I had a wonderful dish in a local restaurant shortly after I moved to Asheville. I subsequently found out that root hash is served in many restaurants here, with breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It was meltingly delicious, heartbreakingly full of umami, so I decided to duplicate it. This time of year root crops are plentiful and delicious – parsnips, carrots, beets, turnips and even radishes. All of these combine beautifully, and when roasted, they take on a subtle smokiness that softens their pungency.
Use any combination of roots
You can use any combination of root vegetables, including potatoes and sweet potatoes. Apples give it a kiss of sweetness; onions give it a savory bite. And if you want to really go wild, add celeriac or parsley root. I have to say, the word hash conjures up a gloppy mess, a muddle or mess. Let’s call it a melange, medley, alliage, amalgam or even simply a blend.
Prep work is key
The key to a good hash is to cut the pieces all the same size and shapes so they will cook evenly. And the smaller the better. It may seem like a lot of work to cut everything into ½” squares, but you’ll be happy you did when they come out of the oven perfectly roasted.
Once your pieces are pared, you simply need to toss the vegetables with olive oil and minced garlic if you like. There’s no need to salt until they come out of the oven. Roast at 375. Stir them up and turn over a bit after 15 minutes and continue to roast for another 15 minutes, until they are tender when pierced with a fork.
Root hash (medley) makes a delicious side dish in itself, or a main dish when sprinkled with feta cheese, toasted nuts and scallions. Pair it with a salad with a pungent vinaigrette dressing and a slab of sourdough bread. I love it topped with a fried egg.
Roasted Root Vegetable Medley
2-3 cups cubed (½” cubes) parsnips, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples, onions, celeriac, parsley root. Just about any combination is delicious. If using large beets, throw them into the microwave for a few minutes to soften them since they are denser than the other vegetables. Red beets will stain the hash, so golden or Chioggia beets will make a more attractive dish.
2 T. good quality olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Preheat the oven to 375. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and garlic. Spread in a single layer on a roasting pan or cookie sheet with sides. Or use a cast iron pan as long as you can make only one layer. Roast about 15 minutes and then stir. Roast another 15-20 minutes until vegetables are tender when pierced with a fork and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and salt and pepper liberally.
We can all use a little extra fiber and nutrition in our diets, and grains are a delicious way to do this.
Cooked grains on hand make a quick meal
I start my week by cooking a grain, any grain. I then have it in the fridge to use in soups, salads and my favorite, pilaf, for a side dish with just about any meal. There are as many recipes for “pilaf” as there are cooks. Pilaf (pilou is the British term) is technically an Indian or Asian dish of steamed rice with vegetables and meat. But you can make it whatever you want. It’s simply a grain with vegetables added, usually eaten warm but just as delicious at room temperature or cold. Cooked lentils or other beans make a great addition to pump up the protein levels.
Many, many types of grains are out there
The choice of grains is endless these days. You can get millet, quinoa, a plethora of types of rice, farro, Kamut, wheat berries, barley, triticale and umpteen other types. Many are available in bulk at market stores, so you can experiment with only a little bit at first to discover the ones you like. Kashi sells a box of mixed grains they call Seven Grain Pilaf. It has oats, brown rice, rye, hard red wheat, triticale, barley, buckwheat, and sesame seeds.
Some grains take an hour or more to cook although an instant-pot certainly shortens this time. When I’m in a time pinch and don’t have any cooked up in the fridge, I turn to bulgur, millet or quinoa which cook in twenty minutes.
Toast your grain
Before you cook any grain, toast it first. You will be amazed at the difference in flavor that a toasty browning gives your grain dish. Simply heat a non-stick or cast iron pan, drizzle with a little olive oil and stir in the dry grain. Stir over medium heat until the grain begins to brown, usually about 5-10 minutes. Then proceed with regular cooking. Use a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid so you can cover if the directions call for it. After cooking, be sure to put on the lid to let it finish steaming.
For the simplest pilaf, start with your choice of cooked grain. Chop and saute any vegetables you want to add and mix with the cooked grain. Add feta or parmesan cheese if you wish and nuts, seeds and even dried fruit. Make it your own creation. You can have a different dish every night!
(feel free to substitute your choice of cooked grain)
1 c. cooked bulgur ½ t. salt 1 T. olive oil ¼ c. diced onions 1 small clove garlic, minced ¼ c. diced sweet red pepper ¼ c. grated carrot ¼ c. grated parmesan cheese Salt and pepper to taste
Saute vegetables until tender. Mix with bulgur and parmesan; season to taste. Warm gently or serve at room temperature.
This chart is simply a guideline and until you are familiar with cooking a particular grain, keep a close eye on it. If it is too chewy for your taste add more water and cook a little longer. You can also use broth in place of water.
We all have to eat. And the higher the quality of food we put in our bodies, the better we will feel. In response to our very busy lives, meal subscription services have taken off in popularity. Despite the criticisms that they are expensive, have too much packaging, and don’t quite give you the choices you’d like, they are still a great way to get reasonably healthy meals without the planning. Grocery stores are beginning to carry instant, complete meals as well, both cooked and ready to cook.
Make your own instant meals
But, instead of paying high prices for ready-to-cook meals, how about making your own. They will be fresher and certainly taste better. It just takes planning, and even if you don’t consider yourself a cook, you can learn to prepare fresh wholesome meals without a lot of prep time or a lengthy list of ingredients. Cooking can become an interesting part of your life instead of a chore.
Planning is key but keep it simple
Planning is always the hardest part, but if you get in the habit of going to the market once or even twice a week, whether farmers market or grocery, it’s not so hard. Simply purchase whatever vegetables look freshest for the week. Or grow your own. Maybe you take a day on the weekend and prep everything. And most of all, keep it simple. Save the elaborate meals for when you have time on the weekend to spend more time in the kitchen.
First, make sure to stock your pantry with basics so you don’t have to purchase herbs, spices and seasonings every week. Here are some staples to start with:
Good quality olive oil
Balsamic and cider vinegar, rice vinegar and mirin if you like to cook Asian
Black pepper for grinding
Maple syrup – try to find grade B. Deeper flavor, less expensive
Grains: rice, quinoa, other grains you love
Pastas: couscous, orzo
Broth – chicken, vegetable, beef, bone
Canned beans of your choice – garbanzos, pintos, black, navy
Seasonings on hand
Seasonings: chili powder, cumin, dried basil, smoked paprika, garlic powder
For perishables, keep basics on hand such as ricotta, plain yogurt, cheeses of your choice.
Let’s get started with this chopped salad. Shop and prepare it on the weekend, and use it through the week for a quick healthy lunch or dinner side.
The key to this salad is to make the base of any vegetables that will hold up for a few days after being chopped.
1 c. finely chopped broccoli
1 c. finely chopped cauliflower
½ c. slivered brussels sprouts
½ c. chopped sweet peppers
½ c. grated carrot
Mix and put in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
When ready to eat
Take out a half cup of the chopped salad and add onion, cucumber, nuts, dried fruits, seeds, cheese or any other ingredient that you have in the fridge. You can add cooked chicken, rice or even leftover pasta. Different ingredients can make it a totally new salad every day.
Dress with your favorite vinaigrette or creamy dressing. Or, simply brighten with a splash of lemon, lime or orange juice.
Or, make a stir-fry
Even though the recipe is for a fresh salad, you can also stir-fry the mixture. Add protein of choice to make a complete meal.
Sometimes you just want something different for breakfast. Or lunch. I love a good frittata, made with eggs and just about anything else you want to put in it. A great alternative, similar to a frittata, but with a little more substance is a Spanish omelet. It’s still fairly light, but warm and buttery and rich with potatoes, the ultimate comfort food.
One of my favorite memories was a late summer evening meal on the beach with good friends. She served a Spanish omelet and fresh fruit salad and then followed it with Romeo y Julieta (cream cheese and guava paste on crisp crackers). Delicious food, good Spanish wine and dear friends. Watching the sunset over the lake was an experience I’ll never forget.
Spanish omelet or tortilla Espanola
Called a tortilla in Spanish cooking, the classic recipe is made with potatoes, onions and eggs. But you can add anything your heart desires to the recipe.
My riff on the classic
1 onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1 lb red potatoes, not peeled, sliced thinly
½ c. sliced mushrooms
½ c. sliced red sweet peppers
½ c. sliced swiss chard
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400. Use an 8” cast iron pan if you have one. Otherwise, any stovetop-to-oven pan. You can also use a round cake or stoneware pan but you will need to vary the cooking slightly since you can’t use these on the stovetop.
Cook potatoes in salted water, drain and cool.
Saute onion until soft in a splash of olive oil. Add mushrooms, peppers and chard and saute briefly until tender. Cool slightly.
Whisk eggs and 1 t. Salt. Add potatoes and vegetables and toss until coated with eggs.
Add a bit more oil to the pan, pour in the egg and vegetable mix, and cook on medium heat for 2 minutes. Put in the oven for 20 minutes until eggs are set.
Remove from the oven and flip upside down on a plate. Serve in wedges, hot, room temperature or cold.
So what do you do when you have too many vegetables? Whether you have a CSA membership that provides a box every week with more than you can possibly eat. Or your garden is providing a plethora of tasty produce that is inundating your fridge. Or friends offer extras from their own gardens. How do you avoid wasting?
My answer is to roast! Whenever I have loads of extra chard, mushrooms, leeks, onions, zucchini and eggplant, instead of succumbing to feeling overwhelmed, I toss them all into a roasting pan.
Make delicious soup
It is amazing how combining roasted vegetables of all types with plenty of onions and garlic turns them into savory creations. I like to roast until everything is quite soft and then purée with a little stock if necessary. Freeze the pureed vegetables to use later as a soup base or pasta sauce. Or, to make a hearty one-dish meal immediately, add some evaporated or coconut milk, chopped sauteed vegetables of choice, cooked beans and/or cooked grains or pasta. A great result of this process is that the sauce never quite tastes the same.
A sauce made of mostly tomatoes is great for traditional pasta sauce. Sauce with spicy chiles added makes a good base for chili.
It’s easy to adjust seasonings according to your tastes. Add basil and oregano for an Italian twist; add cumin and chili powder for Mexican; add marjoram, a hint of cayenne and basil for Mediterranean.
Here’s a recipe, but be prepared to change and adapt according to whatever vegetables you have on hand.
Tomato Glut Sauce
Film a large roasting pan with olive oil and cut up about six pounds of tomatoes – this is a great time to use those that have blemishes or splits because you can simply cut that part away. Chop and add one or two cups of whatever vegetables are coming in at the time such as onions, carrots, zucchini and Swiss chard.
If you plan to use a food mill, you don’t have to take out tomato cores. If you plan to use a food processor, core the tomatoes before cooking. You can also blanch and peel and/or seed the tomatoes if that’s your taste. Throw in several cloves of garlic, some sprigs of fresh thyme, oregano, basil, parsley. Splash with balsamic vinegar and roast for about an hour. The sauce will cook down and lose a good bit of moisture, and the vegetables will start to caramelize. Run through a food mill, salt and pepper to taste, and use immediately or freeze.
Or to be more specific:
6 lbs. tomatoes, cored and quartered (if you don’t have tomatoes, you can use canned pureed tomatoes) 1 ½ c. coarsely chopped carrots 1 ½ c. coarsely chopped celery 1 ½ c. coarsely chopped onion 9 cloves garlic, chopped 6 T balsamic vinegar 1 bay leaf 1 ½ T fresh thyme, oregano, basil, parsley 1 ½ t. salt 1 T. pepper
Roast 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Process briefly to leave slightly chunky, freeze. Makes 2 quarts. You can use any combination of vegetables and herbs – each batch of sauce comes out a little different.
The nip of frost in the air and the smell of wood smoke outdoors are sublime companions to the scents of cinnamon baked apples and nutmeg-laced butternut squash in the kitchen. This is the perfect time to reacquaint ourselves with the bounty of winter squash. It’s also a great time to raid the farmers’ markets and pumpkin farms to pick up the squash in every hue and flavor. It’s hard not to load the car with pie pumpkins, buttercups, Turk’s turbans, blue Hubbards, Japanese pumpkins and kabochas.
Pumpkins are the kings of winter squash. Pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, and pumpkin is also very good when baked and mashed like potatoes.
For years, the most popular winter squash was acorn squash, mostly because it was commonly available year-round. This the baseball-sized green ribbed squash with bright orange flesh. But there are so many others available now that there’s no need to limit yourself. Delicata squash, oblong cream to yellow with dark green stripes, and Sweet Dumplin’ are some of the sweetest squash you’ll ever eat. They have rich orange flesh like butternut but are infinitely sweeter.
Now’s the time for harvest
Winter squashes begin ripening in August and continue through October. Although most winter squash can be harvested when young and used like zucchini, the point of growing winter squash is usually to keep them over the winter. Winter squashes are ready for harvest when the rind is hard enough so that you cannot make a dent in it with your fingernail. This means they’ve cured enough to store well. By the time the first frost arrives, the squash should all be ready to harvest.
As soon as Halloween is over, many farm stands have piles of pumpkins they would like to sell at reduced prices. Even the groceries have reduced-price pumpkins. Pie pumpkins, which have thicker flesh and usually are less than twelve inches in diameter, are the easiest to store and cook.
Winter squash store easily
All winter squashes store well so you can stock up now for the winter. To control fungal problems in storage, wash squash well with soap and water. For extra protection, wipe them down with vinegar, making sure to get the stem end. They are best stored on wire racks or someplace with good circulation and cool conditions such as the basement. Squash should ideally be stored at 50 to 55 degrees, and if your basement is warmer than that, be sure to check them periodically for rotting.
All it takes to bake most winter squash is to cut it in half and invert them on a rimmed cookie sheet. You can remove the seeds before baking, especially if you want to toast the seeds, or you can bake with the seeds intact and remove them after baking. They will come out easier this way.
Bake for an hour or so, depending on the size of the squash, at 350 degrees and serve with butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, or stuffed with wild rice, apples and cranberries. All winter squashed are cooked the same way, and can be interchanged in almost any recipe.
Bake some for the freezer
The cooked flesh freezes well, and if you measure it into freezer bags in one cup batches, it’s ready to pull out for use whenever the mood hits to make muffins or squash bread.
Spaghetti squash is a little different in that when it is cooked, you can separate the flesh into strands that really do resemble spaghetti. The “spaghetti” is delicious with a little butter and parmesan or even spaghetti sauce. And it doesn’t have the high calories of pasta.
Full of nutrition
Winter squashes and pumpkins are full of vitamin C, vitamin A and fiber. The pulp is a delicious way to put extra fiber into spaghetti sauce, soups and stews. I even found a recipe for spaghetti squash dressed with pumpkin sauce. What could be healthier?
Although one of my favorite winter squashes is the butternut, I’m quickly replacing that favorite with kabocha squash. It has dark orange rich creamy flesh and is a wonderful addition to mac and cheese, not to mention an endless variety of soups and vegetable dishes.
Toast the seeds
And don’t forget about the seeds. Pumpkins and squash seeds are packed with magnesium, potassium and fiber. Rinse the seeds to remove the pulp, dry and toss with olive oil and salt. Toast in an oiled pan at 300 for 10-30 minutes, checking every 10 minutes to avoid burning.
Stuffed Squash (Acorn, delicata, any small squash)
Slice squash into one-inch rings and remove seeds and membrane
2 oblong or round squashes, cut into 1 inch thick slices, seeds removed 6 T. butter 1 large onion, chopped 1 ½ T. curry powder 2 apples, diced 2/3 c. apple juice ½ c. cranberries
Saute onion in butter, add curry and cook for one minute. Add the rest of the ingredients and sauté until liquid evaporates. Place squash rings in a shallow baking pan, fill with saute mixture and bake at 350 for 40 minutes.
Butternut squash or pumpkin gratin (a Thanksgiving tradition in our house)
3 c. torn day-old bread (your choice – whole grain makes it more healthful and a bit denser 2 c. cooked squash (any with rich orange color – butternut, pumpkin, kabocha, buttercup) 2 T. olive oil 1/2 c. chopped onion 1 large clove garlic, minced 1 large egg, lightly beaten 1 c. ricotta cheese 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese 3 T. chopped parsley 3/4 t. salt 1/4 t. pepper fresh bread crumbs or panko
Cover bread with hot water and let stand until softened, 3-5 minutes. Drain and set aside. Saute onion and garlic in oil until tender. Mix bread, squash and rest of ingredients in a large bowl. Add onions and garlic. Spread in oiled 2 quart casserole and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake, uncovered 35 minutes until slightly puffed and beginning to brown.
Nothing quite says autumn like the scent of cinnamon-laced baking apples wafting through the house on a cool afternoon. Now I love apple pie, but it is much more of a commitment to time and expertise. I can pull off an apple crisp in less than half an hour, without fear of crust failure which is one of my regular mishaps.
I tend to fall back on fruit crisps frequently since they are simple, fresh desserts that can be made with any type of fruit. All you need to do is adjust the cooking time depending on the firmness of the fruit. In a pinch, frozen fruits work just fine (this is one of my main reasons for freezing peaches in season). For the crisp, use your imagination and just about any combination of oats, flour, nuts if you like, and cinnamon. Make it stick together with juice, butter or coconut oil, your choice. I’ve recently tried using ready-made granola which makes the process even simpler and faster. And crunchier.
To make a quick crisp that serves two, simply fill a small baking dish with two to four cups of prepared fruit, sweeten if necessary, and top with a crumbly crust (below). Bake about half an hour (45 minutes for apples and pears) at 350 degrees.
Some lovely fruit combinations:
Peaches and blackberries or raspberries
Blueberries and plums
Apples and cranberries
Rhubarb and strawberries
1 c. regular oatmeal
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. flour
1 t. cinnamon
¼ c. defrosted apple juice concentrate
Mix the first four ingredients; drizzle apple juice into the oatmeal mixture. Stir until the mixture forms small clumps. Spread mixture on top of the fruit and bake 30 minutes at 350.
⅓ c. chopped toasted walnuts
½ c. flour
½ c. rolled oats
½ c. brown sugar
1 T. granulated sugar
¼ t. cinnamon
¼ t. nutmeg
¼ c. softened butter
Mix dry ingredients well and then cut in the butter until it forms small clumps. Continue as above.
Those of you who know me or read my blog regularly know that my harangue in this season is to leave fallen leaves in place or at least manage them so they stay in the landscape. Just like nature handles them, in the woods and even on the prairies. After all, it’s free organic matter which the soil makes good use of in its natural cycles.
Now I’m vindicated!
This was in my inbox this morning from the National Wildlife Federation:
“Leaves are starting to change color and begin to fall to the ground. Did you know that leaving the leaves in your yard or garden not only saves you time and energy but also benefits wildlife?
Provide habitat for wildlife: frogs, turtles, and salamanders rely on fallen leaves to provide cover and hibernation places; many moth and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring
Provide food for wildlife: creatures like earthworms and millipedes reside in and decompose leaf litter, and also are themselves a source of food for bigger wildlife like birds and toads
Increase fertility of your soil: as the leaves decompose, nutrients are added to your soil, and also allows for greater water retention”
Rake if you have to….but put them back
If you can’t stand the look of the untouched leaf cover, by all means, rake them out of the beds, shred with the mower and then blow them back into the beds. You’ll be on your way to a lovely layer of mulch. Think of it as free fertilizer. Let nature do the breakdown for you and give you organics for free. No need to buy all that bagged mulch next spring.
Here’s a hearty breakfast for the weekend that will fortify you for some garden work:
2 t. olive oil
1 c. chopped onion
¾ cups unpeeled gold or red potato, finely diced
½ cup diced red bell pepper
1 t. salt
2 c. ciabatta, sourdough or Italian bread cut into 1-inch cubes
½ c. grated or crumbled cheese of choice (brie, parmesan, feta, cheddar, goat)
2 large eggs
1 t. dried herbs or 1 T. chopped fresh herbs of choice
¼ t. freshly ground black pepper
2 c. milk
Sauté vegetables about three minutes or until tender. Add vegetables to whisked eggs and milk; stir in seasonings.
Place half of the bread into a loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Top with the remaining bread mixture and remaining cheese.
Pour the egg mixture over the bread mixture, pressing bread into the liquid. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until set. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Riffs on the recipe:
French toast strata
Omit the vegetables and season the egg mixture with ½ c. sugar and 1 t. cinnamon. Serve with maple butter or maple syrup
This is such an exciting time of year with the produce coming in from the garden in buckets and baskets. But it can sometimes overwhelm.
Tomato plants may be on the decline in the garden, but the tomatoes are still ripening and filling our counters. Let’s figure out what to do with them.
Canning is certainly one option but I like to freeze them for later use.
I simply rinse them and throw them into a bucket or freezer bags in the freezer. No blanching, no cutting up before freezing. When I’m ready to make sauce or salsa, I pull out what I need and run them under warm water briefly to loosen the skins. They can then be cooked or thrown into the food processor with onions, garlic and jalapenos for fresh-tasting salsa. They won’t be firm as when fresh, but they still have the delicious taste of summer.
Here is a salsa recipe to get you started on using them fresh. Check out the recipe tabs for Catalan tomato bread, gazpacho and bruschetta. All have few ingredients – mostly tomatoes, garlic, onion and olive oil. Quick and easy!
It’s a funny word but once you discover panko, you’ll never go back to regular bread crumbs. Many recipes call for panko, Japanese style breadcrumbs, as a finisher or for breading. They’re definitely a specialty item and as such can seem expensive. But they can absolutely make your dish better. Use them in place of breadcrumbs in any recipe.
They are not mysterious and are actually quite easy to make yourself. If your family is like mine, they tend to discard the bread heels in favor of the softer middle. I happen to like the heels toasted, but I can only eat so many. So, as they pile up, I simply toss them into a freezer bag. When I have enough saved up, I turn them into homemade panko.
Grate your bread
The key to making panko light and airy like the commercial ones rather than just standard bread crumbs, is to grate them. Use the large holes on a box grater or food processor. Then spread them in a thin layer on a cookie sheet with sides (I use a broiler pan).
Don’t let them burn
If you have a convection oven, put it on “convect bake” at 325 degrees. For a standard oven, set to bake at 350. Now here’s the warning: you have to watch them carefully. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve let them burn because I got occupied with something else. Cook for about 10 minutes and then stir. Repeat this process until they are nutty brown – it may take only 20 minutes. Take them out and let them cool completely.
Store in glass
Once they are completely cool and crispy dry, store them in a glass jar. It’s critical that they be dry and cool because you don’t want any condensation that could make them mold. Don’t be afraid to use your hands to stir them around when cool to make sure they are crisp. If they aren’t, put them back in the oven for a bit.
Use them freely to dress the tops of casseroles, roasted vegetables and even broiled fruits. They make great additions to harvest cakes, to roasted eggplant to make a tasty dip, or as breading for fried zucchini or tomatoes.
Season the panko
You can also season them before cooking for Italian flavored, Greek flavored or Asian flavored. Blend the herbs to make a fine powder that will stick to the breadcrumbs. Add before cooking the panko. Mix well and cook as above.
3 T. oregano 2 T. basil 1 T. dill 2 T. onion powder 2 T. garlic powder ½ T. salt 1 T. black pepper
2 T. dried basil 2 T. dried oregano 2 T. dried rosemary 2 T. dried thyme 2 T. dried marjoram
¼ c. onion powder ¼ c. garlic powder ¼ c. ground black pepper 2 T. ground ginger 2 T. red pepper flakes