Baked Apples: Savory & Sweet
I’ve never been much of a baked apple fan, but with the autumn abundance around me, I decided to experiment with this formerly shunned baking genre. I suspect that I have never liked baked apples because they are such a humble dessert, lacking in carb-y oomph, and often bland and textureless. Instead of approaching these baked apples as a dessert, I have considered them as entrees, first as a hearty, cold-weather breakfast, and then as a comforting autumn supper. Both recipes are big on flavor and texture. The addition of tawny port as a flavoring works surprisingly well with both the sweet and savory apples. The soft, warm, sweet-and-spicy breakfast apples and satisfyingly chewy granola contrast deliciously with cool, creamy yogurt. The savory baked apples have a bit of crunch from the walnuts and a heartiness from the chicken sausage, with bright flavor and a nutritional boost from the spinach and herbs. Mm, it turns out that I love baked apples after all!
4 large baking apples*
Choose apples which can stand up to baking. Eating apples like golden delicious or MacIntosh will disintegrate into a watery mush in the oven. Braeburn apples, with their crisp texture and sweet tang, work great with both of these fillings.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Prepping the apples: Slice a tiny bit off the bottom of each apple, so it will sit steadily upright.
Slice off the top quarter of the apple, so the top surface is now wide and flat.
Using a melon baller, remove the apple core, and then hollow out the center of the apple so there is room for the filling.
Save the hollowed-out bits of apple (after discarding the core) to dice up and mix into the filling of your choice.
Sweet Breakfast Filling
(for 4 apples)
1/3 cup dried cherries, dried blueberries, and golden raisins
1/3 cup tawny port
reserved bits of hollowed-out apple, chopped
2/3 cup granola*
2 Tbsp turbinado sugar
1 1/2 cups apple cider
plain yogurt & honey for garnish
*I use “Gingersnap” granola from the bulk foods section of our local food co-op. It’s spiced with cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom, and contains no nuts. Feel free to substitute your favorite flavor of granola.
Combine the dried fruit and port wine in a small bowl and let soak for 30 to 60 minutes.
Mix the diced, hollowed-out apple bits with the port and dried fruit mixture, along with the granola and turbinado sugar. Stir the mixture until well-coated with port.
Press the mixture into each hollowed-out apple, mounding extra mixture on top. Top each filled apple with a small cube of butter.
Set the apples in a glass or ceramic baking dish. Pour the apple cider into the dish around the apples. (If you add a splash of port to the cider, no one will judge you for it here.) Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake at 350 F for 45 minutes, or until apple is soft but still holds its shape. Serve warm, garnished with a generous dollop of yogurt and drizzle of honey.
Savory Sausage Filling
(for 4 apples plus leftovers)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 chicken or turkey sausage links, finely chopped
1/3 cup walnut pieces
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 cup tawny port
2 large handfuls baby spinach, chopped
reserved bits of hollowed-out apple, chopped
1 slice whole-grain bread, finely cubed, toasted*
salt and pepper to taste
1 (15-oz.) can chicken broth
*I like to use my Everyday Bread, but any dense, wholegrain bread will do.
Over medium heat, cook the onion in 1 Tbsp olive oil until it starts to turn golden brown. Add the chopped sausage, and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Add the walnuts, thyme, and port. Stir until the port has evaporated, about 1 minute. Stir in the spinach and chopped, hollowed-out apple bits, and remove from heat. Stir in the homemade breadcrumbs and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.
Press the filling into each apple, mounding extra filling on top. Drizzle about 1 Tbsp of chicken broth into each filled apple. Set the filled apples into a glass or ceramic baking dish and pour the rest of the chicken broth into the dish. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake at 350 F for 45 minutes, or until apples are soft but still hold their shape. Serve warm.
Sausage, Apple & Spinach Pasta: This recipe makes leftover filling, which is brilliant with farfalle (bowtie pasta). Measure out an equal amount of pasta to leftover filling. Boil the farfalle until al dente. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a saucepan and add the savory apple filling. Stir until heated through. Stir in the hot, cooked pasta. Add about 1/3 cup chicken broth per 1 cup of pasta mixture, and simmer, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese if desired.