6 Local Chefs’ Favorite Fall Comfort Food Recipes

Cooler weather calls for stick-to-your-ribs comfort foods. If you need a little inspiration, look no further — we’ve reached out to the best local chefs to get their recipes for creative comfort foods that will make you glad you can stay inside. Get ready to roast, simmer and bake the chill away!

Apple and Beet Salad With Black Walnuts, Bijou and Sourdough

From chef Nicole Pederson of Found Kitchen and Social House, 1631 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847-868-8945

Pederson says this salad is great for the cool days of fall because it combines the warm, earthy flavors of beer and black walnuts with the bright sweetness of apples.

Makes 4 entrée-size salads

For Cider Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4  cup small dice shallot
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 cup olive oil


1. Macerate the diced shallot in the vinegar for 30 minutes, and then add Dijon and honey, whisk together then slowly add the olive oil, finish with sea salt and pepper to taste.

For Roasted Beets:

  • 10 baby beets, mixed colors, tops removed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup cider or white wine vinegar
  • Thyme


1. Place all ingredients in a hotel pan and cover with foil. Cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until beets are just cooked through. You should be able to pierce with a knife but they should not be too soft.

2. Using a towel, rub off the skins of the beets while they are still warm, cool then season with salt and toss with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Can be refrigerated until needed.

For the apples:

  • 2 honey crisp


1. Wash the apple and cut into large chunks, core removed.

2. Toss with the vinaigrette to prevent oxidation.

Croutons: Use a bread called La Miche, a whole wheat sourdough. Remove all the crust, tear into large croutons, toss with salt, pepper, and extra virgin olive oil, be generous with the oil, toast for about 5 minutes in 350-degree oven, then toss with grated gouda and cook for 5 to 8 minutes more. Crouton should be toasted on the outside, soft on the inside, and just a little greasy.

Ruby streak, baby mustard greens: If you can’t find them you can substitute arugula or baby dandelion greens.

Toasted black walnuts or walnuts: Toss in a small amount of olive oil and salt. Toast at 350 degrees for 8 minutes or until nicely browned.

For the salad: Toss beets, apples, mustard greens and croutons in the vinaigrette, season with salt and black pepper if desired. Serve plated individually with the cheese as explained below.

Bijou or other crottin-style goat cheese: Sever room temperature cut in half. I like to serve just off to the side of the salad with a dollop of apple butter and topped with some walnuts.

Chef’s Tip: Use Zestar apples and golden beets — then you can make it ahead of time and don’t have to worry about the beets bleeding.


Chili With Cheese Curds

From chef Trevor Cole of Barley and Brass, 2015 W. Division St., Chicago, 312-763-9600


The time for people watching from the patio of this hip hangout in Wicker Park has passed. This is one of Cole’s favorite ways to warm up on a cold day.

Serves 4-6


  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • Oregano
  • Chili powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Chili flakes
  • 2 (14.5 ounces) cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 diced carrots
  • 2 diced stalks of celery
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 diced jalapeños
  • 2 (8 ounces) cans tomato sauce
  • 1 (16 ounces) can black beans
  • 1 (15.5 ounces) can small red beans


1. Sauté diced vegetables in small amount of oil until clear. Add beef with medium-high heat, stirring often, 4 to 5 minutes or until beef crumbles and is no longer pink; drain fat; sprinkle evenly with seasoning to taste and sauté 1 minute over medium-high heat.

2. Stir in diced tomatoes and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 20-25 minutes.

Cheese Curds

  • 1/2 cup corn starch
  • 1 cup flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • Carbonated water or beer to taste
  • Small pot of canola or vegetable oil
  • Small bag of cheese curds


1. Heat the oil on a stovetop on medium low heat to 350 degrees.

2. While the oil is coming to temp whisk dry ingredients in a small bowl until thoroughly combined.

3. While whisking with one hand, pour the carbonated water or beer in slowly to combine in the center of the mixture.

4. When no lumps appear and mixture is thick like pancake batter the tempura is ready.

5. Use a small amount of flour to roll the cheese curds in before battering them.

6. Drop them into the tempura and then into the oil turning them to cook them evenly. When the outside is crispy and golden brown they are ready to dry on a few paper towels and be lightly salted.

Chef’s Tip: When sautéing the vegetables in the beginning, don’t be afraid of them browning. The color is what will give you the best flavor in the end.


Zucca Pizza

From founder and executive chef Anthony Carron of 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria, Sherman Plaza, 812 Church St., Evanston, 224-307-2803


Carron loves this pizza for fall because of the heartiness of the butternut squash and smoky bacon, and the rosemary gives it a nice floral counterpoint.

Makes four 12-inch pizzas

  • 1 batch of your favorite pizza dough (For home cooks, we recommend Peter Reinhart’s Neo-Neapolitan pizza dough from his book “American Pie” or a pre-made, store-bought crust.)
  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 pound bacon, diced and rendered until crispy
  • 1 pound fresh Fior di Latte Mozzarella or Mozzarella di Bufala, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely minced
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Sea Salt


1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with your pizza stone inside.

2. Prepare your dough according to the dough recipe or manufacturer’s instructions. Stretch or roll out four 12-inch round pizza doughs.

3. In a pan on the stovetop render the bacon until crispy. Drain and set aside.

4. Take 2 tablespoons of the bacon dripping and toss with the diced squash. Place on a non-stick cookie tray in a single layer and roast in the oven for 5 minutes.

5. Put sliced onion, salt and extra virgin olive oil in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Slowly cook onions until caramelized, stirring frequently, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the rosemary.

6. Divide onion mixture into four equal portions and top each pizza dough evenly. Sprinkle 1/4 of the cooked squash over each pizza. Do the same for the bacon. Top each pizza with 1/4 of the mozzarella, and 1/4 of the Parmigiano Reggiano.

7. Transfer to your pre-heated pizza stone and bake each pizza for about 10 minutes or until the edges of the crust are golden and the cheese has melted.

8. Transfer to a platter and slice into 6 slices and serve.

Chef’s Tip: Pizza is best cooked at high temperatures. While home ovens won’t reach 800 degrees like our wood-fired ovens do, you should always cook pizza on the highest temperature your oven permits, generally 500 or 550 degrees.


Shepherd’s Pie

From executive chef Brett Neubauer at Howells & Hood , 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-262-5310


Neubauer loves to make this dish in the fall because it heats the whole house and satisfies that craving for braised meat that is popular in the Midwest.

Serves 4-6

For the filling:

  • 2 lamb shoulders (diced)
  • 1 cup of carrots
  • 1 cup of celery
  • 1 cup of onions
  • 6 cups of lamb stock (chicken stock works too)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tablespoon of peppercorns
  • 1 cup of red wine
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 tablespoons oil

For the finishing:

  • 1/2 cup of English peas (frozen work too)
  • 1/2 cup celery root (diced)
  • 1/2 cup carrot (diced)
  • 1/2 cup of parsnip (diced)
  • 2 tablespoons of parsley (chopped)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the topping:

  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 pound butternut squash
  • 1/2 cup of cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt to taste


1. In a deep pot add the oil and heat on until the oil starts to dance and almost smoke.

2. While this is going on, take the lamb, salt, pepper and flour and combine all.

3. Add the lamb and sauté until golden brown.

4. Remove the lamb and extra fat, save the meat and toss the fat. Add the veggies and the thyme, peppercorns, bay leaf and sauté until the onions are translucent.

5. Add the red wine and then the lamb back to the pot.

6. Reduce it down to a syrup. Add the stock and cook until the lamb is tender.

7. Remove the lamb and strain the sauce save the stock and toss the veggies.

8. Add the lamb back to the sauce, and add the finishing veggies. Cook until sauce is thick and veggies are tender. Place finish mix into your largest porcelain pot and spread the topping on and serve.

Directions for the topping:

1. Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender.

2. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds and roast until tender save the insides and toss the skin.

3. Puree the potato and squash together with the butter and the cream add salt as needed. It will be as thick as mashed potatoes.

Chef’s Tip: Make the sauce thick for this dish. If it’s too thin, it loses the hearty comfort food feel that makes the dish so lovable.



From Chef Carolina Diaz of Filini, 221 N. Columbus Drive, Chicago, 312-477-0234


Diaz says this dish is a creamy favorite, with familiar flavors that everyone can enjoy. It’s simple to make, and very filling.

Serves 7

  • 1 kg Yukon Gold potatoes
  • .5 kg farina flour
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 tablespoon salt


1. Bake the potatoes in a 350-degree oven for 1.5 hours until tender.

2. Peel and mash.

3. Mix mashed potatoes and the remaining ingredients until a spongy dough forms.

4. Roll into rope-like strands.

5. Cut into individual pieces (about 1-inch x 1-inch)

Chef’s Tip: To avoid the gnocchi turning into a ball of gunk, make sure that your water is boiling and salted before dropping your gnocchi.


Clam Chowder

From chef Michael Kornick of Fish Bar, locations at Navy Pier and 2956 N. Sheffield Ave., Chicago, 773-687-8177


New England-style clam chowder is one of our country’s many great regional soups. For Kornick, it’s a national treasure like gumbo, reflecting the best of the region.

8 servings (about 1 cup per serving)

  • 8 quahog clams
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 1/2 cup onion yellow onion, diced small
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced small
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 1/2teaspoons thyme, chopped with no stems
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups clam juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 5.5 tablespoons white flour


1. In a large pot, cook clams in 4 cups of water until they just begin to open, remove to plate to cool,

2. Separately, cook bacon over low heat for 15-20 minutes to render the fat (very light in color).

3. While the bacon is cooking, melt the butter in a pan over low heat and whisk in flour. Cook together for 5 minutes until the mixture is colorless.

4. To the pot with bacon, add in the celery, onions, and garlic and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are soft.

5. Add in the thyme, reserved clam water, clam juice, salt, pepper and cream.

6. Bring to a simmer and whisk in the cooked butter and flour mixture. Bring back to a simmer and cook until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

7. Simmer for 20 more minutes, add cooked clams back in, taste and adjust salt or pepper as necessary, then serve.

Chef’s tip: After steaming the clams and removing the shell, keep the clams moist in a zip lock bag. Also, be sure not to thicken the soup too much. You can always add more roux, but you cannot stretch the stock.

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