Friday, January 4, 2008

Happy 2008! Celebrate With Kale!

Happy New Year! I would share my resolutions with you, except that this year I didn't so much make resolutions as draft a 32-point strategic plan directing all facets of my life in the coming year. Perfectionist? Me? Never!

My New Year's Eve plans have been the same my entire life: hang out with my parents, watch the ball drop in Time's Square, and at midnight go in the front yard and make a lot of noise and shout "Happy New Year!" Everything in my life is very ritualized.

Tradition can be good, though--especially culinary tradition. It's a Southern superstition to eats black-eyed peas and greens at New Year's, to ensure prosperity in the year to come. Actually, I'm not sure how widespread this tradition is--it could very well happen everywhere. Anyway, on New Year's Day I went to my aunt's house and had a feast of ham (well I didn't eat the ham), black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, corn, and a delicious made-from scratch key lime pie (that was my contribution). On New Year's Eve, however, I stayed in and prepared a miniature feast of kale and black-eyed peas, and a butternut squash gratin recipe from Deborah Madison's legendary book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

I think you're really going to like this meal, Allison, since it stars your favorite vegetable (well, aside from fennel) -- Kale!

Deborah says greens can harbor grit, so after you cut them away from the stem, you should immerse them in water, agitate them, and allow the grit to sink to the bottom of the bow.

Butternut Squash Gratin (I actually used Acorn squash)

1/4 c. olive oil
4 c. thinly sliced onion
4 thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons chopped sage or 2 teaspoons dried
NOTE: I didn't have sage on hand, so I replaced it with a random assortment of other autumnal-sounding spices from the spice cabinet.
Salt and freshly milled pepper
6 c. butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 c. flour
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 c. grated Gruyere or Fontina
1/2 c. plus 2 tablespoons heated whole milk
(I used half and half, since I'm always looking out for ways to make my cooking less healthy).
1 c. fresh breadcrumbs
(I made these by pulsing some stale whole-grain bread in the food processor)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil or butter a 2-quart gratin dish (this means a sort of deep-ish, bowl-shaped casserole dish, I'm pretty sure!)

Heat half the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, thyme, and sage and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Spread in the gratin dish, return the skillet to medium heat, and add the remaining oil.

Toss the squash in the flour, letting the excess fall away. Add it to the pan and cook until it begins to brown in places on both sides, about 7 minutes. Add the parsley, season with salt and plenty of pepper, and cook for 1 minute more. Layer the squash over the onions, cover with the cheese, then add the milk. Cover and bake for 25 minutes, then uncover, add the bread crumbs, and bake until the top is browned and the liquid absorbed, about 25 minutes more.

Oooooh. Aaaaah. Yum!

Now for the beans 'n greens! This is loosely adapted from another of Deborah Madison's recipes. Excep0t that the recipe was for Tuscan beans and greens and this is, well, not.

Oklahoma Beans 'n' Greens


Olive oil
A whole bunch of Kale (i.e. whatever you get from buying a bunch of it at the store), cleaned and chopped.
An onion, chopped
3 or 4 bulbs garlic, minced
1/2 a cup of red wine (although really, white would work better. We just happened to have some red on hand)
A can of black-eyed peas (about 15 oz, I'm too lazy to check!), drained and rinsed
Salt & Pepper

First, blanch the greens. Heat a large saucepan full of water over high heat, and when it starts to simmer, put in the kale and cover. Let cook for 6-7 minutes, until kale is bright green and tender, then drain.

In a largeish skillet, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, until transparent. Add the wine, stir to mix, and let the alcohol cook off of the wine, until the mixture is syrupy and dark (or, just syrupy, if you use white wine). Add the beans and kale, mix it all together, and let it cook until it's nice and hot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bon Apetit!

The meal was warm and filling, and a nice way to ring in 2008. This would be good to eat on any cold winter night, since it tastes so homey and comforting.

I hope the first few days of 2008 have been nice for you, Allison (I'm sure they were the excitement of the Iowa caucuses!). Happy cooking, and I'll see you back in Grinnell in two weeks!


Allison said...
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Allison said...

Wow. I don't know what I love more - the fact that you cooked with kale, or that you found the recipe from my favorite cookbook in the whole world. God, I love Deborah Madison. I'm glad you had such a great New Years Feast. Best of all, you have proved that KALE CAN BE A MEAL, sorry Leigh.