This time of year is usually time for burrowing in and getting ready for the cold months ahead. The storm windows come down, the heat goes on, and our menu shifts to comfort food. Comfort food at my house might be casseroles or hearty stews. It can also be a variety of cold weather vegetables. Sometimes they are served as side dishes, but I’m just as happy to surround a pile of grains with a trio of different vegetables for a meal.
I just got Melissa Clark’s new cookbook Cook This Now. I became a huge fan after I devoured her previous book In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite over the summer. I feel like she cooks so many of the same things that I like to cook and eat. Her new book is organized by month, with recipes that match the food that’s in season. There are so many new recipes to try. I jumped right into November’s selections with her Roasted Squash with Honey, Smoked Paprika, and Sage Salt. I didn’t have any acorn squash, but peeled and sliced a large nearly 3-pound butternut squash for a delicious result. The seasonings are blended in oil to coast the squash before roasting.
I think my favorite thing about this recipe was the discovery of how easy it is to make your own herbal salt. I baked some freshly picked sage to dry it out, then crumbled it into coarse sea salt. It was a great accent to the squash, but I’m enjoying sprinkling it on other dishes as well. What a great technique that I can use with other herbs. I have to hurry and try some other variations before the frost gets my herb garden.
There was a bag of Brussels sprouts in the refrigerator. While my favorite preparation of these is to roast them, I wanted to try this Mark Bittman recipe that sautés thinly sliced Brussels sprouts with bacon and dried figs. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar tops it off. The sprouts just seem to melt in the pan, and the contrast of the salty and sweet with the earthy vegetables was great. It’s nice to have a fast option up my sleeve.
Sauteed spinach rounded out the plate. First, I sauté some garlic in olive oil. Then, I toss spinach leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces, into the pan. The spinach was washed and drained, but not dried. Put the lid on the pan, and the spinach will steam in the water clinging to the leaves. Once it has wilted, I take the lid off to let the remaining moisture evaporate. Finally, I sprinkle the spinach with a handful of chopped lightly salted almonds.
Whole wheat couscous, cooked with sautéed onions with some pine nuts mixed in filled the center of the plate, and it was dinner.
1 large butternut squash, 3 to 4 pounds
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp honey
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp kosher salt
4 large sprigs of fresh sage
1 Tbsp coarse sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350F. Peel the squash, cut (carefully) in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds from the center, then cut into ½-inch slices. Place the squash in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, combine the oil, honey, smoked paprika and kosher salt. Drizzle this mixture over the squash, scrapping every last bit out of the bowl, and toss well to coat the squash. Arrange the squash slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet (or two). Place the sage springs in its own, smaller, baking dish.
Put all the pans in the oven. Roast the sage until just crisp, about 10 minutes, then remove from the oven. Let it cool.
Raise the oven temperature to 400F. Continue roasting the squash for 20 to 25 more minutes, flipping the slices over once, about halfway through. The squash should be tender and lightly browned.
Meanwhile, once the sage is cooled, in a small bowl, crumble the leaves into the coarse sea salt and combine (discard the stems).
Sprink the sage salt over the squash slices when serving.
If you’ve stuck with me this far, here’s a picture of my latest knitting project, a sweater for my friend Lauren’s toddler. This was such fun to make. I’d love to make an adult sized version of the same sweater for myself.
Initially, I was a little wary of this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe. The weather lately had been typical late summer weather, hot and sunny and a little humid, and we’ve been eating mostly salads and fresh vegetables and grilled stuff. Creamy, cheesy, garlicky rice with spinach, while it sounded good, just didn’t match the weather. Then, on Tuesday, a bout of raw heavy rain set in for three days. Suddenly, this hearty risotto-like dish was the perfect thing. Funny how that happens sometimes.
In her book, Dorie describes this rice dish as similar to risotto, though not exactly, but delicious in its own right, just not risotto. This put some preconceptions in my mind. An initial scan of the recipe left me with the impression it was a bit involved.
I’m not the best planner (if my sisters Jane or Jennifer are reading this, yes, you can laugh – in fact, you probably think that’s an understatement), though I always seem to get most everything that needs doing done. I skipped the chance to make it over the weekend (see note about weather above), so this would have to be part of a weeknight dinner. Sigh! I guess it would be part of a late dinner…
I was in for some pleasant surprises. First step was to cook the rice. I’ve only used Arborio rice in risotto or paella, both of which involve lots of time stirring. I’ve never “just cooked it”. I was initially skeptical about the liquid to rice ratio. It was over 3:1, much higher than what I use when cooking long-grain rice. I stirred the rice into boiling chicken broth and let it simmer. Dorie didn’t specify how long it would take, so I set the timer for 20 minutes, the usual for long-grain white rice, and waited to see what happened.
In the meantime, I cooked the spinach. I bought a bag of baby spinach because it wouldn’t need stemming, just washing. The bag was large, about 12 ounces, slightly more than the called for 10, but I just used it all because I knew the spinach would shrink down. I cooked the spinach in my largest pot which was full to start. After about 5 minutes, the spinach barely covered the bottom with a thin layer. Amazes me every single time I cook greens. I squeezed out the liquid and gave it a chop.
Then, I sautéed some onion and garlic in butter until tender. At this point, it was time to check the rice. The rice had absorbed quite a bit of the chicken broth, but it seemed like there was still a lot in the bottom of the pot. I set the timer for 5 more minutes and grated the Gruyere cheese. Much to my surprise, those 5 minutes were all it took. Rice was tender and the broth completely absorbed. 25 minutes in total to cook the rice.
Turns out that I was almost done. I stirred the moist rice and my handful of chopped spinach into the pot to combine. Then I added some cream and grated cheese and salt and pepper. I gave it a good stir to mix it all up. Voila! Only 40 minutes from time I put the chicken broth on to boil. Not bad for a weeknight meal.
I served this alongside some grilled fish, though it could easily have been a meal by itself. Perfectly named, creamy, cheesy, garlicky rice with spinach was another September winner!
I followed this one exactly this time, but there are always some clever variations from the other Doristas. You can check out their versions of this recipe at French Fridays with Dorie. If you’re interested in the recipe, you’ll have to buy the book, Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. But then, you can cook along every week, or as often as you like!
Special note: It turns out that according to WordPress, this is the 200th post on A Plateful of Happiness. Seems like a noteworthy number. I’ve been doing this for not quite two years now, and 4 of those posts were guest posts by various family and friends, but still, that’s a lot of writing, and cooking, for someone who spends her days in front of a computer writing code.