Every week, Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.
Today: Judy Rodgers gets us the applesauce fast, and nobody gets hurt. She even throws in a bonus dessert.
No cinnamon, no cloves -- this sauce is straight up apple, mainlined to your belly.
It comes from Judy Rodgers' must-own Zuni Café Cookbook and -- as with everything she serves at the San Francisco institution -- she keeps it smart and simple, balancing the apples only as needed with tiny amounts of salt, sugar and apple cider vinegar.
How do you decide how much to add? Taste a piece of apple. If it's "tart enough to make you squint, add the full measure of sugar," says Rodgers. If not, add a splash of vinegar. You're in charge!
There's just a little bit of butter too, sliced into wafers that melt into bronzed apple tops and a rich sauce (now do you see why we like this recipe so much?).
But that blast of heat is just there to hustle the apples along on their roast and singe their exposed faces and tips (after they've softened under a tight foil cover first -- see the whole process in a slideshow on the recipe page here).
Not only does this quick 1-2 oven attack free you from stewing and stewing apples on the stovetop, but it does that magic that roasting always does. All the sugars concentrate, enhancing the thing to the best version of itself. Plus it warms up the kitchen.
Rodgers doesn't stop there, with the recipe that will buoy us through apple season (not to brag, but I've been getting 5 pounds a week in my CSA -- nobody's making that much pie). She also gives us an optional classy-looking (and sounding) dessert that is simple enough your children could assemble it with scissors.
It is called a charlotte and Judy Rodgers didn't invent it -- apparently someone who liked Queen Charlotte of England did, circa 1800. Lots of variations exist -- some involving lady fingers, or gelatin, or other layered frilly things -- but this is charlotte at her most primal: applesauce inside of toast.
You just cut some pieces of stale bread to fit in a ramekin (I used clean kitchen shears and a pre-sliced boule and had a great time). It might seem like you'd need to plan for structural integrity, but you don't. You can wing it, and the pieces will patch together and compress as needed.
Then you brush the bread cut-outs with melted butter, use them to floor and wall your ramekin, fill the cavity with applesauce, and pop on its jolly round lid. It bakes up beautifully crisp and toasty, and little rivulets of applesauce seep out and turn into specks of apple candy on the edges.
It's caramel apple, buttered toast, and apple pie (without the part where you have to make pie). And -- can you believe it? -- it's actually kind of healthy, as pie-like desserts go.
As an aside, when Kristy Mucci (our fair Associate Editor and a Zuni disciple) tipped me off to this recipe, at first I thought she'd said to roast the apples with onions, then mash and sharpen them with cider vinegar, which I still don't think is a bad idea. That's for this week's truckload of apples, and it will go with pork.
(Spoiler alert: don't make too many charlottes this weekend -- you're going to need some of that applesauce for another Genius Recipe coming soon!)
Judy Rodgers' Roasted Applesauce (with optional Savory Apple Charlotte)
Adapted slightly from The Zuni Café Cookbook (W. W. Norton & Company, 2002)
Serves 4; Makes about 3 cups, with sauce to spare
For the Roasted Applesauce:
3 1/2 to 4 pounds apples (Rodgers uses crisp eating apples, like Sierra Beauties, Braeburns, Pippins, Golden Delicious or Galas)
Pinch of salt
Up to 2 teaspoons sugar, as needed
About 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
A splash of apple cider vinegar, as needed
For the Savory Apple Charlottes:
A chunk of day-old, chewy, peasant-style bread
About 2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
About 1 1/3 cups Roasted Applesauce
Want more genius? Try Paula Wolfert's Herb Jam with Olives and Lemon
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by James Ransom