Now that spring is only intensifying (the sun is strong enough to sit outside in the alps!), I’m thinking back to some of the foods I enjoyed during the winter with the pleasures of both recollected degustation and the knowledge that it will not be that cold again for at least a good while.
As we welcome pea tendrils, asparagus, and other spring delights into our kitchen, I thought it would be nice to look back and pay homage to those noble vegetables that kept us sustained throughout the colder months. There are a couple meals in particular from my kitchen that I’d love to share, for their earthy flavours, warmth in texture, taste, and temperature, and the sheer comfort they brought to my house amid the bleak weeks of January, when the snow in New Haven was highest and the cold tried to seep inside every chance it got.
I had a big bag of black lentils in the freezer that we had made for the YSFP lunch with Eliot Coleman back in November — we had slow-cooked them with garlic and herbs, and finished them with sautéed kale and good olive oil. There were were a bunch left over that I took home and froze for just such a night. I also had a big bag of brussel sprout leaves — one of the last weeks of our CSA in December, we got two huge stalks of brussel sprouts, because the farm had pulled up its mature plants in preparation for winter and put the whole stalks into the shares. Needless to say I was pretty excited. Shucking the sprouts from the stalk was immensely satisfying, and yielded a large bag of green gems, some of which found their way into a batch of Maple-Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Toasted Almonds later in the week. But after shucking them all I was left with a counter covered with the large, round leaves. What better thing to do, I thought, than to slice, blanch, and freeze them for the more sparse time to come in a few weeks? That’s just what I did, and it was a great feeling to pull the bag full of hearty green goodness from the freezer. I heated up the lentils on the stove, mixed in the brussel sprout leaves, and within ten minutes had a hearty, satisfying dish that was perfect for the middle of winter.
It may not be the prettiest picture, but it sure was delicious.
From there, I turned my attention to actually making a dish. We had a bunch of squash from our last CSA shares in December, and I wanted to use our bag of fresh shiitakes from our winter CSA — one of their specialties. C and I had this deliciously simple salad of butternut squash and roasted cauliflower at Huckleberry in LA over Thanksgiving break, and I was inspired to make something similar, but with mushrooms.
The shiitakes were beautiful. They were large, plump, with a little give, but definitely not mushy. They were so fragrant as I sliced them, I could barely wait to get them in the pan and release even more of their flavour.
I love how austere this photo looks. Especially because it belies how rich the finished product was.
The bottle of sparkling apple cider was from an art show a couple of my friends were in, they had extra and we brought home two bottles. I was looking around in the fridge for flavours to include, and I thought braising the mushrooms with butter, thyme, and a touch of sparkling apple cider would be an interesting combination. I hoped for the fruitiness and effervescence of the cider to complement the earthy fragrance of the mushrooms, the creamy savouriness of the butter, and the herbaceous, aromatic thyme. Not to mention it was the perfect aperitif to sip on while cooking. 😉
I sliced up a butternut and a delicata squash, for a mixture of flavours, textures, and colours, and set them to roasting, along with the seeds. I always roast my squash seeds when I use squash — they are so delicious, and I love their crunchy texture. If I’m going to cut open a squash, why not use every part of the fruit I can?
While the squash was in the oven, I turned the stove heat on low and started to sweat the shiitakes, adding in butter, thyme, and a splash of the sparkling apple cider. As the mushrooms began to soften, release moisture and absorb flavour, the kitchen filled with an amazing combination of flavours that heralded the dish to come.
Once everything was ready, I mixed it all up, and presto!
The flavours melded exactly as I’d hoped — the rich texture of the roasted squash complemented the earthiness of the mushrooms, and their carmelised surfaces played off the sweetness of the sparkling apple cider. The thyme added a necessary savoury aroma, and the crunch of the seeds finished it off. A simple, easy, delicious dish to complete a satisfying wintertime dinner.
Winter Squash and Shiitake Mushroom Salad
– 2-3 winter squash (I used butternut and delicata, but almost anything would work. I think kabocha and/or acorn squash would be delicious)
– 6-8 fresh shiitake mushrooms (any mushrooms would work)
– 2 tbsp. butter
– thyme (I used some fresh thyme I harvested in the summer and froze, but dried would work just fine)
– sparkling apple cider (optional – I had some lying around in the fridge that needed to be used up)
– herbes de provence (or your favourite fresh/dried herbs)
– olive oil
– sherry vinegar (also optional, but it adds a lovely tang that balances the predominance of earthy flavours from the squash and mushrooms)
– sea salt
– cracked black pepper
Peel the squash, scoop out the seeds, and slice into long thin strips, following the architecture of the fruit. Toss with olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, and herbes de provence, spread in a thin layer on a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 400 degrees. Toss seeds similarly and roast, checking often so that they do not burn.
Slice the mushrooms. In a dry pan on medium heat, sweat the mushrooms for a minute or two, then add the butter. Reduce heat to medium-low, allow the butter to melt, and stir to coat the mushrooms. Season with thyme and sea salt. As mushrooms begin to soften, pour in a bit of the sparkling apple cider and a splash of the sherry vinegar. Stir to incorporate in with butter. When the liquid has mostly reduced and before the mushrooms lose their substance, remove from heat. When squash and seeds are done roasting, remove from oven and combine with mushrooms. Serve warm and enjoy.