Wow! What a week! My sweet husband turned 33 last Thursday, and we celebrated all weekend long. Witnessing the ear-to-ear grinning that took place was sheer joy for me. Adam’s birthday dinner request was to relive the burger and loaded baked potato experience from Port of Call in New Orleans, where we commemorated his big 3-0. Deliciousness ensued, I assure you. We also enjoyed a little Happy Hour on Friday with about 20 of our closest friends- such an amazing crew of folks, full of good energy, showering Adam with love. From there, we hosted a little a backyard soiree, complete with tiki torches, corn hole,
ladder ball, and a giant coconut cake that was served on a wooden pizza peel, aflame with 34 candles. (Sadly, all of my nighttime pictures came out terrible.) On Saturday night, we spent more time with friends exploring a new park and dancing happily at the Alabama Shakes show. Lawd, that front woman is a star! Sunday morning, this Praying Mantis, was hanging out on our deck.
A symbol of peace and calm, a call to still the chaos in our lives and allow tranquility to permeate, my last Praying Mantis sighting was on the morning of my Bubbie’s funeral. There was a special tug at my heart when I walked out and spotted her on Sunday. Maybe she was telling me to take the day to refocus and get centered, but we had a few more stops to make on the birthday train.
We did a speedy Farmers Market dash, taking in the fall offerings from Jackson Lowe Vegetable Farm:
Scarlett Queen turnips, eggplant, butternut and acorn squashes,
the first of the sweet potatoes,
broccoli, and purple kohlrabi.
We stashed our awesome CSA loot in a cooler and headed to the Braves game.
Adam is a tried and true Atlanta boy, so he wanted to see Chipper Jones’s last regular season game.
We were right above home plate, and the crowd was more spirited than I’ve ever seen before. The Tomahawk Chop was happening all over that stadium and two full waves swept through all levels of seating. At the end of the game, Chipper thanked the crowd, hugged his parents, and cried. His parents cried, I cried. It was an emotionally charged experience that I know Adam won’t soon forget, and it was a lovely way to wind down birthday extravaganza 2012.
Despite the rain that started pouring down as we walked to our car, that Praying Mantis was waiting for us when we got home (very cool), so we heeded her message and did some serious chillaxing. Monday was a slap in the face of, “welcome back to reality- you have bills to pay and work to do- nevermind the flooding outside.” It was kind of comical- me delivering food to folks in a torrential downpour…but at least I have cute rain boots!
Finally, the sun has returned to its rightful place in the sky, and I’ve got some time to write. This week, our CSA buddies received a bountiful fall box including pumpkins and kale. Adam started doing a little researching and found a recipe by Rick Bayless (on Martha’s site via Delish via Yahoo’s weekly recipes) that spotlighted the pumpkin. This got our wheels turning, and we came up with a plan for a Fall Casserole featuring pumpkin, kale, kohlrabi, apples, country sausage, and goat cheese.
We tweaked a thing or two along the way, but this dish was a home run. Pun intended.
Follow these steps if you want to scoop fall straight into your mouth.
1 lb country sausage, crumbled and browned
1 2 lb pie pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 kohlrabi, peeled and diced
1 large or 2 small apples, peeled and diced
1/2 bunch kale, ribs removed, rinsed, drained and chopped
3 big cloves garlic, pressed
juice of a juicy lemon
4 oz package goat cheese, crumbled
3 T butter (or remaining sausage oil + butter to equal 3 T)
3 T flour
2 Cup warm or room temperature milk
1 Cup room temperature chicken broth
1 rounded t paprika
good sprinkling freshly grated nutmeg
2 – 3 sprigs fresh sage leaves, chopped (reserve a few leaves for garnishing)
6 – 8 sprigs fresh thyme leaves (reserve a couple for garnishing)
ample salt and pepper
We wanted to serve this dish over wild rice, so we got our rice into boiling water, reduced to a simmer, and let it go for about an hour.
Next, you want to go ahead and cook your sausage over medium heat. Our goal was not to make it overly brown and crispy, but just to cook it through, since it would continue to cook in the oven.
A few other items to take care of in the very beginning: put your got cheese in the freezer. That will make is easier to handle later. Also, take the ribs out of your kale, rinse it, and let it drain. That way, it won’t be too wet when it’s time to combine everything.
Meanwhile, break down the pumpkin!
First, slice off the top with a really sharp knife.
Then, use your knife to cut off the skin, starting from the top and following the curve of the pumpkin to the bottom. This fresh pumpkin’s skin was not too thick, so it went more quickly than I anticipated it would. Clearly, it doesn’t have to be perfect. I used a peeler to shave off the remaining skin at the base.
Once your sausage is browned, remove it to a bowl and set your pan on the back burner for now.
Slice your pumpkin in half, and then scoop out the seeds. This task is a much more gooey process than removing the seeds from an acorn or butternut squash, but the smell and texture will instantly remind you of Halloween. And that is fun!!! We actually used a melon baller to scrape most of the remaining threads from the flesh. Then, cut the meat into big bite-sized pieces.
Dice up your apple, chop your kale leaves into chunks,
press your garlic, and dice your kohlrabi. into 1 inch cubes If you don’t have access to kohlrabi, no sweat. You could use a turnip or two for sure.
Season the bowl with salt and pepper and squeeze the juice of a lemon over the top. Toss with your hands and let it hang out while you make your sauce.
And once your sausage is cool, mix that in too.
This part goes really quickly, so grab your whisk, make sure you have everything in place, and preheat your oven to 375°.
My original thought was that the sausage would give off a couple Tablespoons of oil. But ours only sweated out about 1/4 Tablespoon. You want to measure how much you have left in the pan. And then add butter to equal 3 T.
Place your pan back on the burner over medium – medium high heat and melt the butter. You’re going to make a roux and then a bechamel sauce (white sauce).
Once melted, sprinkle in your flour
and whisk, whisk, whisk for a full minute.
Then, slowly add your milk a little at a time as you whisk like a wild person. It will be chunky at first, but keep at it.
Your goal is to create a smooth, thick, white sauce. Don’t stop whisking!!!!!
When you’ve added all of the milk, and the sauce is smooth and thick-ish, you can begin adding the broth, little by little. Stir all the while. You can turn your heat back to medium and let it bubble more gently.
With the broth incorporated, you can add your paprika, nutmeg, salt, pepper, fresh thyme and sage. Continue stirring and allow the sauce to thicken a bit.
You’ll know the sauce is ready when you can run your finger over the coated spoon and a line appears, like so.
TASTE!! It’s important to calibrate your seasoning now. This sauce will flavor the whole casserole. We had to keep adding pinches of salt until we got it just right, and we were not shy with the black pepper, but the flavor was amazing. Simple and wonderful.
Turn your veggies, sausage and apple into a 9″ x 13″ baking dish,
and pour the sauce all over the top. Yum!!!
Take your goat cheese out of the freezer and crumble it, dotting it over the whole casserole.
Place the pan in the oven and let her cook for about 30 minutes. You can test readiness with a fork. If you can easily pierce a piece of pumpkin, you’re good to go.
Sprinkle your reserved fresh sage and thyme over the top to seal the deal.
Our wild rice served as the base for our dish.
It was my first time making this rice, and I think it was a little too puffy, but I liked the variety. I’ll add less broth less time. Why do I follow the package directions?!?!
Anyway, ladle some rice into the bottom of your bowls and then scoop some of the aromatic casserole on top.
Prepare to fall in love…with fall.
Literally, I am in love with this dish. It is not your mama’s old school casserole loaded down with creama-creama-creama soup. It is a modern, fresh, seasonal version that is extraordinarily comforting without being too heavy. Yes, it has girth (there’s a lot of goodness in there!), and the sauce provides some luscious creaminess, but the bulk of richness comes straight from the pumpkin. The texture of those orange morsels was tender, not mushy. The sweet aspect of the pumpkin was bridged by the apple and kohlrabi. Lovely. Roasted kohlrabi is a thing of genius, full of juiciness and crunch, dancing between sweet and tangy. The kale, well, you know, I could eat kale in or on anything at all, so I was happy to have it swirling around in there. The fresh herbs helped to solidify the autumnal fragrance and experience of the meal. The sausage’s sage, red pepper, slight spiciness, and paprika played perfectly into the flavor profile- its tang effortlessly complemented the acidity of the lemon juice and tartness of the goat cheese. Honestly, the goat cheese was like a liaison that brought all of the components together in beautiful harmony. I appreciated the rice, although, I could see skipping it entirely, or ladling the casserole over grits or lentils. The leftovers were completely satisfying all over again- and hey- why don’tcha put an egg on it?!?!?!?
For you vegetarian loves out there, I don’t think you’ll lose out (too much) by omitting the sausage. This would be a fabulous vegetarian main dish. What else could we do? You could certainly use butternut or acorn squash in this meal. You could try pears instead of apples. Turnip greens or swiss chard could replace the kale…you know- make it your own. Use whatever you’ve got on hand.
But, if you want to try it just like this, I can assure that you will not be disappointed. After enjoying this dinner, Adam and I were discussing how we’ve never eaten a dish quite like this. Or even seen a meal utilizing all of these components. I’m glad our brains put it together, because it’s seriously a marriage made in fall heaven.
I hope that you’ve got plans to get out and immerse yourself in all of autumn’s glory this weekend. Atlanta has several free and exciting opportunities lined up to encourage community members to shirk their chores and have some fun. Nothing like food trucks, street parties, and a good parade or two, starring our creative friends, to twist our rubber arms. And you know we’ll be at the market, ogling the season’s best on Sunday and conjuring up something tasty to share with you next week.
Happy cooking and eating to you,