January 10, 2009

Sturdy-Woman Winter Vegetables & Two Recipes

Do you hear the mandolin-legs of crickets somewhere in the distance? Is the ivy threatening to stretch its arms all slender & sexy-like up your white picket fence? Are you waking to the ribbon-songs of robins and finches and sparrows? Are you galloping around your house naked, making deer-leaps from the coffee, to the bowl of fresh strawberries, to the spotlight of sun beaming through your kitchen window?

No? Crap. Me neither. Truth is, we've got a ways to go before springtime seduces us from our wintry slumber.

However, there is no need to fret! Until those first dew drops of spring arrive, we've still got plenty of delicious cold-weather standbys to feast upon: root vegetables, pumpkins, citrus fruits, stored grains, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, artichokes, avocados, etc. Winter is the season of hardy-woman food--food that nurtures us despite the ice-blasting elements in which it is made to survive. For some reason, when I think of winter food--and when I try to compare this foodstuff to a woman, which, as you know, I love to do--I think of my Great-Grandma Larrair. Even though my great-grandmother died before I was born, I feel like I know her through the stories told to me by my mom and grandma. I'm sure these stories are often more legend than truth, but I like believing in them. They paint a picture of a fiery, opinionated, big-boned woman who stood her ground, loved many men, and kept things (and people) alive with her hands. In my imagination, those hands are charged with electricity: sometimes they are planting maple saplings around the perimeter of my childhood home, while other times those hands are smacking the ass of my mom's horse as a way of prodding it to "Go, son--move!"

And still other times, those hands are proofing yeast, or draining bacon grease into an old coffee canister, or stirring the chicken & dumplings just one last time. Her hands are never still, never resting--they're always moving and rattling and creating and digging. They have to, almost, because this woman would not stand for anything less than energy and surge.

Winter vegetables are much the same: they're either rooting deep into the hardened soil, or they're trying hard to preserve themselves in jars, sacks, freezers and cellars. In any case, they last. Even after their thick-armed roots have been ripped from the soil, they can last for months, or sometimes even years, if stored properly. And it's that ability to endure that sustains us through even the most blizzard-stricken of seasons. (Well, I guess we can also thank Safeway and the global marketplace for our winter survival, too...but, whatevs. Gotta give props to those yonder-year methods from time to time!)

Like those leathery root vegetables of winter, my great-grandmother's memory has proven itself capable of long-lasting preservation. While I may not need that root-memory for my physical survival, it sure doesn't hurt to have a whiskey-loving, no-crap-taking woman in my family tree whose roots, I hope, can channel a little of their lifeblood into my own branches from time to time!

Below are two recipes sure to fill you with comfort and warmth as we ride out these last few months of winter. These dishes are chock-full of some of the best sturdy-woman winter staples: potatoes, winter squash, beets, oranges, sage, and flour. What's so great about these dishes, though, is their delicacy, their emotional appeal. Despite the fact these recipes rely on some brawny ingredients, they become something softer when manipulated by our own hands. My great-grandmother wasn't all gruff, I'm sure--and these two dishes, I feel, make me understand the woman underneath the iron-and-steel into which legend has preserved her.Butternut Squash & Potato Dumplings with Sage-Butter Sauce
(In the Midwest, which is where I'm from, we'd call these starchy little treats "dumplings." However, you could just as easily call them "gnocchis," which is what potato dumplings are called in Italy--and throughout many parts of the U.S. nowadays. "Dumplin'" sounds more cozy, and we need all the comfort we can get this time of year!)

For Dumplings:

1 lb. butternut squash
1 large russet potato
12 sage leaves
Egg Yolk
3 cups white flour
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

1. Roast 1 medium butternut squash for 45 minutes at 350. (Or, use 1 can of butternut squash.) The real thing is cheaper, though, and it yields way more meat!

2. While squash is roasting, boil peeled chunks of potato in lightly salted water. When potato is tender, drain it and allow it to dry.

3. In a large bowl, mash your potato with your squash meat. In the middle of mashing, add the nutmeg, salt, pepper, egg yolk, and 2 minced sage leaves. A dash of olive oil wouldn’t hurt, either! Continue mashing until well combined.

4. Begin adding the flour in stages, and stir. Your mixture should begin looking like dough, and you should be able to knead it without it sticking to you. You might need to add more than what the recipe calls for depending on how much squash and potato you had to work with. (I added close to 3 cups, I believe.)

5. When dough is ready to give into your fingers, place on a floured surface, and knead for 1 minute. You may need to flour your fingers, as the dough can become quite sticky at this point!

6. Tear off a third of your dough, and begin rolling it into a long strip, about 1 inch thick. With a sharp knife, begin cutting off little 1” squares, and set aside on a strip of parchment paper.

7. Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil, and then drop in your dumplings. They should be fully cooked in 5 minutes! Remove with a slotted spoon, as dumplings are quite tender.

Sage Butter Sauce with Mushrooms

-1/3 cup butter or margarine (I used Earth Balance Spread)
-1 cup sliced mushrooms
-handful of fresh sage leaves
-pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper1. In a large frying pan, stir butter over medium heat until it begins to bubble. (I used a non-dairy spread instead of butter, but either would work.) Reduce heat just a tad, and toss in your strips of sage. I used about 10 leaves, but feel free to add more! Next time I plan on using around 20.

2. Slice mushrooms of your choosing, and toss into the pan. (I used the cheap white ones.)

3. Once mushrooms begin to brown, add salt and pepper to taste. A touch of nutmeg wouldn’t hurt either!

4. Pour over warm dumplings, and serve immediately! Your heart will melt into buttery/margariney heaven…

Orange-Glazed Beets
(for 1 or 2) Adapted from Isa Chandra Maskowitz's Vegan with a Vengeance

1-2 beets
juice of 1 orange
zest of 1/2 an orange
1 tsp. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
ginger (optional)

1. Cut beets into small pieces (about 1/4 inch bits), and toss into a saucepan with the other ingredients. Bring to a small boil, and cover for 10-12 minutes, until beets are tender.

2. Uncover, and stir. Increase boil for 4-5 minutes until liquid reduces and thickens to a glaze.

3. Serve warm or chilled. Achieve nirvana.


Breedale said...

Wow those dumplin's and the sage butter sage looks wonderful! I am so sorry I didn't get to make plans with you for this weekend. What a busy first week! I hope yours went well. I am free next weekend though and I think the weather will warrant some fresh baked bread. At least I am trying to manifest it. Snow too. I am so not ready for spring yet. We'll chat this week about our long weekend to come.

Hadley Gets Crafty said...

I have never made a successful dumpling ever. I'm going to try these and get back to you... They look so tasty and fantabulous.

Paul Allor said...

I consider myself a pretty adventurous cook, but for some reason, dumplings scare the crap out of me. As does anything that involves manipulating dough. It's the same thing that keeps me from attempting a Veggie Pot Pie, another great winter treat.

Anyway, great post, as always!

Hobbies said...

Potato is my favourite. Thanks for posting such tasty dumplings.

- Sophie