To begin, something green: a salad of crisp romaine leaves, cloaked in a lemony vinaigrette that’s been flecked with a touch of anchovy. Though this is a very simple salad, it can be exquisite, especially if attention is paid to every little detail. For the freshest version, use the pale hearts of large romaine heads, or whole baby romaine, removing tough or dark green leaves (save the plucked outer leaves to make chopped salad, braised lettuce or to add to a soup). Or choose packaged organic romaine hearts, available at most supermarkets, but be sure they aren’t old (check the bottoms of the heads, the root ends. If they are dark brown, the lettuce has been hanging around too long.) Fresh lemons, of course. Good fruity extra virgin oil. And for anchovies, spend a little more, even for the few fillets in the dressing (most cheap supermarket anchovies are mushy and fishy-tasting). And when you toss, go gently.
For a substantial meatless main course, a savoury vegetable pie is always welcome. This pie calls for butternut or any other hard squash variety, like kabocha, hubbard or acorn, if you can find them. It’s complemented with caramelised onions, kale, edam and sage, then nestled between two sheets of dough. Make an easy flaky pastry or, to save time, use frozen puff pastry rounds. The beauty of this pie is that it may be baked up to several hours in advance and reheated to serve. This allows the flavours to meld and makes cutting the pie easier. You could serve the pie with roasted brussels sprouts or sauteed mushrooms finished with garlic and lots of parsley, or both.
A classic cool weather dessert, poached pears in red wine, rounds out the meal. They really are best if made a day or two (and up to a week) ahead and given time to soak in the red wine syrup to attain a deep, dark magenta stain. Use firm, slightly underripe pears. A certain restraint with the spicing makes the best syrup: a stick of cinnamon, a tiny amount of clove and a spoonful of black peppercorns do the trick. Serve them chilled with creme fraiche, whipped cream or ice cream. To take it over the top – and you should – garnish the pears with a handful of pomegranate seeds, which add a pleasant sweet-sour pop and a splash of brilliant fuchsia to the colour story.
Romaine salad with anchovy and lemon
Total time: 20 minutes
1 (3-pack) romaine hearts, or 6 to 8 heads baby romaine
1 tsp grated lemon zest, plus 3 tbsp juice (from 1 lemon)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, smashed to a paste or grated
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
60ml extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Chunk of parmesan, for finishing
1. Prepare the romaine hearts: cut off the bottoms, and remove a few of the outer leaves from each head. Gently separate the pale inner leaves and refresh in a deep basin of cold water. Drain leaves well, then spin dry, wrap in kitchen towels and refrigerate.
2. Make the dressing: in a small bowl, stir together the lemon zest, lemon juice, mustard, garlic and anchovy. Whisk in the olive oil, and season well with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning; dressing should be rather tart.
3. Put the leaves in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt, pour the dressing over the lettuce and gently coat the leaves, tossing with your hands. Using a peeler, shave large curls of parmesan over the salad.
Savoury butternut squash pie
Serves: 6 to 8
Total time: 1½ hours
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
Salt and pepper
900g butternut squash or winter squash, peeled, seeded and cut in 2.5cm cubes
250g shredded kale, chard or other sturdy cooking green
1 tbsp roughly chopped sage
1 tbsp roughly chopped thyme
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of red-pepper flakes
2 (225g) puff pastry rounds, or use 2 (400g) puff pastry rectangles
140g edam, cut in 0.5cm cubes
3 tbsp grated pecorino
1 egg, beaten
1. Put oil in a wide frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onions, and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat if onions are browning too quickly.
2. Transfer onions to a large bowl. Add squash cubes, kale, sage, thyme and garlic. Season with salt and red-pepper flakes, and toss well to coat.
3. Heat oven to 180C. Roll the puff pastry rounds to 30cm in diameter (or roll and trim pastry rectangles to achieve two 30cm rounds). Line a 25cm pie pan or other shallow round baking dish with one 30cm round of pastry. Add squash filling, piling it high. Sprinkle with edam and pecorino. Lay the remaining pastry round over filling and crimp edges to seal. Paint the top of pie with beaten egg.
4. Place the pie on a rimmed baking tray to catch drips. Transfer to oven, and bake for about 1 hour, until pastry is nicely browned and squash is soft when probed with a paring knife (start checking at the half-hour mark and the 45-minute mark to make sure the pastry isn’t browning too quickly. Tent with foil, if so.) Allow to rest at least 10 to 15 minutes before cutting into large wedges and serving.
Red wine pears
Total time: 1 hour, plus steeping
6 slightly underripe small pears
1 (750ml) bottle medium-bodied dry red wine, such as Cotes du Rhone
250g granulated sugar
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
4 whole cloves
1 (5cm-long) cinnamon stick
Creme fraiche or ice cream, for serving
60g pomegranate seeds, for serving
1. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, peel the pears top to bottom, leaving them whole, with stems attached and the core intact.
2. Put the pears in a large, wide nonreactive pot (enamelled or stainless steel) in one layer. Add the wine, sugar and spices. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted encounters no resistance. Remove from the heat and transfer the pears to a deep container, leaving the liquid in the pot.
3. Heat the poaching liquid over high and boil down until it is reduced by half. Pour syrup over pears, and refrigerate overnight if possible.
4. To serve, put each pear in a soup plate and spoon over a little of the red wine syrup. Add a dollop of creme fraiche or a scoop of ice cream, and finish with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.
© The New York Times