It’s the time of year when cooking can fall into a somewhat doldrum state. On one hand, we have the best produce of any season…
If you’re lucky enough to live in places where spring vegetables were planted weeks ago, you could already have a crop of spinach or green onions or asparagus. Our past-frost date in Colorado Springs hasn’t yet arrived; it’s June 1 – June 10. For the first time, I’ve snuck a few things in early, but am nightly ready to rush out to bring pots in or run into the yard like a crazy woman throwing blankets over newly-planted beds. (We have upcoming lows of 32 F this week, for instance.)
Disclaimer June, 2014 : I have used the term “lusty vegan” in my blogs without knowing a book by that name was going to be published; I naively thought it was my own phrase. Just so you know. Not a thief!
In Colorado, spring comes in fits and starts, swirling itself in and out through March, April, and sometimes May. There are warm days where we heat up the grill at five pm followed by frozen hoarfrost mornings perfect for stew-making. We, unlike most of the northern United States, have truly fine days long before the real start of spring; January and February can breed 55 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit afternoons when the windows are thrown open for the stagnant winter aromas to dissipate into sweet, albeit temporary, breezes floating down from the mountains. A cook who lives within the seasons and responds accordingly often doesn’t know what to do but be exceedingly spontaneous and keep a daily eye on the weather channel.
Despite snow still appearing on an at least weekly basis, I have for weeks been dreaming of spring vegetables and a new soup to celebrate them. It’s not that we have any spring vegetables cropping up (good pun) in Colorado Springs; we have so little rain that locally-grown vegetables are like gold. And where we live, up on the mesa, it’s bedrock, bobcats, coyotes, deer, and bears. If you had the good luck to get anything to grow, you could be sure something not-so-human would be eating it. I grow copious amounts of herbs in pots and often have cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets on the deck. That’s about it; that’s all I can protect from the wildlife.
below: one of our local young and scrawny bucks making his way through our back garden
Still–the idea of spring food is dear to my heart and I have lovely memories of the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market and its bounty. (In Saint Paul, the Farmer’s Market is still selling winter products, I’m sure. Way too early to plant, though they’re all dreaming and many are starting seeds indoors.) Happy spring vegetables like fennel, asparagus, and leeks deserve their very own dishes with luscious and copious amounts of fresh herbs to encourage them along. While I love asparagus soup ( and who doesn’t), adore leek and potato soup (same thing), and will put sautéed spicy fennel on just about anything, I kept thinking of a soup that featured all of them. Together.
My daughter-in-law, Jami, pregnant with our granddaughter, hasn’t had much appetite. I said to her, “What sounds good?” She said, “I’m supposed to be eating more red meat, but I just don’t feel like eating. I loved that salmon you made last week.” So I made the salmon (or Dave did–on the grill) and also a couple of strip steaks. She loves cauliflower, so that, too was on the menu–steamed and topped with a generous grating of sharp cheddar. (No leftover cauliflower!) A pot of jasmine rice finished out the meal, as Jami is Gluten-Free.
Over the meal, which Jami ate if not with abandon, at least with appetite, we talked baby names. Samantha came up, as did Gwendolyn. Aileen was uttered. “What Celtic names do you know?” Well, I couldn’t think of many Celtic names, but I did tell her the names of our grandmothers, just for fun:
- Laura (pronounced Lara)
They of course already knew their own grandmother’s names, though I later realized that two of them shared the middle name Jean. Continue reading
Each Friday, a wonderful group of women reaches across cyberspace and joins culinary hands to salute one very healthy food, one single beautiful ingredient from Power Foods : 150 Delicious Recipes with the 38 Healthiest Ingredients. (Scroll down for the list of blogs.)
I won’t say it’s not a challenge to come up to that gorgeous plate each week. If I’m busy learning music for church or have my daughter home, or am busy with the soup book, I sometimes can’t give the opportunity the intelligent focus and attention it deserves. I used one great recipe for more than one blog recently….life can get ahead of me sometimes. Hopefully I’m forgiven!
This week, the week of pecans, I had the time I needed to give this a good stab. To give it my undivided creative space. I’m grateful for the opportunity and the chance to move one sweet iota further in my cooking and writing. I hope you’ll enjoy the idea of this light vegetable gratin…which is maybe a bit more like a terrine in character, though not in the size and shape of a terrine. There’s no cream and no butter here unlike most gratins. There is a crusty, crispy topping; it’s a savory oatmeal granola without butter (yes, it has olive oil) to which I’ve added the traditional gratin component of cheese, but also finely chopped pecans.
While pecans are an American nut staple grown in the southern states, they’re not terribly common in other parts of the world, with the exception of South America. High in protein (though lower than almonds and walnuts), they are also high in healthy unsaturated fat, a good source of fiber and vitamin E, calorically dense, and weigh in at nearly two-hundred calories per one ounce serving. Store them in the freezer and use as needed. They are excellent for baking, cooking, and for general snacking.
Gluten-free and easily vegan (leave out the Parmesan), this winter vegetable gratin with healthful pecans in its topping is not only a gorgeous side if you need or your partner really needs a chop… but is a lovely lunch or entree for those in love with vegetables. (You might add more pecans for protein for the vegan version.) A sharp knife, a shallow dish (I used a heavy quiche pan in lieu of a gratin dish as I liked the shape, but even a 2 quart Pyrex would do), and a boatload of winter vegetables are the central components of your beautiful, filling meal. Try this:
winter vegetable gratin with savory granola
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided (needn’t be extra virgin)
- 1/4 cup red onion, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 3 stalks celery, trimmed, stringed, and sliced thinly
- 2-3 parsnips, peeled, and sliced thinly
- 1/2 fennel bulb, cored, and sliced thinly
- 1 turnip, peeled and sliced thinly
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons white wine
- finely grated lemon rind, optional garnish (at table)
granola: (in a medium bowl, mix together well:)
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1/4 teaspoon each: kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1/8 (pinch) aleppo pepper (can sub crushed red pepper)
- 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese (omit for vegan version)
- 1/4 cup pecans, chopped finely
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, rubbed well in your hands or chopped finely
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons vegetable broth
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 Celsius). In a small bowl, mix together red onion, garlic and parsley; set aside. With 1-2 teaspoons oil, brush the inside of a 9-10” shallow casserole dish or gratin dish.
- Layer carrots, celery, parsnips, fennel, and turnips in dish, drizzling each layer with a little olive oil, salt/pepper, and sprinkling each layer with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the onion mixture. (Place the rest of fennel at center if possible.) Mix the broth with the wine and pour over the vegetables.
- Top with savory granola mixture* by crumbling it evenly over the vegetables. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 30 minutes until granola is crispy and vegetables are tender.
- Serve hot with a bit of finely grated lemon rind, if desired.
*You may not need all of the granola; you can eat the rest as is for a good snack.
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If you liked this, you might like my Derby Pie–a Pecan-Chocolate-Bourbon specialty made only for the Kentucky Derby–May 3-4, 2013.
Or you might like my Go Nuts! which can be made with all pecans or a mixture of nuts:
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Here’s our wonderful group of bloggers. Join us!
Sarah – Everything in the Kitchen Sink
- We’d like to have you as part of the group. Get in touch with Mireya from My Healthy Eating Habits: Mireya@MyHealthyEatingHabits.com
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P.S. If you linked my cinnamon rolls to your blog, I’d love to know who you are! It’s now my top post in nearly five years. I’d like to thank you….
Sing a new song,