23 October 2011

Lazy Saturday

Photos & Article by Elizabeth Miller

I have decided to give in. The rain, the chilly nights, the fact that sunset creeps closer and closer to 5PM each day—I get it. It’s autumn. In what can only be called a completely unexpected move on my part, I have chosen to not dread the upcoming endless rains and nonexistent sunlight. It’s time to accept that summer is over, and I plan on doing so by turning to what I know best as a comfort: cooking. Winter squash and root vegetables, here I come.

Breaking up

The greatest part of cooking winter vegetables is being able to find them before winter actually hits. Most winter squash and root vegetables that are found at a grocery store during the winter have actually been out of the ground for months, stored in a cool place to retain their usability. When you buy an acorn squash from the farmers market in October, the opposite holds true. The perfect squash you hold in your hand? That baby just came off of the vine. Potatoes are fresh from the earth, and those carrots you just found piled into a gorgeous heap of pale yellow, purple, and bright orange? They’ve been waiting underground all summer to greet you when the temperature turns and the air gets chilly. For a season that is so closely aligned with the hibernation of all things living, it’s a delight to find food so fresh.

Another great thing about cooking cold weather foods? You get to keep the oven on for hours at a time, slow roasting some things while you leisurely stew others, all the while keeping your house comfortably warm and deliciously aromatic. After a trip to the farmers market last Saturday, there was no rush to my meal preparation as I casually peeled and chopped, then set things to slowly simmer on top of the stove and roast in the oven. After leaving the

kitchen to complete an hour or so of yard work, my autumn meal was nearly complete, and my house was filled with the alluring scent of foods that bring warmth, comfort, and satisfaction. It almost made me forget—and forgive—the


fact that we had just bid summer a long goodbye and opened our doors to the long, wet stretch of autumn.

Pear-Stuffed Acorn Squash

2 acorn squash, halved and seeded

2 medium pears, cored and chopped into ½-inch chunks

½ large sweet onion, sliced into thin half moons

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into ¼-inch to ½-inch chunks

1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage, or 1 teaspoon dried sage

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans or hazelnuts

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium pan, heat olive oil over medium low heat. Saute onions in olive oil until soft, golden brown, and just beginning to caramelize. Add carrots and cook for 2-3 minutes, until carrots are crisp tender. Add pears and cook for 2-3 minutes, until a few edges have just begun to brown. Remove pan from heat and add sage and chopped nuts. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Scoop roughly ½ cup of filling into the hollowed-out middle of each squash half. There is a lot of filling, so expect to mound up the filling on each squash. Place stuffed squash in a large baking dish or roasting pan, stuffing side up. Pour enough water into the baking dish or roasting pan to cover the bottom 1 inch of the squash. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 ½ hours, until the squash is soft when pierced with a fork.

oven ready

Kidney Bean and Sweet Potato Soup

2 quarts water

8 ounces dried beans (I was delighted to find pinto beans at the farmers market, but white beans or navy beans would also work)

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ large sweet onion, finely chopped

1 large sweet potato, about 1 ½ pounds, peeled and diced

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, combine water, dried beans, and bay leaf and simmer uncovered for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally, until the beans are soft.

When the beans are almost done, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the chopped onions and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, until the onions are soft. Add the sweet potatoes and parsley and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the potatoes are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the sweet potato mixture to the cooking beans. Stir to combine and cook for an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as needed.