September 25th, 2015

New Ideas, New Techniques

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The Plus Element

That’s what my friend Maggie calls it. On any path to mastery, there’s always one more step.

I think that’s why I both enjoy and feel challenged by my kitchen calling.

Thirty plus years on this culinary path, and I am still learning.
Thirty plus years, and I am still excited about food.

Today’s post shares two of my most recent discoveries, and they couldn’t be more disparate.

The first took its inspiration from a meal at a new vegan-raw food eatery AVO.
The second was the product of a little pre-Thanksgiving research and experimentation.

I served both at our last potluck, to raves.

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AVO (as in avocado) is Nashville’s first full service vegan raw food restaurant. (Nothing heated above 118 degrees, can you imagine?) I was beyond surprised by how delectable–and creative—it’s offerings are. No-bake sea salt chocolate “cheesecake” made from soaked cashews pureed with coconut milk, maple syrup, and bitter chocolate. Pad Thai noodles made from threads of zucchini, daikon, and kelp in a spicy almond-based sauce.

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And a remarkable tabbouleh, made from pulverized cauliflower curds.

And while I’m less likely to attempt the mock cheesecake (despite its incredible, creamy mouthfeel, and rich, deep chocolate taste) the tabbouleh-style salad using cauliflower as its grain is nothing short of genius.

Finely chopped by hand, or pulsed in a food processor, the curds have the right appearance. The texture is a ready receptor for the lemony vinaigrette. The taste is convincing–bright, fresh, healthful and delicious. To the ever-growing repertoire of dishes where this species of Brassica oleracea mimics something else (like mashed potatoes, or piccata, or pizza crust…) add this recipe.

Isn’t cauliflower the versatile one?

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My recipe takes the Middle Eastern mainstay, and flips it further. Instead of flat leaf parsley, I chopped a mound of tangy peppery arugula to fold in with the cauliflower. I “quick-pickled” thinly sliced red onions, for spark and color contrast. I added finely chopped broccoli. I even cooked up a batch of pearled couscous, to extend the salad for our group. (It didn’t need it.)

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The second trial is the “Dry Brine.”

We are all familiar with brining–immersing a hunk of meat or poultry in a highly seasoned-salted bath for an extended, which acts as both marinade and tenderizer. I’ve brined pork roasts to my satisfaction, but my efforts with turkey have not entirely pleased me.

The flavor was there. The juiciness too. But the skin never got that same compelling crackle.

And the gravy–not that rich brown.

I attempted dry brining a turkey breast. So easy and less cumbersome. It was always a challenge to find a receptacle Large enough to hold the brine-and-bird, much less fit it into the fridge without making a sloshing mess.

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Create your dry brine blend of salt, pepper, and herbs. Sprinkle all over the bird. Place into the refrigerator UNCOVERED for 24 hours. Remove the next day, thirty-minutes before roasting–let it lose some of the chill while you preheat the oven. Drain off any collected liquid at the bottom of the pan. Slip some pats of butter underneath the skin.

Roast, uncovered.

The result?

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It’s a WOW.

Crisp browned skin, tender, juicy meat, wonderful infusion of seasonings. And this was for the breast—which can get dry. I’m looking forward to using this technique on a whole turkey for our grand Thanksgiving feast. Another step on the path.

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CAULIFLOWER-ARUGULA TABBOULEH
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 small red onion, sliced very thinly
1 head cauliflower, washed and cored
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
1 head broccoli, washed and stemmed
2 cups arugula, stemmed and coarsely chopped

Quick-Pickle the Red Onions: In a separate bowl, mix the red wine vinegar, salt, black pepper, and sugar together. Add the red onions. Cover and allow the mixture to soften and pickle the onions—about 15 minutes.

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Break the head of cauliflower into manageable sized pieces. Finely chop the curds and stems.
If you prefer, you may use the food processor and pulse them into fine pieces. Place into a large bowl.

Add lemon and juice. Season liberally with salt and black pepper. Pour in the olive oil and stir to coat the pieces.

Fold in the arugula.
Finely chop the broccoli. Add it to the salad.
Drain the pickled red onions and fold them into the salad as well.
Taste for seasonings and serve.

Makes 6-8 servings

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DRY-BRINED AND ROASTED TURKEY BREAST

8-10 pound turkey breast
poultry rub
4 tablespoons butter

Poultry Dry Rub:
3 tablespoons Salt
1 tablespoon Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Rosemary
1 tablespoon Thyme
1 tablespoon Ground Sage
1 teaspoon Granulated Garlic
1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

The Day Before Roasting:
Rinse the turkey breast under cold water. Pat dry. Sprinkle the rub over the entire breast, pushing some underneath the skin. Place onto a baking pan and refrigerate uncovered, overnight.

Roasting Day:
Remove the turkey breast from the refrigerator. Drain off any liquid which may have collected on the bottom of the pan. Cut the butter into small pats and slip them underneath the skin.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the turkey breast onto the middle rack and let it roast undisturbed (and uncovered) for 1 1/2–2 hours. Check the turkey after an hour and rotate the pan.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Salads, Vegan, Vegetarian Dishes | 24 Comments »




November 14th, 2012

Holiday Sides: tweaking tradition

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Acorn Squash Rings stuffed with Sorghum Apples and Pecans

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Yukon Gold-Sweet Potato Gratin

There’s a thin line to walk at family holiday gatherings, where Traditions and The New intersect. Expectations for the Usual vie for their place at the Thanksgiving table, as does the Desire for Something Different. If you are like me, you would never dream of replacing the roast turkey. Oh, I’ve refined my recipe over the years. And I’ve completely veered away from how I had it prepared, growing up.

Back in the day, my dad was in charge of cooking the turkey. He would cover the entire bird with bacon strips, which would essentially baste it as it roasted. When done, the bacon was practically annealed onto the golden brown skin. He’d cook it early in the day, let it rest before carving, and saunter off to the den to watch a football game.

Crazed with hunger, we kids would sneak into the kitchen, and greedily pick off the bacon strips, which couldn’t help but tear things up. With a piece of bacon came a piece of skin, oops, and then a hunk of meat. By the time the poor turkey reached the table, it was a rather ravaged looking carcass.

Much as we all loved the bacon, no one missed the “bacon-turkey” when I took over the helm of holiday hosting. My replacement, a garlic-sage-butter baste (slathered under the turkey skin) is much-loved, and arrives like a showpiece on the table.

But, no turkey? Unthinkable! There would upheaval, shouts of betrayal, dejection.

However, times change; diets and tastes change.
When you want to introduce something really new, that’s where the side dishes come in.

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When our Third Thursday Community Potluck meets in November, it is a serendipitous convenience that it is held exactly one week before Thanksgiving. (always the fourth Thursday!) Our guests come bearing a bounty of intriguing dishes, ideal for holiday serving. I’m sharing two favorites with you today, for your consideration. Both are vegetarian and gluten-free, one is suitable for vegans. Bearing in mind shifting dietary needs, these are sure to please everyone.

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The first dish combines Yukon Gold potatoes and sweet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced, and layered in a gratin. I love the random look of the overlapping orange and yellow discs. And, grating fresh nutmeg over each layer imparts a subtle spicy note.

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The liquid in which these potatoes cook is half-and-half infused with shallots, chives, and flat leaf parsley. Shredded Gruyere cheese enrichens the dish, beautifully melting throughout the layers. If you can locate Comte, an artisanal French cheese that is possibly better than Gruyere, I recommend it.

The layers meld as they bake, but the naturally (and barely) sweet tastes of both potatoes shine through.

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YUKON GOLD-SWEET POTATO-GRATIN

4-5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 shallots, diced
2 cups half-and-half
2 heaping tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
whole nutmeg for finely grating
1 ½ lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, cleaned
1 ½ lbs. sweet potatoes, cleaned
1 ½ cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
¼ cup grated Parmegianno-Regianno

13 inch x9 inch deep baking dish

Using one tablespoon of the butter, coat the baking dish.

In a saucepan on medium heat, saute the shallots in three tablespoons butter until translucent. Add the half-and-half, parsley, chives, salt, and white pepper. Stir well until warmed. Remove from heat.

Peel Yukon gold and sweet potatoes. Slice very thin (1/8 inch) and layer the bottom of the baking dish in overlapping circles. It’s fine to layer them randomly—a few slices of one potatoes, followed by the other. Grate some fresh nutmeg over the slices.

Stir and cover with a thin layer of seasoned half-and half. Sprinkle with ½ cup Gruyere. Repeat with another layer of sliced potatoes, arranged in similar fashion. Follow with grated nutmeg. Cover again with more liquid, followed by Gruyere. Press down with the back of a wooden spoon to make sure the liquid seeping through all the overlapping slices.

Finish with final of sliced potatoes, half-and-half, remaining cheeses. Dot the top with remaining butter.

Cover with aluminum foil and baking in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Uncover and finish baking for another 15-20 minutes, until casserole is browned, and potatoes feel tender when pierced.

Serves 10-12

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The acorn squash rings make a pretty presentation, and couldn’t be simpler to make. Here in the South, we love sorghum, which adds a mineral sweetness to the apple stuffing. But other syrups would work just as readily. Maple syrup would be a terrific choice.

Apples and winter squashes always pair well. Choose a firm, tart apple, like Granny Smith or Jonathan or Ginger Gold. Pecan pieces and diced shallots are folded with apples, the pecans become toasted in the bake.

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

If you are traveling, travel safely. Enjoy one another’s company, and dine well.

We are headed for DC to be with my daughter and son-in-law, and I plan to stay until my grandbaby is born! Stay tuned. We are full of excitement and gratitude.

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ACORN SQUASH RINGS STUFFED WITH SORGHUM APPLES AND PECANS (vegan)

2 large acorn squashes
2 large baking apples, such as Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gingergold
2/3 cup chopped shallots
2/3 cup pecan pieces
¼ cup sorghum
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
olive oil—for brushing squash rings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice squashes into rings, almost an inch in thickness. Depending on the size of the squash, you can get 5-6 rings from each one. Scoop out the seeds, and lay the rings on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the rings with olive oil.

Wash, core and dice apples into ½ inch chunks. Place into a bowl. Add shallots, pecan pieces, sorghum, salt and black pepper. Toss, so that all the pieces are coated with the sorghum.

Mound sorghum apple mixture into the center of each ring.

Bake for 25 minutes.
Makes 10-12 rings

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 27 Comments »




November 1st, 2011

The Sides Have It

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The first of November! The lure of the Feast!

A couple of years ago, Kim Severson and Julia Moskin, food writers at the New York Times, staged a battle: Turkey vs. Sides. Which brought more happiness to the Thanksgiving table, the noble bird or its myriad accompaniments?

Now I ‘m not one to take sides; I want ’em all. One is incomplete without the others. But, if pressed to choose, I must say that I’d rather have a table full of exciting side dishes than a roast turkey. And, for the vegetarian in our household, there’s no contest. The sides have it.

With the onset of each holiday season, I know that there will be constants–certain beloved dishes that appear during this time, and vanish until the next. (Like Cornbread Dressing. Cranberry-Walnut Relish. Pumpkin Pie. )

But I like change. With side dishes, those supporting players to the Big Feast, there’s the opportunity to introduce variety. It’s good to bring something new to the table, while still upholding treasured traditions.

Today I’m sharing two terrific side dishes that I made recently for our potluck. I want to put them out there early, for your consideration. Both use lesser known, seasonal ingredients. Either would bring happiness to the holiday table.

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First up: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Red Pear, Shallots, Sage, and Hazelnuts. I have Gigi to thank for this one. Adding Red Pear to the mix is pure inspiration, a wonderful flavor balance, and color-wise, a true holiday beauty.

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I’ve roasted and sauteed everything in olive oil. You could make this with butter–which would become brown butter—and I wouldn’t blame you for that. Brown butter!

But, the shallots, toasty hazelnuts, sage, and fragrant pear bites bring a rich harmony of flavors to the brussels, in a more healthful way.

I know what you’re thinking. For a long time, I wasn’t crazy about brussels sprouts either. This dish could change your mind. Even those who usually turn their noses up at the very thought of “little cabbages” relished the savory-sweet combination.

Next up: Roasted Baby Yukon Potatoes, Harukei Turnips, and Thyme

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It’s been a while since I’ve written about these remarkable turnips that Tally grows each year. Petite, white, and earthy-sweet, they defy all my former notions and experiences with the lowly turnip. ( I have bitter, bitter associations with ill-prepared gratins from my youth.)

Harukeis are naturally mild and sweet. Roasting only coaxes that out all the more. And they pair beautifully with potatoes.

When simply roasted in a little olive oil with buttery yukon golds and fresh thyme, the turnips burst with juicy sweetness.

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I first made this dish for the Fretboard Journal Local Farm Feast last month. Another time, I added roasted cauliflower and onions to the batch. This made a very tasty melange, and visually worked as an “all white” vegetable dish.

In the process, I realized that I liked the roasted harukei turnips better than the potatoes. Kind of shocking, I know. I wished I had included more of them in the dish, and fewer spuds. That’s how delicious they are.

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BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH RED PEAR, SHALLOTS, HAZELNUTS, AND SAGE

1 lb. fresh Brussels Sprouts, washed, dried, ends trimmed
1 large Red Pear, firm but ripe–cored (not peeled) and diced medium
2 medium, (or 1 large) Shallots, diced small
1/2 cup chopped Hazelnuts
1 bundle fresh Sage leaves
Olive oil
Salt-n-Peppa

Place brussels sprouts on a baking pan and lightly coat with olive oil.
Season with salt and pepper and place in a preheated 325 degree. Allow to slow roast for about 25 minutes. Outer leaves will get crispy-brown, and the interior will be firm but tender.

In a deep saucepan set on medium heat, saute shallots in olive oil ( 2-3 T) until translucent—about 2 minutes. Stir in hazelnuts and sage leaves and saute a couple of minutes longer. Add diced pear, and gently stir. The pear will break down slightly, and get coated with the shallot-hazelnut mixture.

When the sprouts are roasted, remove from the oven and add to the saucepan. Stir in, combining all the elements well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Serves 6-8

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ROASTED BABY YUKON POTATOES, HARUKEI TURNIPS, AND THYME

2 lbs. small Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 bunch Harukei Turnips
several sprigs Fresh Thyme
Olive Oil
Salt-n-Peppa

Because these yukons were small, I was able to roast the turnips and potatoes together. But it is also fine to roast them on separate sheet pans, and then combine, post-roast.

Place turnips and potatoes on a sheet pan, and lightly coat them with olive oil. Season them with salt, black pepper, and the leaves from several sprigs of fresh thyme.

Place in a preheated 375 degree oven and roast for 40 minutes. Check on them, about half-way, shaking them in the pan, and rotating in the oven. Test for doneness.

Serves 8

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 27 Comments »




December 7th, 2009

Pumpkin Cheesecake, cultured whipped cream

pumpkin cheesecake hero overhead

Bill always wants a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Never before, and rarely after the big feast, and yet it is a dessert that he looks forward to eating with gusto. This year, in a move to enliven tradition, I chose to make this pumpkin treat instead.

While it is a cheesecake, it doesn’t have the same heft, that ponderous commitment to dessert that defines cheesecake. This one has all the spiciness of pumpkin pie, with the cream cheese imparting a nice tang. The gingersnap-pecan crust, simple to make, adds a distinctive crunch.

The best part, however, is the cultured whipped cream. It’s part creme fraiche, part mascarpone, totally divine.

And, one of those happy accidents.

My original intention was to make creme fraiche, but I got started a day late. After stirring in the buttermilk, I waited a bit, and on a whim decided to stir in some fresh clementine juice. (Hurray, the clementines are here!)

Overnight, the mix thickened somewhat, but acquired a more complicated and pleasing flavor–slightly sour, slightly citrus.

It whipped up beautifully, sweetened with a little confectioners sugar, and made a stunning accent on the pumpkin cheesecake.

Verdict: Enjoyed by all. Even Bill approved of the little change-up.

And, while we may or may not see pumpkin in some sweet form until next year, the cultured whipped cream will be showing up with another delectable dessert soon. Very soon.

gingersnap crust

Pumpkin Cheesecake Gingersnap-Pecan crust
12-14 Gingersnaps
1 cup Toasted Pecans
2 T. melted Butter

In a food processor fitted with a swivel blade, pulse the gingersnaps and pecans together. Mix with melted butter in a bowl, and press into a 9″springform pan. Bake for about 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Remove and cool.

pumpkin cheesecake mix

overn ready pumpkin cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling
1 lb. cream cheese
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
3/4 cup Sugar
1 lb. pumpkin (one 15 oz. can works)
2 eggs
1 t. Vanilla
1 t. Ginger
1 t. Nutmeg
1/2 t. Cinnamon
1/2 t. ground Cloves
1/4 t. Salt
a pinch or 2 White Pepper

In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugars with the cream cheese. (I used a Kitchen Aid stand mixer with the whisk attachment.) When smooth, add the pumpkin and continue mixing. Then add the eggs, vanilla, and all the spices. Whip until smooth and fluffy.

Pour into springform pan and place in the center of a 350 degree oven. Fill a baking dish with water and set on the rack underneath the cheesecake.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until knife comes clean. Cool, then refrigerate.

Decorate with cultured whipped cream and pecans before serving.

Serves 12 or more.

another p-cheescake

cultured whipped cream

Cultured Whipped Cream
1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1 Tablespoon Buttermilk
1 Tablespoon Clementine Juice (or orange/tangerine)

4 Tablespoons Confectioners Sugar
2 teaspoons Vanilla

Pour heavy cream into a glass bowl and stir in the buttermilk. Let this sit out for about an hour, and occasionally give it a stir.
Then, stir in the clementine (or whatever citrus you fancy) juice.
Again, let this sit out for an hour or so, stirring occasionally.

Refrigerate overnight.

Before serving: Whip the cultured cream with confectioners sugar and vanilla.

Pipe or dollop onto the pumpkin cheesecake.

vertical pumpkin slice

Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 10 Comments »




December 1st, 2009

Swiss Chard-Butternut Squash Gratin

plate of t-day food

Like many families, we have a number of “must-have” dishes at our holiday gathering—Thanksgiving being a time for traditions. There would be outcry if sage roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberry-walnut relish, and sweet garlic smashed potatoes didn’t make their annual appearance on the table.

But I’ve come to realize that it’s good, here and there, to break from tradition, enliven the usual players, or introduce something different to the menu.

Three years ago we spent our most exotic Thanksgiving in the lakeside town of Bahar Dar, Ethiopia. On that sunny Thursday, Bill and I met up with daughter Madeleine at her work, and took a long walk to an old resort hotel on Lake Tana. There, we dined outdoors in a tropical-like setting: flora in full bloom, trees full of brilliantly colored birds, some clustered with sleeping bats.

For the area, it was a lovely, yet pricey hotel, frequented mainly by Europeans, and offered unremarkable food. Bill had eggs and dabo–a crusty yeasted bread. Madeleine, the more seasoned diner of our troupe, piled her plate from the buffet with lamb tibs, lentils, and a beefy wat. I had been battling a “stomach thing” and recall having penne with tomato sauce, injera with cooked greens and carrots, some sort of melon.

As it resembled Nothing of the big T-Day of our heritage, the three of us laughed and called it the “Anti-Thanksgiving.” Nevertheless, there we were, together, and happy.

Since that extreme Thanksgiving, I have become mindful of the significance of family traditions—and how sometimes it’s worthwhile to bust them up a bit.

chard-butternut gratin hero

This year, along with the traditional faves, I added a couple of new things. A Pumpkin Cheesecake with gingersnap-pecan crust and cultured whipped cream. (post on this very soon!)

And this chard-butternut squash gratin, which was especially relished.

I was inspired by a Smitten Kitchen post that similarly paired sweet potatoes and chard in a gratin. Recognizing that while oh-so-different, there’s a great interchangeability of sweet potatoes and winter squashes in recipes. I chose to use my butternuts in the casserole.

butternut and chard

The colors from the ruby chard and roasted squash were vibrant.
The green onion bechamel richly brought the chard heat and butternut sweet together.

Overall Delectable–worthy of repeating—holidays and any days.

And, tricky. My mom thought that the cheesy spinach-potato casserole was awesome. And so different! I kept mum. My dad wouldn’t have touched the dish had he known that it contained no cheese, spinach, or potatoes.

Here’s to traditions: the cherished knowns, and those in the making.
Mostly, here’s to being together.

Swiss Chard-Butternut Squash Gratin

2 medium Butternuts, peeled, sliced thin
Olive Oil
1 bunch Swiss Chard, washed, stemmed. Chop stems, and
Coarsely chop leaves. As cooking times vary, these will be cooked separately
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1/2 cup White Wine
1/2 cup Vegetable Stock
Salt
Red Pepper Flakes (used in pinches–you decide how hot!)

roasting butternut slices

Lightly oil and roast the slices in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté the chopped chard stems in olive oil on medium heat in a deep skillet or saucepan for 7 minutes. (I used my now-beloved Fig LeCreuset! What ever did I do without it?)
Add minced garlic, and sprinkle with sea salt and red pepper flakes.
Add chopped chard leaves.
Stir well, then pour in white wine and vegetable stock.
Continue cooking for another 5 minutes, folding the leaves throughout the mix.
When the leaves are “cooked down” and tender, remove from heat.

sauteeing chard stems

Make bechamel sauce. Then, follow directions for the gratin assembly.

Green Onion-Chive Bechamel
2 Tablespoons Butter
4 Green Onions (scallions) chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Chives
2 heaping Tablespoons all purpose Flour
2 cups lowfat Milk
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan on medium heat, sauté green onions in butter until softened, about three minutes. Add chives, then rapidly stir in flour, allowing it to slightly cook and coat the onions. Pour in the milk, stirring constantly. Gradually the flour-cooked onions will incorporate smoothly into the milk, and the sauce with form. Simmer as it thickens, and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

saucing the gratin

Assembly
Layer the bottom of your casserole dish with bechamel.
Cover with a layer of roasted butternut squash rounds.
Then, add a layer of sauteed chard.
Top with bechamel.
Repeat–squash, chard, and top finish of bechamel.

Note: this can be made ahead and refrigerated at this point.

Bake uncovered in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, slightly longer, if it’s coming out of refrigeration–until sauce is bubbly and brown-edged.

Serves 10-12.

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Madeleine, Bill, and I at Tis Abay, where the Blue Nile, after exiting Lake Tana, plunges over a 45 meter rock gorge.

Posted in Recipes, Vegetables | 7 Comments »