Monday, January 26, 2009

Roman Hash and Roasted Butternut Squash with Onions

I made this for company last week, with roasted chicken and roasted butternuts with onions. Usually I make Roman hash in a large skillet on the stove, but I was making a lot of it, so I used a large roasting pan and made it in the oven. It worked so well that it is my new preferred method. I used the pan first to make the roasted butternuts with onions, then when they were done I started the chickens. I took the birds out after 20 minutes, let them rest while I made the Roman hash in a cooler oven, then finished the chickens at that temperature. As each of the vegetable dishes came out of the oven, I transferred them to smaller, oven-safe bowls. When the chickens were done, I let them rest before carving them, and meanwhile reheated the vegetables in the oven.

We call Roman hash that because in Deborah Madison's The Savory Way, she describes getting this dish from a Roman neighbor. It's good all year round, and a favorite of mine to pair with roast chicken. It also makes a satisfying main dish or meal. One of my dinner guests was a vegetarian, a fact that escaped me because he is also a cook who is interested in meat. He ate Roman hash and butternut squash and was happy.

Another guest asked for the butternut recipe. The secret ingredient that makes roasted butternut and onions so delicious is roasting time.

Roman Hash

(adapted from a recipe in The Savory Way by Deborah Madison)

The proportions of ingredients are not that important, hence the vague measurements. Try it with purple potatoes: the colors are very striking. Other kinds of hearty cooking greens are also good in place of collards. Sometimes I make a lighter version of this without potatoes or cheese.

1-2 lbs collards, cleaned and veined
2 cups small red potatoes
3-4 fresh or canned tomatoes, quartered
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp dried red pepper flakes
salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
freshly grated dry, salty cheese like Parmesan or Romano

Boil the red potatoes whole in their jackets until tender, about 15 minutes. Let the potatoes cool enough to handle, then slice into quarter-inch slices.

Chop and steam the collards.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Preheat the pan in the oven, add the red pepper and olive oil, let warm in oven for a few minutes.

Add the boiled, sliced potatoes, tossing them in the warm oil, and let roast for ten minutes. Turn the potatoes and bake for another ten minutes.

Add the garlic, greens, and tomatoes, tossing the mixture, and bake for another 10-15 minutes.

Salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Onions

This is loosely based on an old Jewish-Italian "suffocated squash" recipe. It is very sweet: sometimes I make little Middle Eastern-style phyllo pies full of this mixture, and they're like fruit turnovers.

You can double this, but do not fill your roasting pan more than half full, or you will get steamed, mushy squash that takes forever to dry out and roast.

1 large butternut squash
2 yellow onions
¼ cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Peel the butternut squash and remove the seeds. (A melon baller is a handy tool for removing the seeds and goo from the inside of a hard squash.) Thinly slice the squash.

Peel and thinly slice the onions. Toss the squash and onions together with the oil, salt, and pepper, in a large roasting pan.

Roast for 15-20 minutes, then carefully flip all of the squash and onions over. Keep roasting and turning the mixture every ten minutes. Eventually the squash slices will soften and break. It is not important to try to keep the squash intact. It is important to move the vegetables at the corners of the pan into the center, rotating their location so you don't get burnt vegetables at the corners of the pan, and it all roasts more or less evenly. Keep roasting and turning until there are many warm, caramel brown places on the onions and squash, and nothing has burned yet, about an hour.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Stuffed cabbage

stuffed cabbage, before stewing

I got the camera and the crock pot both working. The camera is designed to be a point-and-shoot, which is perfect for me: I like my gadgets simple. My elderly PC took an hour or so to gingerly shake hands with it, and receive its photographic lode. The crock pot is point-and-simmer.

These cabbage rolls are the first dish I've made in this crock pot. They seemed like a safe dish to start with, because they are assembled from fully cooked ingredients. The long stewing in a crock pot allows the cooked grain to absorb flavors from the stewing liquid, the stuffing ingredients to marry, and the cabbage to become tender.

In crock pot speak, "low" is really quite low. I never saw the liquid bubble, though there was steam condensed under the glass lid. I think of this as a "feature" of the crock pot: that it will tenderly stew everything, without burning it onto the bottom or sides, for as long as it takes to render tough meat or vegetables meltingly tender. After two hours, Kevin checked the pot and decided they needed more time, making an executive decision in my absence, and finally stewed the already fully cooked cabbage rolls for four and a half hours. It seems unlikely that I'll overcook anything, at least on "low."

When I make something like this again, I will make sure to cover everything completely with liquid: cabbage at the top of the pot never got as tender as what cooked fully submerged in liquid.

To make this dish, I cored and steamed a head of cabbage: about ten minutes of steam was enough to make the leaves pliable. While the cabbage cooled, I browned two pounds of ground lamb, and sautéed some onion, combining those in a large bowl with a quart of cooked brown rice (left over from dinner the other night), more caramelized onions (that I browned the other day with the idea that I'd think of something to put them in), salt, pepper, and a little chopped parsley. Start with two teaspoons of salt for four cups of cooked grain, and adjust to taste.

I peeled the outermost leaf from the head of cabbage, which formed a shallow cup, and filled it with about a quarter cup of the lamb and rice mixture. If I didn't overstuff it, I could fold four corners of the leaf over to close the cabbage roll. It's nice if they stay together, but not the end of the world if they fall open. I used half the head of cabbage before I ran out of stuffing.

I put a quart of lamb ragù into the crock pot, and gently laid each cabbage roll into the sauce after I made it. When I was done, the pot was nearly full. Some of the rolls were above sauce level, so I added a couple of cups of duck stock (the last of it) to top things off.

crock pot full of cabbage rolls and tomato sauce, the remainder of a steamed cabbage, and a stuffed cabbage leaf

I stewed them in the crock pot on "low" for 4.5 hours, during which the cooked rice absorbed almost all of the liquid in the pot, leaving about a cup of rich tomato paste at the bottom.

stuffed cabbage, cooked

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Stews, with interludes of roast meat

"Honey, it's going to be stews, with interludes of roast meat, from here through to spring," I told Kevin, and he responded with a groan of pleasure. Stew and anything that starts with meat are popular around here. I like to make a pot of stew and eat on it for a few days. Success is any stew that doesn't overstay its welcome. Black-eyed peas were a recent stew, and I would say that thanks to the generous amount of bacon in them, they did not overstay their welcome with me, but just barely. I should have warned you in my last post that a pound of dried beans makes a lot of cooked beans. Generally, you'll get about four cups of cooked beans from a cup of dried, and two cups of cooked make a good meal. Laurel's Kitchen has whole pages of tables, including dried-to-cooked volume conversions. I have the old version of this classic American vegetarian cookbook, which was handed down to me from a friend, and a tattered, re-taped, and flour-enriched paperback volume it is, as I refer to it each time I make bread.

After black-eyed peas was a barley lentil stew with carrots and spinach, also a success. I made more than a gallon of it, flavored with a little over a pound of andouille, most of a fresh batch of duck stock, and an ounce or so of fresh basil. I used more of the duck stock tonight in roasting a turkey breast that I had in the freezer from Thanksgiving. We didn't have anyone over last year, but had ordered this big local turkey, so I butchered it and cooked it in pieces. I made stock from the largest part of the carcass, and the legs ended up in a cacciatore. On Thanksgiving Kevin grilled half the breast that I'd wet-brined, and tonight I honey-glazed and oven-roasted the other half for sandwiches: half a boneless breast, roasted at 450°F takes about half an hour for a meat thermometer to read 160°F internally.

We ate the turkey this evening with bacon, avocado, and mayo on whole wheat toast, and sides of oven-roasted curried sweet potato fries. Oven-roasting does not give the same crispy exterior as deep frying, but soft, sweet fries with chewy roasted bits are pretty good, too. To make the fries, I scrubbed and sliced three very big sweet potatoes, tossed them with about half a cup of olive oil and a tablespoon of curry powder, then roasted them in the same 450° oven as the turkey breast, turning them every ten minutes until they were totally soft through, and beginning to brown on some sides. I let them roast for about half an hour, and could have roasted them longer to get them crispier, but the turkey and bacon were ready.

I have two recent acquisitions, both sure to make appearances here. One is a digital camera, a simple point-and-shoot model from Kodak that I intend to use mainly for taking pictures of food I cook. The other is a five-quart programmable crock pot. I'm planning to break both in on a batch of cabbage rolls. The local version of this dish is known as galumpkes, is stuffed with beef and rice, and is simmered in tomato juice or puree. My cabbage rolls will be made of lamb and rice, and simmered in a lamb ragù from my freezer.

I missed the last local meat sale at our winter farm share location, but there's another coming up, and I hope to stock up on roasts, and to get some bone-in, for making more stock and sauce. We're also expecting another local lamb this month, so hopefully I have a big stash of stock bones coming. I don't know why quart freezer bags full of meat stocks and sauces filling my freezer give me such a warm feeling of food security, but they do.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Black-eyed peas

I lived in the South for many years, and there's a tradition there of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. So I'm told, each pea eaten will give you a day of good luck in the new year. Every year on January first, I make a big pot of them.

I don't follow a recipe so much as a method, this being a dish I learned at my former mother-in-law's elbow. She never follows a recipe, eyeballs every measure. The amounts in this recipe are highly approximate: as long as you follow the instructions, the amounts are not so important.

Usually I would soak my peas overnight in plain water, as I would with any dried bean, but I forgot to put them on to soak on New Year's Eve, so I started with unsoaked beans. Even cramming the pot full of unsoaked beans, the method likely to cook slowest, they didn't take longer than two hours to soften. Soaking overnight might take half an hour off your cooking time.

You can cook black-eyed peas (or any dried bean) in water, or stock, or a combination. Most kinds of stock are fine, though I've never tried a fish stock. Yesterday's peas were cooked in equal parts of chicken, turkey, and roasted vegetable stock. The onions, garlic, and bay leaf are important, and I would say the bacon is essential for the traditional flavor, but this can be made as a vegan dish. Roasted vegetable stock provides lots of deep, caramelized vegetable flavor that substitute for the sweet and smoky flavors of bacon.

If you use meat in your beans for flavor, the amount and type is also variable. You could use pork hocks, duck bacon, turkey sausage, beef bones, kielbasa, or whatever meaty thing you like to use to flavor your food.

Black-eyed peas

1-2 lbs dried black-eyed peas, washed thoroughly and picked over
8-14 cups water, meat and/or vegetable stock, or a combination
1/4 - 3/4 lbs bacon, diced
1-2 bay leaves
2 onions, diced
1/2 bulb of garlic, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

To shorten the cooking time, soak the peas overnight in a generous amount of plain cold water, then drain and proceed.

In a large, heavy pot, cover the black-eyed peas with about three times their volume of water and/or stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a very slow boil. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the peas are tender, 1-2 hours.

If the beans have very little liquid in them before they are tender, add more water or stock. If there is too much liquid, raise the heat and allow it to boil gently, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced.

Salt and pepper to taste before serving. Serve the peas and their juices over rice or cornbread, with a generous helping of cooked greens.