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Nothing smells like home-baked bread on a cold winter afternoon–or any time, now that I think about it!  Thank goodness making bread at home is easy and even quick, if you just leave the dough on its own as it rises (and why wouldn’t you?).  Today we’re going to make a remarkably soft but also hearty, healthy whole-wheat and oatmeal bread that makes great breakfast toast, super sandwiches, and even tasty croutons.  You can add walnuts or seeds for a bread fit for the Woodstock generation, or try using herbs or garlic to turn it into rustic supper rolls, as I did with a little of the dough the last time I made this bread.  You can even make fresh, hot homemade glazed doughnuts for breakfast and still have enough dough left for a good-sized loaf of the bread in the afternoon.

Bread is really easy , as long as you remember three keys for making good yeast bread.  The first key to baking any yeast bread is to remember that yeast is a living organism.  It’s going to be happiest (and help your bread rise best) if you start with fresh (live) yeast and wake it up in a nice warm (not hot) bath.  The second thing you need to know is that yeast likes to eat, but it doesn’t like to binge; keep your yeast feed slow.  The third key is remembering that wheat gluten is your friend when it comes to yeast bread.  Wheat gluten is the substance that helps build structure to work with all the gas produced by your happy yeast.  Put together happy yeast and wheat gluten, and you’ll have great homemade yeast bread.

Ingredients

Remember to use organic when you can!

  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water (comfortable for your skin)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned (not quick cooking) rolled oats (a.k.a. oatmeal before steel-cut Irish oats and Scottish oats invaded the US)
  • 1 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds (optional:  if you don’t have flax seeds, try using another tablespoon of butter)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
  • 4 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/4 cup whole-grain oat flour (or just add another 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour if you don’t have oat; I keep both in my pantry, and the oat flour helps provide softness)
  • 1/4-1/3 cup wheat gluten (Gluten has gotten a really bad rap in recent years, but it’s a must if you want to make whole-grain bread and still get the flexibility that contributes to sustaining the rise.  Gluten, by the way, also raises the protein content of the bread, so if you’re not sensitive to it, use it!)
  • 1/2 cup more warm water (same as before–like a nice hot bath but not so warm that it hurts you or the yeast)

Begin by dissolving the yeast and sugar in the 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl (preferably 4-quart, although a 2.5 quart will work in a pinch).  You’re proofing the yeast.  If it’s good, in a few minutes you should have woken up your yeast, and they should have started making a foamy mess in your bowl.  That’s what we want to see!

Meanwhile, pour the 1 1/4 cup boiling water over the oatmeal.  I use a 2-cup heat-safe pyrex measuring cup for the oatmeal, and then I can just add everything else except the flour.

Next scald the milk by bringing it to the edge of a boil, until tiny bubbles appear around the edges of the pot.  Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the butter, salt, and honey until they dissolve.  Add them to the oatmeal.

As soon as the oatmeal mixture reaches that good bath-water temperature, add the oatmeal to the yeast mixture in your really big bowl, add the flax seed, and start working in your flour, baking powder, and wheat gluten, alternating so that they all three get thoroughly mixed.  Knead the flour in until you think you can’t add more, then do the easy thing and add the last 1/2 cup warm water–yep, bathwater temperature again.  Knead a few minutes more, until all of the flour is incorporated.  Then cover the bowl and set it in a warm place to start rising.  Thanks to the extra water, it will keep developing the gluten on its own, without too much kneading from you.

For the next twenty-four hours or so, let the dough rise.  When you notice that it’s doubles, form your hand into a fist and slam it into the middle of the dough.  Punch it down.  Give it a few good kneads.  Re-cover it and walk away again.

When you’re ready to bake, you’ll need at least two hours with the dough.  Start by punching down and kneading the dough one last time.  Then put it in a warm (not hot), buttered bread loaf pan, 9×5.  (You can use an 8×4 if you’ve taken a bit out for other purposes–see below.)  Let it rise for an hour in a warm (not hot) place for an hour.  Start pre-heating your oven to 375 degrees F.  The dough is ready for the oven when an indentation you make with your finger still bounces back but just barely.  Put the dough in the oven and bake for 40 minutes.  The bread is done when you knock on the bottom and it sounds hollow.  Cool in the pan a few minutes and then cool on a rack.

The Bonus:  Rolls or Doughnuts!

Now, I happen to know that this dough makes an ample loaf, so ample in fact that you can pull out a bit of dough for something else and have enough left.  Let’s say that you start this bread Sunday afternoon.  How about if you take out dough about the size of two or three chicken eggs that very night?  Turn that into three dinner rolls, let rise for about an hour in a warm spot, and then bake them for dinner, about 20-30 minutes at 375 degrees F.

Or you can do what we did this morning, having started the dough yesterday.  Make doughnuts! Take out a scant 1/2 cup dough.  Add 1/2 a chicken egg (or one bantam egg), beaten with a sprinkle of sugar (no more than 1/2 teaspoon) and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.  Knead it together until the egg is well incorporated.  You’ll have a very soft dough.  Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour on a bread board and then pull out three or four balls of dough.  First form rounds, and either cut out the middle or use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke through a hole and enlarge it.  Use flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking.  Let the doughnuts rise for a half hour.  Heat oil of two or three inches to 350 to 375 degrees F in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot.  Drop doughnuts in one at a time and fry until almost done on one side, and then flip to the other side.  Remove, drain, and drizzle with glaze.  Glaze:  three tablespoons of powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and enough milk, by the drop, to make your glaze.  Take it slow with the milk and stir with every addition; you can easily go from not enough to too much.

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One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is making offerings from kitchen and heart for friends and family.  A consistent favorite among recipients not just for gifts but also gatherings is my cashew bark, a confection of chocolate, salty nuts, butter, and sugar.  Heat transforms the butter and sugar into a crisp toffee.  The chocolate and nuts encapsulate everything.  The combination is genuinely addictive.  Thank goodness the recipe is simple!

Before you get started, make sure that you have a heavy-bottomed pot (stainless steel is good), a candy thermometer, and a jelly roll pan.  You can do without the latter, but the first two are absolute necessities.

Ingredients

I was able to get every ingredient listed in organic form.

  • 3 cups chocolate chips or chopped chocolate chunks (dark chocolate or semi-sweet; milk chocolate is too sweet for me for this recipe)
  • 3 cups roasted, salted cashews (option:  try other nuts, like almonds, for a toffee more like those candy bars that shall not be named)
  • 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) real butter (no, you may not use margarine; it will not work)
  • 2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Chop chocolate chips or chunks in a food processor, pulsing on and off to avoid the chocolate melting, until they are just bits of chocolate.  (You may, of course, do this step by hand.)  Transfer the chocolate bits into a big bowl and then chop the cashews roughly, pulsing again.  They should retain some characteristics of cashews, not be pulverized into nut butter.  Mix the chopped cashews with the chocolate bits and set aside.

Now put the butter and brown sugar in a heavy-bottomed, high-sided pot. (Electric burner users:  you may want to use a wire diffuser to avoid burning.) Let the butter and sugar melt together at first over medium heat, stirring to combine.  As the mixture combines, hook the candy thermometer over the side of the pot, making sure to keep the tip submerged but well away from the bottom of the pot.  Make sure that all of the sugar crystals are melting, and then increase the heat a bit, stirring regularly.

Meanwhile, grease the jelly roll pan (about 17×11 inches) and use half of the cashew-chocolate mixture to coat the bottom lightly but evenly.  Just gently sprinkle it on. Now go back and stir the butter and sugar, which should be starting to resemble rising, molten lava.  Add the vanilla.  Be very careful, as the mixture will feel like molten lava if it gets on your hand!

Keep stirring while you watch the thermometer edge toward 300 degrees F, also known in candy making as the hard-crack stage.   Increase the heat if you must, but watch that temperature!  As soon as it hits 300 degrees, pick up the pot and quickly drizzle the butter-sugar lava over your cashew-chocolate mixture, leaving gaps that the lava will mostly fill in for you.  If any sections are left uncovered, smooth out the lava with the back of a metal serving spoon.  You need to move fast, as the mixture will start to harden almost immediately.  (No, sadly I do not have pictures, as I never have time for photographing  at this stage.)  Now quickly sprinkle on the rest of the cashew-chocolate mixture, making sure to get to the edges.  Press the cashew-chocolate mixture into the pan with the back of the same metal serving spoon you used above.  The chocolate will start to melt and hold everything together.  

Let the pan sit for a couple of minutes and then put it in the refrigerator or freezer, depending on how much time you have.  Be sure that it is relatively flat or the cashew bark will be thicker on one side than the other.

After a couple of hours in the freezer or a few more in the refrigerator, the cashew bark should be thoroughly chilled and ready to break into pieces.  Lift one edge and start breaking!

Ultimately, you want pieces that one could eat in one to three bites, since the toffee is incredibly rich.  Any smaller bits will make a wonderful topping for ice cream!

Store in air-tight container in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks or the freezer for a bit longer.  You can package the cashew bark for gift-giving too, as you long as you forewarn the recipient to keep it cold, or simply set it out as your offering for the next potluck or party.  Just be sure to save some for home, or you’ll find your family protesting!

This cashew bark has become a holiday favorite among my friends, family, and co-workers since I started making it almost two decades ago.  Do you have a favorite sweet treat you share for the holidays?  What’s the dish or treat you look forward to at holiday gatherings and in gift baskets?

You may also be interested in last year’s chocolate gift recipe, chocolate chip gingerbread.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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I’ve recently been on a mission to re-organize and clean out our freezers.  I know we have things that have been in the arctic depths too long.  The other day on a clean out I found some sweet bread (coffee cake remnants?) that I had frozen in chunks.  I tasted it.  Hmmm.  It was okay.  But it had been frozen a while.  What to do?  Bread pudding, of course!

I used

  • about 2 cups of bread, torn in chunks
  • an apple that I cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
  • two eggs whisked with half a cup of milk
  • about 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • cinnamon and nutmeg
  • a crumb topping that I had also frozen when I had a bit too much for a previous recipe
  • black walnuts leftover from breakfast (topping for oatmeal)

Layer the bread in a buttered dish (or cast iron pan like I used).  Sprinkle on a tiny bit of nutmeg and a bigger bit of cinnamon.  Add the apples and cranberries.  Drizzle on the syrup with more cinnamon.  Pour on the egg and milk mixture. Let the pudding sit for about an hour to start absorbing the liquid.  Add the crumb topping if you’re feeling really decadent.

Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.  Serve warm.It’s just some old bread, some fruit, eggs, milk, and spices, but it is ooohhhhh so good!  Mr. Homesteader kept asking for more and practically whimpered when I told him that there was no more.

What’s your favorite freezer clean-out ever?  Or are you organized enough that you never need to clean out your freezer?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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Over the past week, a pile of tomatoes accumulated on our kitchen counter.  They were tasty and ripe, but a lot of them were also ugly.  Some of them had split, while others had fallen victim to tiny predators, which took bites out of each tomato and moved on to the next.  I didn’t have quite enough tomatoes to justify a canning session, but I had to use the tomatoes before they went bad.  I’d just cut off the parts that had already been compromised.  I needed a recipe for a pile of tomatoes, something other than marinara sauce.

Regular readers may recall that I fell in love with the concept behind the cookery school at Ballymaloe, an Irish estate.  Ballymaloe focuses on using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.  Studying at the school is not in my budget, but buying Darina Allen’s cookbook was, as I described in April.  Since I got the book, I’ve used it as much for tips on breaking down whole chickens as I have for the recipes, but a recipe for tomato and pecorino tarte tatin caught my attention as I contemplated my pile of ugly tomatoes.  I ended up using Allen’s idea–baked tomato in a nice crust–rather than the recipe, so what I present here is my adaption, a right-side-up pie rather than an upside-down tarte tatin.  This tart makes a rich side dish with a light dinner but can also be an appetizer on its own or a tasty leftovers breakfast.  And you can make it without heating up your house if you use your toaster oven.

Filling Ingredients for an 8-inch cast iron pan

  • 1/4 sweet yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • about 5-6 cups peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes, preferably a mix of paste and slicing tomatoes; okay to use cherries too, but they’re a lot harder to peel!
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • optional:  1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced (okay to use the yellow onion, but then your pie won’t be quite as pretty)
  • tiny bit of olive oil
  • 2-3 slicing tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1 1/2 ounces manchego or other sweet, hard cheese, like a dry, aged cheddar
  • several fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded

Crust Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into bits
  • optional but really tasty!:  handful or two of toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
  • flour for rolling

Begin by sauteing the chopped onion in the olive oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed non-reactive pot (e.g. aluminum-bottomed stainless steel) while you prep the chopped tomatoes.  When the onions just barely start to caramelize, add the chopped tomatoes, salt, and sugar.  Cook uncovered over low heat, simmering until the tomato and onion mixture is reduced to about 1/3 or even 1/4 of its original volume.  The consistency should be like jam, close to tomato paste.

Meanwhile, roast the thinly sliced red onion with a little oil in your 8-inch cast iron pan for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees F.  Set aside the roasted, now caramelized onions.  We’re going to need the pan.

You can make the pie crust while the tomato jam cooks down and the red onions roast.  Put the flour mixed with with salt and leavening and cold, cut butter in a medium-sized bowl.  Cut the butter into the flour, using a pastry cutter or fork.  Once you’ve cut in the butter, creating a mealy mixture, mix in the toasted pine nuts, breaking them with the pastry cutter.  Now stir in the yogurt, just until you’ve formed the dough. Do not overwork pastry dough! Wrap the dough and chill for a few minutes.  When the tomato jam is ready, flour a clean surface and roll out about 2/3 of the dough and use it to line your 8-inch cast iron pan.  (Save the rest of the dough, well wrapped, in the refrigerator.  We’re going to use it for sweet apple turnovers!) Pre-bake the crust at about 375 degrees F for 15 minutes, covering the crust loosely with aluminum foil to keep it from over-browning in the toaster oven.

Now let’s fill!  Using a fine grater or even a microplane, grate a thin layer of cheese over the baked crust.  Spoon on about 1/2 of the tomato jam.  Add a the slices from one tomato and a little more cheese.  Put on a little more tomato jam, add more slices, and then sprinkle on the roasted onions.  Add more tomato slices, the basil, a little more jam, and the rest of the cheese.  Bake at 375 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, covering loosely with foil to avoid over-browning the crust.  Let cool briefly and then slice and serve.

Would you like to make a 10-inch tart instead?  Simply prepare 50% more of all of the filling ingredients and use all of the pastry dough.

Do you have a favorite savory vegetable pie that you make or had somewhere?  What do you do with your ugly tomatoes?

 

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.  All rights reserved.

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Recently a Canadian reader, Anita, who has fallen in love with Southern food asked me for my squash casserole recipe.  I said I’d be happy to oblige but would need a few weeks for two reasons:  first, the squash crop around here was in the summer lull (argh, squash bugs!), but most importantly because I needed to actually come up with a recipe.  I make mine a little differently every time, just as I do with most things that I cook and bake.  Anita remembered a casserole she’d had in Georgia that was creamy, with a buttery flavor.  She hoped it did not involve the ubiquitous can of Campbell’s soup that has made most “casseroles” since the 1950s.  I’ve certainly had the souped up casserole at many a potluck, but that was not my favorite squash casserole; my favorite was my grandmother’s.

While my mother-in-law was visiting, I made a squash casserole as my mother-in-law said she did, using milk, mayonnaise, and egg as the binding agent.  It definitely was not what we were looking for, having a heavy feel, and I knew my own grandmother had used a white sauce.  I hunted to see if my grandmother ever wrote down her recipe, or if she had gotten it from that trusty 1899 cookbook that belonged to her mother.  No, that cookbook made no mention of a casserole at all, the concept of a casserole having been foreign (literally) in much of the Southern United States until the introduction of Campbell’s “casseroles” in the mid-twentieth century.  (The infamous green bean casserole with canned soup dates from 1955, by the way.) I surrendered to the inevitable; I had learned how to make squash casserole at my grandmother’s side, and I needed to just give up looking for a recipe and create my own.

My grandmother’s version of squash casserole would have involved either a standard white sauce with cheese and egg or evaporated milk with cheese and egg.  Today I’ll give you my white sauce version, using the dangerously easy cheese sauce with all real-dairy ingredients that I posted in May.  I’m going to give the recipe in proportions for one or two medium yellow squash, with the variations for more.  Remember as you select your casserole dish to keep the squash mixture at about 2 inches depth in the dish.  That way, every serving can have a good amount of the crunchy topping.

A couple of casserole sizes:

  • 1-2 squash:  Try using one of those cute little .4 L Corning casseroles
  • 7-8 squash:  Go for a 2-quart casserole dish.

Recipe for 1-2 medium-sized yellow squash:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and tiny pat of butter (better!)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 medium-sized sweet yellow onion, cut into very thin slices  (If the onion makes you cry when you cut into it, use less.)
  • 1-2 medium-sized yellow squash, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • dash of salt, pepper, and, if you want, a pinch of Italian herbs
  • 1 egg, beaten with a fork
  • 1/4 cup dangerously easy cheese sauce, cooled sufficiently to avoid cooking the egg.
  • 1/4 cup more freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • fine, dry bread crumbs (like Panko) or fine cracker crumbs, sufficient to cover the top of the casserole in a thin layer (about 1/4 cup)

Saute the onion in a heavy pan in the olive oil and butter mix just until the onion starts to get a little color.  Add the squash and saute it with the salt, pepper, and herbs until a bit of the liquid in it yields and is cooked off.  (The salt will help this process.)  Let the mixture cool a bit.  In a measuring cup, add the cheese sauce to the beaten egg and stir well to combine.  Start layering the squash and onions in a lightly greased casserole dish, then pour on a little cheese-egg mixture, then more squash and onions, then more cheese until you’ve used it all.  Sprinkle the grated sharp cheddar on top, add your bread crumbs, and bake, covered, in a 350 degree F oven for about 25 minutes.  Take off the lid and let the casserole brown on top, about 5-10 minutes more depending on what type of crumbs you used.  Let the casserole cool about 5 minutes and then serve.

Let’s multiply to make bigger casseroles:

For 3-4 squash, use 2/3-1 onion, 2 eggs, and 1/2 cup of cheese sauce.  For 5-6 squash, use 1 to 1 1/2 onion, 3 eggs, and 3/4 cup cheese sauce.  For 7-8 squash, use 1 1/3 to 2 sweet onions, 4 eggs, and 1 cup cheese sauce.

As my husband tucked his fork into his serving of casserole last night and put it in his mouth, he sort of made a face.  I was downhearted.  I’d already tasted the casserole and thought it was blog worthy.  I waited a few minutes and asked him what he thought, explaining my quest.  It turned out, he was thinking about his master’s class in statistics when he made the face.  He went into Food Network judge mode to extoll the virtues of the casserole.  He described the squashy, cheesy portion of the casserole as almost custardy, with a fluffy lightness that balanced the richness of the cheese.  He pointed out that the fine crumbs had contributed to the lightness of the dish with their crisp coating on the top.  He liked the flavor too.

To be sure, there are plenty of squash casserole recipes out there, and this is just one, Anita.  If it doesn’t fit your memories of the squash casserole you had in Georgia, I’ll happily go back to the kitchen to work on it more.  My late-planted squash is about to produce a bonanza.  I’ll end up freezing a few squash casseroles by the time the season is over, for use in the winter.

Do you have a favorite squash casserole recipe, with or without canned soup?  Please share!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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I can’t get enough of summer fruit.  Every day I gorge on melons and berries, knowing that their days in my farmers’ market and garden are limited.  It’s peaches, though, that not only make me know it’s summer but that also take me back to my roots.  There simply is nothing in the world like a ripe, fresh, juicy peach.  I eat a lot of them fresh, but it’s cobbler that makes me think of family.

Some day, I’ll part with my Georgia grandmother’s recipe for peach cobbler, which in fact is a deep-dish pie with a crunchy crust that you dish out with a big spoon.  Some day, I said.  Not today. Today I’ll give you the quicker, easier but still incredibly tasty version that I make for our smaller, slightly more health-conscious family.  We’re going to make it in a cast-iron skillet for ideal caramelization.  The topping, based on part of my grandmother’s cobbler pastry recipe, is amazingly simple (equal parts butter, sugar, and flour), and you will no doubt find its formula useful for sprinkling on muffins and coffee cake as well as cobblers.

For an 8-inch cast iron skillet you’ll need:

  • 4-5 ripe, large peaches
  • 2 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tablespoons (or less) sugar
  • 1/3 cup cold butter
  • 1/3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • pinch or 2 or 3 of nutmeg

For a 10-inch cast iron skillet (or deep pie pan) you’ll need:

  • 6-8 ripe, large peaches
  • 3 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 3 tablespoons (or less) sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch or 2 or 3 of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Begin by peeling the peaches and removing the pits.  I do this by slicing the peaches in quarters first.  Then slice the peaches into 8 pieces each.  Toss with the first sugar and flour listed.  Put them in your cast iron skillet or pie pan after making sure that your baking vessel is well-buttered.

Next cut the chilled butter into the larger quantities of sugar and flour using a pastry cutter or just a fork.  Just be sure to keep the butter cold; we’re not making cookie dough, and the resulting mixture should retain discrete tiny pieces of butter encapsulated by flour and sugar.  Sprinkle in the nutmeg.  Crumble the butter mixture on top of the peaches and bake at 375 degrees F for 30-45 minutes, until the  peaches are bubbly and the top is golden brown and crusty.  Serve with a small scoop of real vanilla ice cream on top. Mmmmmmm.

Peach-Blueberry Cobbler

Peach-blueberry cobbler:  Add fresh or frozen blueberries on top of the peaches.

Peach-bramble cobbler:  Add blackberries on top of the peaches.  I think this is my favorite variation!

Blackberry cobbler:  You got it–go all blackberries.  Try a pinch of allspice in the blackberries or a splash of lime juice and/or zest.

Blueberry cobbler (for Leigh):  You may want a bottom pie crust for this variation.

Fall Variations:

Apple cobbler: Use apples (a bit more thinly sliced than the peaches) with cinnamon mixed in with the apples and cinnamon and a tiny pinch of allspice with the nutmeg in the topping.  You could also add cranberries for a really festive touch, but first chop them and toss them with more sugar, as they are very tart.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  For all other uses, contact me.

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Regular readers know I’m all about using what we grow here, in season.  Fortunately, some foods stay seasonal months after you’d think possible, such as the butternut squash that I picked in early November and kept in a cool room for winter, preserving it for our use last night.  For dinner we ate roasted  butternut squash, beets, onions, leeks, and shittake mushrooms served with Italian sausage and a sprinkling of goat cheese over a bed of whole-wheat fusilli pasta, cooked al dente.  The roasted butternut squash and goat cheese almost melted in the pasta to create a creamy, chunky, buttery sauce.  The beets provided glorious color and a caramelized sweetness.  Fresh herbs and Italian sausage rounded out the dish.   As always, we went organic with everything we could–in this case, everything.

Here’s what we used; you could change quantities to fit what you have on hand.

  • 2-3 large freshly dug beets, rough parts peeled off and quartered
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1-2 leek bottoms, cleaned (sliced lengthwise) and sliced across the grain
  • optional:  1  small, sweet onion, quartered and sliced (if you don’t have leeks)
  • 1 teaspoon or so finely chopped or dried Italian herbs (rosemary, oregano but probably not basil for this dish)
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • optional:  splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup or more of shittake mushroom tops, halved and then sliced  (other mushrooms will work too, but you may want to alter the roasting time)
  • 1/3 pound Italian sausage
  • 1 sweet or hot Italian pepper (ours came from our garden by way of the freezer), sliced
  • optional:  red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 – 1 dry cup whole-wheat fusilli pasta (or other hearty curly pasta that will retain its character in the face of other flavors)

Begin by preheating the oven to 375 degrees F.  (You could go to 400 degrees F, but only if you are using more, smaller beets, and then you’ll need to reduce total roast time to 20 minutes.)  Lightly coat the bottom of a heavy pan with olive oil and butter.  (I used cast iron–big surprise, right?)  Spread on your beets, squash, leeks and onions, toss them with the herbs, a little more olive oil, salt and pepper, and, if desired, the balsamic vinegar.  (You can also save this ingredient for later or leave it out altogether.)  Roast these vegetables for 20 minutes and then add the shittake mushrooms and roast for 10 more minutes.  Meanwhile, brown the Italian sausage and crumble or slice it and then keep it warm with the red pepper slices.  Pump up the heat with red pepper flakes if you want more spice.  As the sausage and peppers cook, prepare the pasta in boiling water.  Everything should be ready at about the same time–approximately 35 minutes after you started prepping the vegetables.  Put the drained fusilli in bowls and then add the sausage with peppers and the roasted vegetables, tossed with balsamic vinegar if you didn’t use it earlier.  Sprinkle the goat cheese on top.  As you eat, the goat cheese and butternut squash will start to meld with the pasta.

Vegetarian option:  substitute seasonal beans or seasoned garbanzo beans for the sausage!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome. Please contact me for permission to use photographs.

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