Autumn into Winter – A Vegetable Cassarole

I live the first 55 years of my life in Texas — more generally, in the Southern/Southwestern US.  As a result, I can make a pot of chili that will make both your mouth — and your eyes — water.

Now I find myself in the Pacific Northwest.  I spent yesterday morning, and today, wandering around the city of Portland, discovering just a few of the dozens of foodie passion pits and tiny shoplings that make this small city into the current Emerald City of the Kingdom of OZ.

Yesterday, I discovered “The Meadow” — a 16′ x 16′ storefront that sells dozens of varietal salts from all over the world; a wall and bar full of microbrewed bitters; a vaulted display wall of chocolate bars laden with everthing from persimmon and habanero, to ramen noodles and pineola nuts.  Today, I went to what I thought would be familiar turf — the Whole Foods Market.  (There are 5 here to pick from….)  I shopped Whole Foods in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and Santa Fe for over 20 years — so I thought I knew what to expect.  But in Oregon — Whole Foods has a completely different character.  In Portland — Whole Foods is where fruit and vegetables go to prepare for the afterlife.   This is heaven’s waiting room.

Nearly half the store was fresh produce — and with only 3 exceptions that I found — it was all organic.   Let me repeat that.  IT WAS ALL ORGANIC.  In 2012, when corporate farming and mass-over-produced food is everywhere, in Portland, the vegetables and fruits were ALL organic.  Beautiful, richly colored, often local, and all perfect — organic.  15 varieties of organic apples and pears.  A wall full of red, purple, green orange, yellow, and nearly black veggies — full of anthrocyanines, caretenoids, and all the other pigments that turn a basket of vegetables into a pharmacy.  An island of STILL GROWING mushrooms in a dozen varieties….  organic onions, shallots, garlic, sweet potatoes, yams, red potatoes and russets — 7 kinds of kale and 5 times that many other leafy greens.  And all of it wet, cold, clean, and aromatic.  It was bloody amazing.

Another quarter of the store is devoted to their bakery and deli, and the rest is split between organic wines, a meat market I will pay more attention to once I’ve got my kitchen up and running — and the normal dairy, freezer, and shelf-pantry sections.

This recipe may be the first thing I make — well, maybe second.  I’ll be putting on a loaf of bread and a pot of soup as soon as the appropriate instruments are unpacked.  But aside from soup and bread — this will be the first house-warming dinner!  Veggies, fruit, autumn and winter…. and the leftovers should reheat nicely.

In a lot of ways, this is a veggie/fruit savory bread pudding.  The techniques are very similar — but with slightly less custardly texture — and some really wonderful savory harvest and winter flavors….

3 T EVOO
3 T salted butter
3/4 lb carrots, cut into 3/4″ pieces
1/2 lb parsnips, cut into 3/4″ pieces
1/4 lb celery, cut into 1/4″ pieces
1/2 lb butternut squash, cut to 3/4″ cubes
1/2 lb sweet potato, cut to 3/4″ cubes
1 lb leeks, washed, trimmed, halved lengthwise, and sliced thin (weigh after trimming)
1 lb granny smith (or other tart) apples, cored and cubed (with peel)
2 t Kosher flake salt
1 t fresh ground black pepper
3 T rubbed sage
2 T fresh minced parsley
1/4 oz fresh thyme (or 1/2 t dry)
3 T fresh lemon zest (about 1 lg lemon’s zest)

1 lb  loaf of day old sour dough bread — sliced and cubed

15 oz can of organic pumpkin puree  **(not pie filling)
7 eggs
1 c heavy cream
1 t Kosher flake salt

1 c dried cranberries
2/3 c unsweetened cranberry juice
1  T fresh lemon juice
2 c organic chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

8 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 c bread crumbs (fresh/unseasoned)

This is one of those recipes that happens in stages.

  1. prepare all ingredients in advance.  Chop veggies, soak cranberries in juices, let everything come to room temperature in advance.  Cube bread and spread it out on a tray so it can dry out.  Preheat oven to 370.  Butter the interior of a lasagne sized baking dish.
  2. heat EVOO and butter in the bottom of a large pan and add the cubed veggies, leeks, apples, and herbs/seasonings in the first group.  Saute, sweat, caramelize these veggies until the leeks are almost dissolved/invisible.
  3. mix eggs with cream, pureed pumpkin, and a little salt, and toss with bread cubes.  Allow the bread to soak up as much of this liquid as possible.  Toss the soaked cranberries with the bread mixture.
  4. Combine the pan of hot veggies/apples with the bread and cranberry mixture.  Mix (toss?) well and spread evenly in the prepared baking dish.
  5. pour the chicken stock over the veg mixture evenly, and lightly salt the top of the mixture.  dot with butter, and cover tightly with buttered foil.
  6. Bake, covered for 45 minutes at 375.
  7. Uncover, and bake for 45 minutes at 350.  Until well browned.
  8. remove from oven and top with crumbled feta and bread crumbs distributed evenly.  Return to oven, set to broil, and brown under the broiler until bread crumbs are toasty brown.
  9. Remove from oven, and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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