In Matt Bell's 2021 novel Appleseed, the opening lines read "in the faun's clawed and calloused hands the pomace comes out rich and sweet, a treasure of crushed cores and waxy skins and pulped flesh, a dozen colors of apples distinct in the gap between the cider mill's grindstone and its wheel."
Something about this exceptional sentence distills the sheer essence of the apple: from the seeds to the core, the skin to the flesh, the crisp bite and the heady aroma. To encapsulate the apple in a handful of words is a feat in and of itself.
The apple is more than just a fruit, more than just a symbol and more than an ingredient. It's indicative of so much (the Garden of Eden, George Washington's apple tree, "an apple a day," etc.) and has been so deeply tethered to the cultural consciousness, perhaps more so than any other food item.
When it comes to actual recipe applications, though, the apple is . . . not nearly as powerful. Frequently sliced and slathered with peanut butter, often absent-mindedly munched on or sometimes baked into a pie or crisp, the actual breadth of the apple's culinary abilities is strangely limited, especially when it comes to savory applications.
Here, we outline two dozen possibilities for the humble apple, in hopes of elevating it to its rightful status:
1. Core, seed, stuff and roast a whole darn apple.
In culinary school, we were tasked with a months-long, post-graduation "externship" in order to apply our learned knowledge in a "real world" capacity. One of the very first restaurants I called in order to inquire about a kitchen placement was New York's since-closed Sorella, which had a stunning Italian-American menu that was daring, unique and mouth-watering.
Unfortunately, I didn't complete my externship hours there, but I cherish its wonderful cookbook and remain fascinated by the roasted whole onion. This would be a take on that dish: Essentially, take a few apples and wash them well. Core and seed them carefully, so they remain perfectly spherical and have enough room in the center to be stuffed.
Any stuffings would work well here, but I'd venture to go with a bread crumb-heavy, almost oreganata-ish topping of sorts, possibly interspersed with little chunks of fresh mozzarella and maybe even some sun-dried tomatoes. Roast the apples in a hot oven, serve with a creamy, rich sauce (perhaps including apple cider?) and garnish with lots of fresh parsley. Voilà!
2. Top a pizza.
When it comes to making pizza at home, don't spook yourself. Go buy some loose pizza dough from your neighborhood pizzeria, use whatever sauce you have on hand, add copious amount of cheese (omit if you're dairy-free) and customize as you see fit.
Have some apples hanging out in your kitchen? Their added crunchiness and sweetness help balance out the savory flavors of traditional pizza toppings.
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3. Add to a salad.
You've probably seen these on menus as "harvest" salads, often containing some amalgamation of greens, crisp apple, a nut or seed of some type, a creamy cheese, some sort of dried fruit, a maple-laced vinaigrette and perhaps a grilled protein or tofu. No matter the specifics, these are quite literally always sensational. At home, mix and match as you see fit, and you'll undoubtedly wind up super satisfied (and feel very seasonal!).
4. Enjoy with baked eggs.
Eggs, cheese and apples go together quite well, whether in a tart, a quiche or even a frittata. A beautiful combination would be a few farm-fresh eggs, a touch of crème fraîche or fromage blanc, some cheese (perhaps goat cheese or gruyere?), a bit of freshly chopped chives and some very, very thinly sliced, peeled apples. Granny Smith's bright tartness would be especially great here.
5. Finish off a cheese board.
Apples and cheese are a practically insurmountable combination. For this antipasti, I'd venture to go with a creamy or soft cheese, a sharp cheese, a hard cheese and/or a "stinky" cheese, along with Cerignola olives (or tapenade), jam/jelly/honey, some thick-cut apple slices (skin-on), a handful of your favorite nuts, a handful of some sort of dried fruit and some sort of carb (baguette, crackers, flatbreads, etc.). You really can't go wrong.
6. Stuff a mushroom.
Stuffed mushrooms are one of the world's best appetizers — no question. While some lean on cream cheese, bacon, spinach, bread crumbs, Parmesan, mozzarella or sausage as the primary stuffing ingredient, why not try apple? Super finely diced apples, along with a creamier element, a vegetable or an herb, a crunchy or textural note and perhaps even some apple juice or cider would beautifully tie a stuffing mixture together. Pop them in the oven for half an hour or so, broil for a bit to get them beautifully browned and your guests will be very happy campers.
7. Spruce up crostini.
Oftentimes, bruschetta is thought to be tomato-only, but this is a mistake. Take (or make) some crostini, top it with a slathering of puréed, lump-free ricotta, a drizzle of honey and a mixture of chopped apples, figs and shallot. If you're not a ricotta person, try some feta, goat cheese or even a seasoned, herbed cream cheese. Not a fan of the sweetness? Omit the honey, or conversely, use hot honey for an interesting bite.
8. Bake with brie.
An enormous wheel of brie baked atop a fanned-out "circle" of sliced apple stacked concentrically is a surefire hit. Incorporate some dates, honey, bacon or tapenade for a really unique bite. Don't forget to serve with an assortment of breads, crackers, endive or lettuce cups and other "scoops" that allow for slightly less-messy eating of the ooey, gooey cheese and its accouterments.
9. Use in a hash.
Chop up a whole bunch of potatoes (Idaho or sweet), as well as some squash or pumpkin, plus onions and apples. Add a heaping amount of butter to a hot pan and cook all together until lightly browned and cooked through. Top with a poached egg, so the yolk can ooze out and flavor the hash. You'll see brunch in a whole new way.
10. Apple and cheddar: Is there a more classic pairing?
Another iconic combination, cheddar and apple is simply meant to be. This isn't even a recipe, per se — crisp, fresh apple, sliced and served with thick-cut slices of sharp cheddar. A true masterclass in simplicity and perfect pairings, it doesn't get much better than this.
11. Serve with pork.
In many instances, the primary go-to for a savory apple option is pork and apples. It's stellar in any iteration — braised, roasted, cooked in a slow cooker or Instant Pot, etc. Pork tenderloin or shoulder is usually a good pick, along with a non-mealy apple that'll maintain its structure over the longer cooking process. Peeling (or not?) is up to you.
12. Elevate a chicken salad.
One of the best chicken salads I've ever made was Ina Garten's version, which contains roasted chicken breasts, grapes, pecans, walnuts and a mix of mayonnaise, sour cream and tarragon (which I often think of as the unsung hero of the herb world). Toss in some chopped apples and golden raisins, sandwich in between rye or pumpernickel bread with a copious amount of crisp lettuce and you'll be stunned by its outrageous flavor.
13. Cook down into a chutney.
Part chutney, part charoset, part jam: Cook down finely diced apples along with alliums, sweeteners (brown sugar, fruit juices or honey), warmer elements (such as mustard seeds, cumin or chile flakes), some currants or dried apricot and a touch of sharp, acidic vinegar. The end result will be a fascinating condiment that adds a complex, hard-to-pinpoint flavor to anything you serve it with, all season long.
14. Turn into apple chips.
Cut your apples in half, discard the core, stem and seeds and then (incredibly carefully!) use a mandoline to carefully slice them into thin slices. They shouldn't be gossamer, but imagine a thick-cut potato chip's thickness. Deep-fry or bake until deeply golden, then top with a sprinkling of flaky salt.
You can add some cinnamon for a seasonal bite, some chile, paprika or turmeric for a hit of color and subtle heat or leave them plain. I've always loved the little "snowflake" like essence of the de-seeded/cored apple slice, especially once cooked, dehydrated or dried.
15. Make an apple salsa.
I'm the antithesis of a heat seeker, but if that's you, feel free to go wild here with jalapeño, serrano or whatever your heart desires. Toss finely diced apple with red onion, a chile or some spicy element, some lime juice, a touch of cumin and a handful of chopped cilantro. Enjoy with parsnip or plantain chips — for an escape from standard potato chips — or go buck wild with pita chips or tortilla chips.
16. Flavor a roast chicken with onions, apples and potatoes.
This is amazing during the fall or winter. Place a 3-or-4 pound chicken in a roasting pan and positively load it up with chopped apples, onions and potatoes. Liberally add oil, salt, chopped herbs and freshly cracked black pepper, transfer to a roaring-hot oven for about half an hour, then turn the oven down to a standard temperature once the skin begins to brown. Baste throughout, check the temperature after about an hour and once cooked through, let cool slightly before carving. Enjoy!
17. Incorporate into a dressing or stuffing.
Stuffings truly run the gamut, but I've found that a mix of cragged, jagged bread cubes, tons of butter, celery, apples, alliums and an unruly amount of sage is unbeatable. While other additions are good (Bell seasoning, sausage, squash, walnuts, etc.), those six ingredients are the nexus of a truly sensational stuffing.
18. Roast with butternut squash and turn into a soup.
Roughly chop butternut squash, an onion, some fennel and a few apples, toss with olive oil and salt and roast until fork-tender. Transfer to a pot and cover with a mix of water, stock or your dairy product of choice. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, then carefully blend until smooth and creamy and return to the same pot. Heat through until hot and adjust the seasoning. Serve the soup with popcorn garnished atop (the popcorn garnish is from an Alex Guarnaschelli recipe I always thought was downright fascinating).
19. Customize applesauce to your taste.
This is another instance in which you can add lots of heat or spice, especially if you're not into the sweeter applesauce flavor profile. Here, omit any sweetener and simply cook the apples in water or apple cider until they completely break down. From there, flavor or tweak as you see fit.
It's up to you whether you choose a thick, chunky applesauce; a puréed, strained, super-smooth applesauce; or a Goldilocks perfect balance mix made with a potato masher. Flavor-wise, you can add chile or spice for a kick; incorporate garam masala or ras el hanout for applesauce that'll be deeply flavored and savory; or acquiesce to the season and simply flavor with cinnamon.
20. Reduce into a sticky glaze.
This is more so for apple butter, cider or juice than it is for a whole apple (but it still counts, right?). Use this glaze on an oven-baked chicken or even barbecue ribs. Purée apple cider/juice with roasted cherry tomatoes, molasses, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, a touch of cocoa powder and lots of garlic and onion. This is half glaze, half barbecue sauce, but 100% delicious.
21. Roast with sausage, leek and sage.
This dish is also amazing served as a sandwich. Simply roast sausage (or plant-based sausage) in a hot oven with a few chopped leeks, some chopped apples, some balsamic or sherry vinegar, your oil of choice and a bunch of sage. It's totally simple, but the flavor is outrageous.
22. Grate into mulligatawny soup.
This iconic soup traditionally does include grated apple, but I up the ante here, using more apple (grated on a cheese grater or even a microplane), as well as apple cider. It hails from India and was supposedly one of the world's first "fusion" foods. In addition to the apples, it contains standard soup basics (mirepoix, bay leaves, stock or water), plus curry powder, chicken, rice and cream or yogurt. It is truly a wonderful option for a brisk night.
23. Flavor a grilled cheese.
Feel free to use your favorite or family recipe here. I slather some butter on both slices of bread, place one of the sides butter-down on the skillet, top with copious amounts of shredded gruyere, cheddar, or fontina, top with some sliced apple and then pile the remaining bread slice on top, with butter on the exterior side and a touch of apricot jam on the interior side. Cook, flipping occasionally and lightly pressing down, until all of the cheese has melted, some has escaped the sandwich and caramelized on the skillet and the bread is browned and crisp. Cut in half and eat it while it's piping hot.
24. Use as a base for roasted poultry.
No matter if you're making Thanksgiving dinner or whipping up a quick roast chicken on a weeknight, try the following method. Thickly slice a few apples, then use them as a foundation for your poultry, lining the entire bottom of the roasting pan with overlapping slices of apple. Add the poultry and season it heavily with butter, oil and/or lots of salt and herbs. Then fill in any open spots with chopped root vegetables, herb bundles, dry white wine, stock or apple cider. Roast away until the skin is brown and crispy and pulling away from the meat.
Carve and enjoy! The apple essence should've permeated the bird, adding a subtle-but-detectable flavor that will both beguile and titillate.