Close Enough

 

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I am a bad food blogger. Let me explain. Purim’s coming up, and as I’m assembling costumes (including a fairy dress that “needs to have buttons up the back”), I realized that I never told you about last Purim, when I snuck away after Carnival for a blogger event. It was for cookbook author and chef Sara Moulton, and it was at Harvest in Harvard Square. Turns out she got her start there, so this was a very special afternoon for her. She collaborated with Harvest’s Executive Chef Tyler Kinett on a very special menu inspired her new cookbook Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better. (Well, new at the time. Like I said, bad food blogger.)

We started with a delicious Spring Pea Soup that had smoked salmon, crispy potatoes and crème fraiche on top, which was inspired by the Pea Vichyssoise with Smoked Salmon in the cookbook. Dessert was La Tulipe’s Apricot Souffle, which she adapted from her time at Gourmet Magazine (z’l). Sara actually called up someone to help her with the demo, but when I saw that the prepared menu in front of me said there was soufflé for dessert and she was holding up a whisk, I knew there was going to be an insane amount of egg whites being whipped – by hand – and I kind of hid my head as to not be noticed for that task. Someone did raise their hand to help out. I think it was a fashion blogger who didn’t see it coming, but she did a wonderful job of whisking, for nearly 10 minutes straight.

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I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember what my actual main course was. According to the menu I saved, we had “Steak & Eggs,” which was “Braised Short Ribs, Poached Egg and Broccoli Rabe & Butterball Potatoes,” inspired by “Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs of Beef” in the book. But because I write a “mostly vegetarian food blog”, they knew to make an alternate dish for me. I’m a bit mortified to admit I can’t remember what they subbed for it. But I promise you, the soup and soufflé were so good, what came in the middle doesn’t really matter.

What did matter from that event was that Sara was darling and kind and warm and lovely. She is bite-size, super small, and her Converse All-Stars gave her no extra height. I told her how much her nacho pie recipe is enjoyed in our house, and she appreciated the sentiment, or at least seemed to.

The afternoon ended with each one of us receiving a signed copy of the cookbook, and I’ve enjoyed cooking from it these past 11 months. The Beans and Greens Gratin is just about perfect for this time of year. As Sara explains: “When you see the word gratin in the title of a recipe, it means that the dish is topped with a light brown crust usually consisting of baked breadcrumbs or grated cheese. […] Here I’ve combined two hearty ingredients: beans and greens.” It employs one of her favorite tricks for thickening bean-centric dishes, which is mashing some of them. And it works! It’s very hardy, and travels well the next day for lunch leftovers.

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I did a “close enough” version of this recently. It calls for fresh breadcrumbs, but since I’m still waiting for my replacement blade for my recalled food processor, I had to use Panko that I had. (Any time now, Cuisinart…)  I didn’t have fresh rosemary in the house, so I skipped it, and it was fine.

The recipe also survived me using a slightly smaller can of beans and a larger can of tomatoes, which is what I had on hand. I used a spoonful of Better Than Bouillon in 1 ½ cups water in lieu of Sara’s Homemade Vegetable Stock. Like I said, close enough.

Beans and Greens Gratin from Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better

 Start to Finish: 1 Hour 15 Minutes/Hands-On Time: 40 Minutes/Servings 6

 Ingredients

1 ¼ cups fresh breadcrumbs (made by pulsing 2 to 3 slices homemade-style white bread in a food processor)

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 Tablespoon finely minced garlic

2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

4 cups packed coarsely chopped chard, kale, mustard greens, collard leaves or a mix (tough stems removed)

2 cups cooked pinto, white, kidney, or black beans, or chickpeas; or rinsed and drained canned beans (a 19-ounce can)

1 ½ cups Homemade Vegetable Stock or store-bought vegetable broth

1 ½ ounces freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1 cup chopped whole canned tomatoes

Freshly ground pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375F. Toss together the breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the pepper flakes and salt to taste in a small bowl.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the greens in batches and cook until they are wilted. Mash ½ cup of the beans with a potato masher or fork and add the mashed beans along with the whole beans, stock, cheese, tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly on top of the mixture. Bake on the upper middle shelf of the oven until the crumbs are lightly browned and the beans are bubbling, 25 to 35 minutes.

 

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The Luckiest

My cousin Mark, who is best described as tall, dark, handsome and phenomenally successful, is also the world’s luckiest vegan. I say this based solely on the fact that his mother, Aunt Sydney, is the best cook I know, and she makes sure that his belly is always happy and full when he’s home for a visit. Whether it’s a bowl of fluffy quinoa tabouli for Pesach, or a jar of pickled beets, he is always well-sated.

Aunt Sydney lives only a few blocks from my parents, so when we are all home for the holidays, like we were a few weeks back for Rosh Hashana, the cousins, nieces, nephews, spouses and grandchildren all gather at Sydney’s for an afternoon visit. We try to catch up as best we can. Sometimes there’s plum cake; this year there was stellar mandelbroit. The visit always begins with Sydney asking what Mom served, and us clamoring for her menu.

I actually didn’t hear the full details of her menu on this last visit (I was distracted by the mandelbroit – it was that good), but Miriam, Syl’s wife, reported back to me about one of the vegan dishes she’d served. I honest-to-goodness gasped when I heard about the pan of butternut squash, leeks, sage and grapes, and may have even started to moan when I began to imagine what it must have tasted like. It sounded like pure autumn to me, a perfect harvest dish, which meant that it would be on my Sukkot table.

Sukkot is one of the three Jewish pilgrimage holidays, Pesach and Shavuot being the other two. Like Pesach, it starts with festive holy days (praying, eating, no work), has interim days (more praying, but back to work), and ends with some more holy days. (At some point I’ll write about my favorite holiday of all, Simchat Torah, but one thing at a time.)

Sukkot means, roughly, Feast of Booths, because the Children of Israel were commanded to spend the days of the holiday eating all their meals in a temporary structure, called a sukkah, to remind us of the 40 years in the desert. (Some people also sleep in their sukkahs, although I’ve never done it.) We also have some rituals involving a lulav (a palm branch) and an etrog (a citron), with a few pieces of myrtle and willow leaves tucked in between.

Sorry to bore you with the details, but it’s a really wonderful holiday for the whole family. A definite highlight of being a little kid is making colorful paper chain rings to string throughout the sukkah. We always had a sukkah growing up, and my parents have kindly offered their sukkah to me and Rich. We borrowed someone’s station wagon over Rosh Hashana to bring it back to Boston, but it turns out we’ll need to rent a truck to do it. Someday…

But yes, Sukkot is a harvest holiday, and nearly everything in this dish came in last week’s CSA. When Rich saw me take the dish out of the oven, he made two observations: that it looked like fruit salad at first glance, and that it looked like a Thanksgiving dish to him. Yup, I said, that’s exactly right. It is a Thanksgiving dish.

Aunt Sydney didn’t actually give me a recipe for this dish, but I guessed it in the same way that I guessed how to make her sweet potato and cilantro soup. I’ve taken to waking up earlier than Rich on the weekends, so I had actually cleaned the butternut squash earlier in the day making this a pretty quick dish to put together. Using a sturdy peeler, I simply peeled the squash, cut it in a half at its waistline, sliced those pieces in thirds, scraped out the seeds from its bulb, then cut those into thirds, or approximately two inch cubes.

For the leek, I chopped off the top, peeled away its stiff, dark green outer layers until I got to very pale green part, sliced the leek in half vertically, and ran the stalks under running water and wiped out any dirt stuck in its crevices. To make certain that the leeks wouldn’t burn in a hot oven, I kept those pieces and their layers altogether in rather large pieces, about 2 inches. I intentionally photographed the pieces of leeks so you could see for yourself.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Leeks, Grapes and Sage

Ingredients

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed into 2-inch pieces

1 leek, halved, cleaned and sliced into 2-inch pieces

2 sage leaves, sliced into a thin chiffonade

1 cup red grapes, rinsed

2 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of kosher salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 450. If you didn’t wake up earlier in the day to clean a butternut squash, my advice is to preheat the oven before you prep any of the vegetables.

In a large bowl, toss together the squash, leek, sage, olive oil and salt. Place all ingredients into a roasting pan with sides or medium-sized casserole dish, and cover tightly with foil. Place into the hot oven for approximately 30 minute. At the end of 30 minutes, remove the foil, and give everything a stir. Things should have softened very nicely by now. Remove the pan from the oven and add the washed grapes and give everything a stir. Place the casserole dish, uncovered, back into the oven for approximately 15 minutes more. Your goal at this point is to soften the grapes. In 15 minutes time, check on the pan. If everything is softened, and perhaps a little bit browned, remove from the oven, and serve.

Come Hear Me Talk!

Friends, I’ve been honored with an invitation to join some fellow bloggers to discuss the question, “Does local matter when it comes to food?” at the Rockport HarvestFest on October 15. Heather Atwood, food columnist/blogger at the Gloucester Daily Times, will be moderating our discussion. We’ll be on at 4PM, but there is an entire day of festivities, including a food demonstration by Chef Frank McClelland of L’Espalier, Sel de la Terre and Apple Street Farm in Essex, a seafood throw down and live music. If you’re around, come up to Cape Ann, take in the foliage, eat some good food and listen to what will hopefully be an interesting discussion.