Monday, November 14, 2011

Market Inspirations—a Simple Platter of Roasted Vegetables with Kale & Sausage for Sunday Dinner

I spent my free moments this weekend pulling the remains of the summer annuals out of my garden. I had wanted to spend Sunday afternoon playing/working in the kitchen, but as the weekend wore on, my amount of free time dwindled and garden clean up seemed to take priority. The annuals are usually just a memory by now, but this year—even though it is mid-November—we have not yet had a hard freeze (at least at my house). The annuals have hung on, blooming sporadically, giving me an excuse to let them be for a while longer. But this weekend I noticed they were looking pretty ragged (having endured a few light frosts), so I finally decided it was time. As I worked, I found that the annuals weren't the only things still in bloom; I discovered Shasta daisies, anemones, perennial geraniums...even a clematis....all valiantly putting on a bit of a farewell show.

When I finally made it to the kitchen on Sunday, I really just wanted to get dinner on the table. I had been thinking about my purchases at Saturday's market and the contents of my pantry as I worked, and had decided on a very simple meal of braised kale, roasted delicata squash and Italian sausage. It was not fancy, but it was nourishing, full of flavor and filling. It also seemed like a celebration of Autumn on a plate.

Delicata squash has the most fleeting season of the winter squashes. It is thin skinned (thin enough that the skin is edible), so it isn't a good candidate for long term storage. Now is the time to enjoy it. It has a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. It is perfect for stuffing, but it also makes beautiful rounds or half circles for sautéing or roasting. To prepare it, simply wash it, trim away the stem and blossom ends, halve it lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut the halves cross-wise into 1/2-inch thick semi-circles.

If you want rings, after trimming the ends, cut the whole squash into cross-wise slices and then remove the seeds from the center of each slice.

For our dinner, I combined the squash with Yukon potatoes and carrots. I dressed them as usual for roasting (olive oil, salt & pepper), adding in a scattering of minced rosemary. If you are not adept at roasting vegetables, take a moment to look at the tutorial I posted last year on how to roast vegetables. The kale that I had from my market was young and tender and consequently easy to cook. I stripped out the center rib, cut it into a fat chiffonade and cooked it (covered) in some garlic infused olive oil. But if you have more mature kale, it will be easier to cook if you blanch it before you add it to the garlic oil. You can find directions for this method on my post from last week on Baked Pasta with Kale & Chicken.

The exact quantities and choice of seasonings in this dish are not so important—to me what is important is the idea....a big rustic plate of layers of braised greens and roasted Autumn vegetables. As I worked in the garden, I arranged and rearranged the possibilities in my mind. At one point I thought about stopping what I was doing long enough to go inside and start a pot of beans. Some cooked beans (Great northern, Cannellini, Garbanzo...), added to the kale along with a small amount of their cooking liquid, would turn this layered vegetable dish into a rustic stew of sorts. They would also be a nice starchy stand-in for the potatoes. The vegetables could be varied according to whatever root vegetables or squash you have on hand (turnips and parsnips seem like particularly good ideas). Just cut everything in roughly half inch thick slabs—the plate will look best with large dramatic pieces. The rosemary could be replaced with sage or could even take the dish in a whole different direction by seasoning the roasted vegetables with cumin and smoked paprika. The sausage too could be replaced...maybe with Kielbasa...or a scattering of olives (for a vegetarian variation). The dish could be topped with a poached egg...or a generous spoonful of aïoli.....  The more you think about it, the more the possibilities begin to multiply.

Roasted Vegetables with Kale & Sausage

Olive oil
1 lb. Delicata Squash, trimmed, halved lengthwise, seeded and halves sliced cross-wise at 1/2-inch intervals
1/2 lb. small Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1/2 lb. Carrots (2 large), peeled and cut into ½-inch thick slices on the diagonal
minced Rosemary
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
hot pepper flakes, to taste
1 bunch Kale (about 6 to 8 oz.), stemmed and cut into 1-inch wide ribbons (wash the kale, but do not spin it dry)
4 oz. link Italian sausage

Place the squash in a bowl with the carrots, potatoes and rosemary and toss with olive oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Spread in a snug single layer on a baking sheet.

Place in a 400° to 425° oven. Roast, stirring once or twice, until all of the vegetables are caramelized and tender—about 40 minutes.

While the vegetables roast, heat some olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook until the garlic begins to sizzle—do not let it brown. Add the kale to the pan a handful at a time, turning it with a tongs to coat it with the oil as you do.  When all of the kale has been added, season lightly with salt.  Cook, covered, until wilted and tender—15 to 30 minutes depending on the kale.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Set aside until the vegetables are ready.

Meanwhile, brown the sausage. Transfer to the oven and continue to cook until the juices run clear. Set aside.

When the vegetables are golden and tender, heat the kale through. Reheat the sausage if necessary. Slice the sausage into 6 to 8 fat slices on the diagonal. Arrange 1/2 of the vegetables on two plates. Spread half of the kale over the vegetables. Repeat these two layers, reserving a slice of two of squash to place on top of the second layer of kale. Tuck the slices of sausage amongst the vegetables and kale and serve.

Serves 2 generously. The recipe is easily multiplied for more than two diners.

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