Although they are one of my favorite all-time foods, I don’t make a habit out of eating dumplings on the regular. They are a real treat for me, so when I do cave to the carb craving, I make this very special dish.

I just adore a recipe that’s flexible enough to play with. Over the years, I have used whatever cheese, herbs, and meat I have on hand, and I’ve also added vegetables like fresh peas, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives and julienned spinach. After making this delicious cheesy recipe a few times, you will discover your signature combinations. Even if you share this recipe dozens of times — which I hope you do — no one will make these dumplings quite the same as you will.

A tossed salad goes nicely with stick-to-your-ribs dish as do green beans garnished with a couple surprise ingredients. I’ve discovered the extra fine haricot vert sold in the freezer section of Trader Joe’s and like them so much I make a special trip to Portland to stock up on them. No other frozen green bean will do, and these are perfect for this colorful, elegant side dish. If you detest seeding a pomegranate, you can buy the arils (seeds) in a plastic container in the produce section of the supermarket. I highly recommend this bit of convenience. As an alternative, Craisins work as well.

Baked apples are a lovely finish to this meal as the dumplings will fill you up, yet you may be left wanting a taste of something sweet. This baked apple recipe has only about 135 calories per serving, and if you down a healthy portion of salad and green beans, you won’t be feeling terribly guilty about enjoying this autumn dessert after the rich main course.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to quince, this is the proper way to cook them. One of my daughters oversees a beautiful crop of this fruit every year, and I’ve made it my business to figure out what to do with these hard little nuggets. I have seen quince in some supermarkets and at the farmers’ market, so give them a try. You may also want to use one of the fruitier wines from Bartlett Winery for this delectable dessert. Put on your apron and have fun experimenting

Herb & Ricotta Dumplings
2 (15-oz.) containers whole milk ricotta

1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

2 eggs

3/4 cup flour

1 cup mixed fresh herbs (chives, basil, oregano, thyme, parsley)

1 tbsp. butter, softened

1 cup cream

4 oz. soft cheese, crumbled (blue, gorgonzola, fontina, goat)

1 cup julienned protein (prosciutto, Serrano ham, cooked bacon, chicken)

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ricotta, 3/4 cup Parmesan, eggs, flour, and 3/4 cup herbs in a medium mixing bowl. Bring large pan of salted water to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Using two teaspoons, shape spoonfuls of ricotta mixture into ovals and drop into simmering water. Do not crowd them. Cook for 5 minutes or until dumplings float to the surface. Remove dumplings and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining mixture.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a shallow ovenproof dish then add dumplings. Combine cream, soft cheese crumbles and protein of your choice. Spoon over dumplings and stir gently. Top with remaining 1/4 cup herbs and 1/4 cup Parmesan. Bake 20 minutes or until dumplings are golden on top and cheese is bubbling. Yield: 6 servings

Haricot Vert with Walnuts and Pomegranate
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

1 lb. fresh or frozen small green beans (haricot vert)

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. olive oil

3 tbsp. pomegranate seeds or Craisins

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread walnuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant and golden, about 8 minutes. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Add string beans and cook until tender, 3-5 minutes. Drain well.

Stir walnuts, lemon juice and olive oil into green beans. Season with salt and pepper. Top with pomegranate seeds or Craisins just before serving. Yield: 4 servings

Baked Apples with Wine & Almonds
6 Granny Smith or other firm apples

1 cup sweet red dessert wine

3 tbsp. roasted, unsalted almonds, chopped

3 tbsp. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

Ground cinnamon and/or nutmeg or 1 tbsp. fresh grated orange rind

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Core the apples. In a medium bowl, stir together wine, almonds, brown sugar and cloves. Place the apples in a buttered baking dish and spoon the filling into the hollow of the apples. Dust the tops with cinnamon/nutmeg/orange rind. Bake the apples until tender, about 45-60 minutes. Spoon syrup from the pan on top of the apples before serving. Yield: 6 servings