 small sweet potato, peeled, diced and parboiled until tender (about 8 to 10 minutes)

2 cups kale, washed and diced, with stems removed

2 teaspoons olive oil

Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in hot saute pan. Saute apples until they are lightly charred, but still very firm (about 1 minute.) Add sweet potatoes and saute until heated through, for about 1 minute. Add kale and 1/4 cup water or chicken broth. Cook until kale is wilted and liquid has evaporated. Plate as a meatless entree or serve as a side dish with grilled chicken or fish.

 

Larry Johnson's APPLE AND CRANBERRY EMPANADAS

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons of maple syrup

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed

Combine first five ingredients (all except puff pastry dough.) Add first five ingredients to a large saucepan and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, until apples are lightly caramelized. Let cook for 30 minutes.

With a five-inch in diameter circle cutter, cut four circles out of the thawed puff pastry dough. Fill each dough circle with 2 tablespoons of the apple mixture. Wet edges of the pastry with water, to form a good seal. Fold over one half of each dough circle, to form a crescent. Crimp and seal edges using tines of a fork. Bake in a 375 F oven for 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

According to Sky Top Orchard in Flat Rock, North Carolina, when selecting apples: 

-- Look for little or no bruising.

-- Generally, select apples with a firm texture though delicious varieties are slightly softer to the touch.

 

How to store apples:

Apples ripen 10 times faster at room temperature than when kept in a refrigerator. Chilled apples should last 90 days. Some varieties are better for storing long-term than others. Typically, late-season apples last longer than early ripening varieties. Arkansas Black is a particularly good keeper.