Last week I hosted my very good friend Hannah at my apartment, and thus got to enjoy what I have termed a ‘Hannah dinner.’ A Hannah dinner, roughly speaking, consists almost entirely of local vegetables freshly harvested by Hannah herself. This is because Hannah has spent the past few years as an apprentice on farms in Minnesota, Massachusetts, and most recently New York. If you are fortunate enough to cook a meal with her, she comes bearing just about every item that her farm is harvesting at the time, and she knows how to transform them into tasty dishes. I was spoiled the summer of 2009 when Hannah worked at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, MA, and spent her weekends in Somerville. I was able to enjoy many a Hannah dinner then, beginning with peas and fava beans in late spring all the way to root vegetables and squash in the fall.
Hannah just finished up this past farming season at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project in New York. Before heading to NYC and then Minnesota for the holidays, Hannah made a stop in Boston, and came bearing quite the autumn harvest: kale, Long Island cheese pumpkin, leeks, rutabaga, parsnips, garlic and scallions. We sometimes use recipes, but more often we take whatever is on hand and improvise. We decided that a pumpkin, kale and leek stew with garlic and ginger sounded good. We stuck the Long Island cheese pumpkin in the oven to roast and got started on some other dishes.
Because you can never have too many autumn vegetables, we made a trip earlier in the day to the Copley Square farmers’ market because Hannah was specifically craving brussels sprouts. Roasting is my default method, so I instead decided to steam them, after which Hannah tossed them in a pan with garlic, olive oil and salt. In my experience roasting brussels sprouts, you need to use a lot of oil in order for them to be moist when they are done. With this method, the sprouts were moist and soft without being bathed in oil.
We also decided to tackle the rutabaga that Hannah brought. I’ve come across rutabaga fries on blogs in the past and thought I’d give it a go.
I received this excellent jar of Moroccan spiced chicken rub from Central Bottle in the gift bag from the Flavors of Fall event. Chicken rub, rutabaga rub–why not. We tossed them in olive oil and the spice rub and laid them out on a pan to roast in the oven. Unfortunately the rutabaga did not cook up well. After over an hour in the oven, the rutabaga did not quite soften and they were starting to burn on the outside. I am going to try Robin‘s suggestion, to steam the rutabaga first to soften it, then finish it off in the oven. I cannot wait to try the rub on something else soon.
After about 40 minutes, the pumpkin was soft.
I scooped the flesh out and added it to the pan. There was a lot of liquid in the roasted pumpkin and I was careful to add that to the pot as well.
We also added chopped lacinato kale, garlic and ginger. Earlier, we considered pureeing the pumpkin like pumpkin soup often is, but we preferred the chunkiness and the distinct texture of each of the vegetables.
We let the mixture simmer on the stove for about ten minutes, just long enough for the kale to soften and for the flavors of the leek, garlic and ginger to infuse the pumpkin and kale. And what a combination of flavors it was. The sweetness of the pumpkin and leeks, the earthiness of the chewy kale, and the aromatic garlic and ginger. Not photographed, but we ended up adding cooked lentils to our stew, which added a nice starchy and chewy texture.
For a more refined version, I’d suggest running an immersion blender through the mixture after adding the pumpkin, chopping the kale finely, then adding it and letting the soup simmer until the kale is softened. Essentially, this soup combines a squash, dark leafy greens, an allium (the leeks), and two flavor powerhouses (ginger and garlic). Taking this simple framework, the stew could be replicated in dozens of ways. I plan to explore some of these in the coming cold months.