Root Vegetable Potpie
I call this “back to our roots” and it’s my favorite way to showcase the glories of autumn and our farmers’ markets, including root spices like ginger, turmeric and garlic. It’s soul-warming, colorful, tasty and very nutritious to boot. It can stand alone as a vegetarian and gluten-free meal with a raw kale salad, and also pairs well with baked ham or fried chicken. A side of fresh cranberry preserves kicks the color, flavor and glamour up a notch. You can’t beat this for local, seasonal, healthy eating.
For the Pie
1 large onion, peeled
1 small rutabaga, peeled and coarsely chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 white turnip, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into ½-inch disks
1 sweet potato, peeled and sliced into thin disks
1 leek, washed and cut into ½-inch disks
1 small daikon, peeled and cut into thin disks
1 small celeriac bulb, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 purple or red round potatoes, washed and quartered
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon ground turmeric (this is a rhizome)
3 tablespoon olive or peanut (a ground nut) oil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground chipotle powder or smoked paprika
2 teaspoons dried marjoram leaves
1 teaspoon ground coriander (this is the root of the plant)
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
1½ cups vegetable broth or water
½ cup chopped tomatoes
½ cup fresh parsley sprigs, chopped
For the Crust
1 cup dried polenta meal
½ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon butter
¼ cup grated Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese
4 cups water
Pinch of nutmeg
Slice the onion into thin disks, slice each disk in half and then in half again.
Heat the oil in a large casserole or small soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, black pepper and turmeric and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the shallot slices, the onion and the leek. Sauté for 3–5 minutes, until they are soft. (They will be colored by the turmeric.)
Stir in the ground coriander, chipotle or smoked paprika and marjoram. Put the remaining root vegetables in the pot. Add the salt and broth or water. Raise heat to a boil. Cover, lower heat to simmer and cook 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a large saucepan, boil the 4 cups of water and salt. Stir in the polenta and 2 tablespoons of butter and whisk rapidly to blend so the polenta doesn’t lump. Continue stirring and cooking the polenta for 4–5 minutes, until it starts to release large bubbles. Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk.
Stir the tomatoes and chopped parsley into the vegetables.
Fill a large ovenproof casserole or deep-dish pie pan with the vegetables and their juice, leaving about ¼ inch at the top. Using a large kitchen spoon, spoon the polenta over the top to create a crust, up to ½-inch thick is OK. Be sure to cover the edges and smooth the top.
Cut the teaspoon of butter into tiny pieces and scatter on top of the cooked polenta. Sprinkle on the cheese and the pinch of nutmeg.
Put the potpie in the center of the oven and put a large baking sheet on the rack below it to catch any spills. Bake for 20–30 minutes, until the top starts to brown and crisp. Remove and let it cool for 5–10 minutes before serving.
. . . . . .
Chicken Thighs with Quince
Quince is autumn delight: a hard yellow fruit that cooks into soft pink perfume. When you add saffron, ginger, precious cardamom and the sweetness of raisins or dates to it, you get a glorious celebration of flavors that will make your farm-fresh chicken sing and your dinner feel like a party.
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 pounds chicken thighs
2 onions, finely diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon chili, Aleppo or cayenne pepper
1 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Pinch of saffron
½ teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons raisins or 8 pitted fresh dates
1 pound quince, cut in half and cored, then the pieces cut in half again
4 tablespoons butter or ghee
Season the chicken with the paprika, chili and black pepper. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the seasoned chicken, skin side down, and brown it. Flip it and sauté another 5 minutes. Remove from the pot, add the onions and soften them in the oil. Do not burn or brown them.
Put the chicken and onions in a large casserole pot. Season with salt and pepper. Add 3 cups chicken stock to the pot—or enough to cover the chicken. Add the saffron, ginger and fresh cilantro. Add the raisins or dates. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower heat to simmer. Cover the pot and simmer 30–40 minutes. The chicken should be falling off its bones.
While that’s happening, melt the butter or ghee on low heat in a small sauté or frying pan. Add the quince and sauté 5 minutes. Once the chicken has been in the pot ½ hour, add the quince and cook until they’re tender.
Serve with couscous, maftoul (aka Israel couscous) or fregola.
Maftoul may be the oldest form of dried pasta: small balls of dough from the geographical area around what is now Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. They are tougher than they look and can take longer to cook to soften than you might think. Follow package instructions.
Fregola (pronounced FREY-go-la) is Sardinian and, like maftoul, is one of the oldest forms of pasta still around. It is small balls of dough, somewhere in size between Moroccan couscous and maftoul, but the basic difference is that fregola has been toasted. So it has a wonderfully nutty flavor. You just boil it in salted water until tender, less time than maftoul, more time than couscous. It is my personal favorite and I’ve been known to substitute it for rice, couscous and freekeh.