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Sonoma Chefs Share Their Favorite Fall Recipes

Local chefs, emerging names and TV stars alike, show off the best ways to play with seasonal flavors at home.

Roasted cauliflower on a bed of pureed chickpeas, and topped with roasted figs, chopped green olives, pine nuts, parsley, and lemon by Chef Crista Luedtke at her restaurant Brot in Guerneville. (Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)

September and October farmer’s markets beckon with a double dose of seasonal bounty, as the last of the tomatoes and corn give way to figs and squash, chiles and whole grains. Here, five Sonoma chefs, emerging names and TV stars alike, show off the best ways to play with these flavors at home, from an alluring cauliflower and chickpea salad to a uniquely velvety walnut gazpacho. Each recipe is so very Sonoma, with abundant local veggies at the heart of the dish—and each recipe speaks, in its own way, to what makes fall such an incredible time of year for those who love to cook.

Chef Crista Luedtke at her restaurant Brot in Guerneville. (Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)

The Chef: Crista Luedtke

Boon Eat + Drink, El Barrio, Brot, eatatboon.com
Guerneville

Call her the chef who transformed an entire town. In 2008, tired of corporate life, Crista Luedtke moved to Guerneville, taking over a boutique hotel and opening a restaurant named for her sweet, white-muzzled rescue pup, Boon. And then she just kept going, with another local restaurant, and another—and just this summer, a second resort, The Highlands. Along the way, she became a star on “Guy’s Grocery Games” and a leader with a heart of gold in her local community.

Today, though she travels in the heady world of celebrity chefs, she stays true to her adopted west county roots, hiking with friends at the Jenner Headlands Preserve or dropping in a couple of kayaks at the mouth of the Russian River.

“Early fall is quite literally one of my most favorite times of year here, as the vineyards go from green to orange to red,” Luedtke says. “It’s a moment to relax and reflect on a crazy-busy summer season. It means fewer crowds, but more quality time with people, and really getting to enjoy the bounty of the food.”

Luedtke says this easy fall recipe came together on the fly, with nutty cauliflower, creamy chickpeas, and sweet figs balanced by salty olives and crunchy pine nuts.

“Eating veggie doesn’t have to mean just salads—it can mean super-hearty and seasonal. This is like a fun mash-up of my favorite things.”

Chef Crista Luedtke squeezes a lemon on a plate of roasted cauliflower, whipped chickpeas, and topped with roasted figs, chopped green olives, pine nuts, and parsley. (Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)
Roasted Cauliflower Over Whipped Chickpeas with Fig and Olive Relish 

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 medium head of cauliflower

1 15-oz. can of organic chickpeas (reserve the liquid)

1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled

⅓ cup olive oil, plus additional for tossing and browning

⅓ cup tahini (optional)

1 lemon

Salt and pepper

For relish

1 pound fresh figs

1 shallot, diced

1 small jar Castelvetrano olives, pitted, strained, and roughly chopped

1 lemon

2 tbsp toasted pine nuts

For garnish

2 tbsp toasted pine nuts

½ bunch Italian parsley, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped 1 lemon and its zest

Instructions

Cut the cauliflower into florets. Toss the florets in a few tablespoons of olive oil and salt, then roast on a baking sheet in the oven at 450°F until goldenbrown, about 10-15 minutes. The finished cauliflower should have color and tenderness but retain a bit of crunch.

While the cauliflower roasts, prepare the chickpea puree. Strain the chickpeas and reserve the liquid in a bowl. In a blender or food processor, combine the chickpeas, the juice of one lemon, garlic, olive oil, tahini, a teaspoon of salt, and ¼ cup of the reserved chickpea liquid (aquafaba).

Blend on high for about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed. If the machine slows down, add 2 more tablespoons of aquafaba. To finish, add 1 tablespoon of water at a time until the puree is smooth and light, and season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

To make the relish, cut the figs in half, and caramelize them on the stove in a medium-hot saute pan with a tablespoon of olive oil, then set aside to cool.

In the same pan, sauté the diced shallot in oil on medium heat until soft, and add the chopped olives to warm them through, then remove from heat. Once the figs are cool, chop them roughly and add them back to pan with the oliveshallot mixture and the juice of one lemon. Roughly chop the pine nuts and fold into relish. Set aside at room temperature until serving.

To serve, spread the whipped chickpeas on individual plates or a platter, top with the roasted cauliflower, and spoon the relish over the cauliflower.

Squeeze the juice of one lemon on top, and garnish with chopped parsley, lemon zest, and more pine nuts.

Executive Chef Oscar Bendeck at Kivelstadt Cellars Wine Garden and Eatery in Sonoma. (Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)

The Chef: Oscar Bendeck

Kivelstadt Cellars, kivelstadtcellars.com
Sonoma

Oscar Bendeck grew up in the diverse culinary world of South Central Los Angeles, the youngest of four, with parents originally from El Salvador and an uncle from Korea. “So growing up, it was a lot of Latino foods— elote, street food—but then I was also eating rice and nori and kim chi,” he says. He attended Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, then built a career as a corporate chef, feeding crowds while keeping quality high (“my specialty is taking someone’s grandmother’s recipe and scaling it up”). Bendeck moved to Sonoma with his wife and dog three years ago to take over the culinary program at Sonoma Raceway. Recently, he’s been making a splash at Kivelstadt Cellars with elevated Wine Country dishes like vegan tacos with blue corn tortillas and tri-tip smoked with grapevines. “I love fall,” the chef says. “We do a big harvest party at the winery, and all of the pumpkins and gourds in my garden at home are ready. And we go out in a big group to Hog Island, rent picnic tables, tailgate and grill oysters.”

Bendeck says his gazpacho is full of protein and refreshing on a warm day. Traditionally, white gazpacho is thickened with almonds and bread, but Bendeck’s extra-velvety version is gluten-free and vegan, made with local walnuts and often garnished with grapes straight from the vineyards. At Kivelstadt, Bendeck serves the soup with a Parmesan tuile, but he also loves it with a hunk of crusty ciabatta bread.

A white gazpacho made with walnuts, cucumbers, grapes, onions, garlic and olive oil by Executive Chef Oscar Bendeck at Kivelstadt Cellars Wine Garden and Eatery in Sonoma. (Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)
White Walnut Gazpacho 

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

For walnut milk

2 cups walnuts, raw or roasted

2 cups water

For soup

1 sweet onion, chopped

4 Persian cucumbers, chopped

8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 cups green grapes, sliced in half

2 tsp white pepper

3 tbsp kosher salt

4 cups walnut milk (see above)

¼ cup sherry vinegar

¼ cup champagne vinegar

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups vegetable broth or coconut milk

For garnish

¾ cup cucumber, diced

½ cup walnuts, chopped

¾ cup green grapes, sliced

Sliced shallots to taste

Extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar, for drizzling

Instructions

First, make a base of macerated vegetables and grapes: Sprinkle white pepper and kosher salt over the onion, Persian cucumbers, garlic, and green grapes and let sit for 30 minutes while the flavors combine.

While the base macerates, make the walnut milk by blending walnuts and water in a blender until velvety smooth.

To make the finished soup, combine the macerated vegetables and grapes, walnut milk, sherry and champagne vinegars, olive oil, and broth or coconut milk in a blender and blend until smooth. Chill the soup and serving bowls for 30 minutes before serving. To serve, combine the cucumber, walnuts, grapes, and shallots together and toss. Spoon the soup into chilled bowls, divide the garnish among the servings, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar.

Chef Ploypailin Sakornsin in Healdsburg. (Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)

The Chef: Ploypailin Sakornsin

Sangsan, Quail & Condor, @fermentedperson on Instagram
Healdsburg

At 29 years old, Ploypailin Sakornsin has built a foodie career straight out of a fairytale. Born in Bangkok, Thailand, she studied finance and worked in banking before realizing cooking was what she was meant to do. She opened a small sushi kiosk across the street from the bank where she used to work, then headed to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY—where she zoomed to the top of her class and scored a coveted internship at Healdsburg’s SingleThread.

Sakornsin recently struck out on her own, building a following as a private chef, baking with fellow SingleThread alums at Quail & Condor, and creating small pop-ups of Thai street food favorites under the name Sangsan. “I’m super homesick sometimes, so this kind of food takes me back. I want to make food that Thai people will say tastes like home.” The star of this fall dish is a Thai chile and coconut milk dressing, which tastes refreshing alongside crisp greens and eggplant but also would go beautifully with grilled fish or shrimp.

Fall here in wine country still feels new, says Sakornsin. “We don’t have seasons back home; it’s summer, summer, summer—and then typhoon. So it’s really nice to feel the cool nights and hot days and eat all the good produce.”

Chef Ploypailin Sakornsin drizzles a a chile-jam coconut milk dressing onto a salad of baked eggplant, soft boiled eggs, radishes, and shallots, atop a bed of little gem and frisee greens in Healdsburg. (Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)
Baked Eggplant Salad with Chile-Coconut Dressing (Yum Makeau Muang) 

Makes two dinner-size salads

Ingredients

For the chile jam

1 medium shallot

2 cloves garlic

1-2 mild dried chiles such as guajillo

¼ cup canola or sunflower oil

1 tsp sugar Pinch of salt

For the chile-coconut dressing

¾ cup coconut milk

2 tbsp chile jam (see above)

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp lime juice

For the salad

1 medium eggplant Pinch of salt

4-5 tbsp canola or sunflower oil, enough to coat the eggplant

6 cups packed mixed greens (here, a combination of frisée, green and red lettuces)

1 medium shallot, thinly sliced

2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and quartered

3-4 radishes, thinly sliced

½ cup packed cilantro, roughly chopped

Instructions

Slice the shallot into quarters, then place the shallot, garlic cloves, and dried chiles in a small frying pan, and cook on low heat on the stovetop. Remove the chiles from heat when they’ve turned dark and crispy. Remove the shallots and garlic when they are blistered all over. Then, blend the roasted shallots, garlic, and chiles in a blender with the oil, adding the sugar and a pinch of salt as it blends. Continue blending until the mixture becomes a fine paste.

Return the paste to a cooking pan on the stove, and over low heat, stir until the oil separates and the mixture is cooked to a clear, deep red. Refrigerate the paste and oil in a tightly-lidded jar for up to a month, and use together in any recipe that calls for chile jam.

Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Cut eggplant into thin sticks, then toss with canola oil and a generous pinch of salt. Lay the eggplant sticks on a baking tray lined with parchment or a Silpat sheet. Bake the eggplant at 425ºF for 5 minutes, then flip and bake another 5 minutes or until crispy.

Whisk all dressing ingredients together. Adjust the flavor to your liking by adding extra fish sauce, sugar, or lime, then set aside.

Mix the lettuces together and arrange on a serving platter with the baked eggplant, shallots, eggs, radishes, and cilantro. Pour the dressing over the top and serve.

Husband and wife team and co-owners Roberth and Andrea Sundell at Stockhome restaurant in Petaluma. (Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)

The Chef: Roberth Sundell

Stockhome, stockhomerestaurant.com
Petaluma

It’s a family affair at Roberth and Andrea Sundell’s terrific Petaluma restaurant, Stockhome. The couple, who have four children, including 11-year-old twins, wanted to open a comfortable, simple neighborhood spot where even young guests would feel welcome. The menus reflects a range of street-food influences in Sweden’s cosmopolitan capital, where Roberth grew up: meatballs and gravlax make their appearance, but so do kebabs and falafel. At the restaurant, Roberth garnishes this easy fall flatbread with lovage, which Swedes call libbsticka. The fresh greens, which Roberth says taste like a cross between parsley and celery, balance the richness of the cheese, the earthiness of the mushrooms, and the sweetness of the pear. The flatbread dough comes together quickly, but if you’d rather, a prepared dough or crust is an easy substitute.

Mushroom flatbread at Stockhome restaurant in Petaluma. (Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)
Mushroom & Pear Flatbreads 
Ingredients

For the flatbreads

¾ tsp dry active yeast

1 cup warm water (98 ºF)

2/3 cup whole wheat flour

2/3 cup “00” pizza flour

1 ½ tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil

For toppings (per flatbread)

1 tbsp crème fraiche

¼ cup Prästost cheese or shredded gouda

¼ cup King Trumpet mushrooms, thinly shaved

½ ripe Asian pear, thinly shaved

1 tsp garlic, shaved and lightly fried

1 tsp pine nuts, toasted

½ tsp lemon zest

½ cup lovage or flatleaf parsley

Maldon salt

Fresh-cracked pepper

Instructions

First, make the flatbreads. In a small bowl, whisk together the yeast and warm water and allow to rest for 10 minutes while the yeast activates.

In a stand mixer with a dough hook, stir together the whole wheat flour, 00 pizza flour, and salt. Add the yeast/water mixture and olive oil to the flour and salt. Mix for 1 minute, then pause and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then mix again on medium speed for another 5-7 minutes.

Turn out the dough onto a table sprinkled with a small amount of 00 flour and knead for two minutes with your hands. Using a pastry cutter, cut the dough into 8-10 equal pieces and place on an oiled baking tray. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Set a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 400 ºF. Remove the dough from the fridge. Roll out individual flatbreads with a rolling pin into an oval shape. Bake flatbreads on a pizza stone at 400 ºF for 10 minutes until crispy. While they’re baking, sauté the shaved mushrooms in a hot pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper until softened, about four minutes. Remove the flatbreads from the oven.

When the flatbreads have cooled a bit, spread with crème fraiche and cover with shredded cheese. Mix the sautéed mushrooms with the shaved pear, and cover the top of the flatbreads. Bake the flatbreads a second time in a 400 ºF oven for 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. To serve, top with zested lemon, lightly-fried garlic, toasted pine nuts, salt, and pepper, and garnish with fresh lovage.

Chef Joni Davis at Miracle Plum in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.(Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)

The Chef: Joni Davis

Miracle Plum, miracleplum.com
Santa Rosa

Joni Davis, a chef and culinary instructor, says fall in Sonoma feels a little more intense than it did when she was growing up outside Windsor in the 1980s, given the differences in weather and the challenges of fire season. “I feel more grateful for the produce we get, knowing what it takes to grow and harvest it. It feels important to me to treasure that,” she says. One of a team of women who run Miracle Plum’s culinary marketplace and kitchen, Davis says she’s inspired by the store’s collaborative spirit: “It makes everything better that we all have a voice,” she says. Davis also draws strength from the students in her tart- and pie-baking classes at Santa Rosa Junior College, who persevered through distance learning last year, picking up kits of ingredients and posting pictures of at-home baking assignments. “I wasn’t expecting it, that joy they found in the kitchen—it was the best thing.”

Davis loves working with pumpkins and squash, especially delicata squash, which she calls the queen of the fall veggies. “I love the sweetness of it. I love its color, its seeds, the texture it brings to soups and stews. And I love the shape—when you cut it into rounds and you get that beautiful scalloped edge.” She says this dish makes the most of the play between sweet squash, nutty farro, tart pickled currants, and sweet-hot apricot-chile dressing, which takes on a gorgeous rosy hue from apricot jam.

A faro salad with roasted delicata squash, red cabbage, scallions, pipits, fresh herbs, with whipped feta cheese and an apricot jam dressing at Miracle Plum in Santa Rosa. (Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)
Farro Salad with Roasted Delicata Squash and Feta

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

For the whipped feta

8 oz feta cheese, crumbled

½ cup Greek yogurt

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small clove garlic, minced

zest of 1/2 orange

3 tbsp fresh herbs, chopped

Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

For the pickled currants

¼ cup currants

⅓ cup red wine vinegar

For the apricot jam vinaigrette

Leftover vinegar from the pickled currants, about ⅓ cup

2 tbsp apricot jam

About ¼ tsp Urfa chile flakes or other chile flakes (adjust to taste)

¾ tsp kosher salt

½ cup olive oil

1 ½ tbsp shallot, finely diced

For the salad

2 medium delicata squash

3 tbsp olive oil

About ½ tsp Urfa chile or other chile flakes (adjust to taste)

3 cups cooked farro

1 ½ cups red cabbage, thinly sliced

4 scallions, thinly sliced

⅓ cup pepitas, toasted

¼ cup fresh herbs, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Cook farro according to package directions to yield 3 cups cooked.

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Slice off the stem and the blossom end of the squash (no need to peel the skin). Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Next, cut the squash crosswise into half-moon-shaped slices ¼-inch thick. Toss the slices with olive oil, chile flakes, and ½ teaspoon of salt, then roast in the lower half of the oven for about 10-12 minutes. Flip the slices over, and roast for another 10-15 minutes until golden. Set aside to cool.

Put the currants in a heatproof bowl. Gently heat the red wine vinegar on the stove until hot, but do not boil. Pour the vinegar over the currants and let sit for 15-20 minutes. Strain the currants and set aside. Reserve the vinegar soaking liquid for the vinaigrette.

Combine all apricot jam vinaigrette ingredients using a blender or whisk until emulsified.

In a large bowl, combine cooked farro, roasted squash, cabbage, scallions, pepitas, 3 tablespoons of herbs, and pickled currants. Toss together gently, then pour over the vinaigrette, add black pepper to taste, and toss again.

Put the feta, yogurt, olive oil, and garlic into a food processor and process until and creamy. If you don’t have a food processor, use a whisk to combine. Fold in the zest, herbs, and cracked black pepper and refrigerate until serving.

To serve, spread the feta mixture on individual plates or on a serving platter, then spoon the farro salad over the feta and sprinkle with the remaining herbs.

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