Lucky for you, everyone else out there this week is telling you how to cook turkeys. I'm way more comfortable discussing side dishes. Here are some thoughts about the vegetables we've been cooking and really enjoying. Yes. Even the kids. Well. Sort of. Amazing what bribing for those final pieces of Halloween candy will do.
If you're new to cooking fall vegetables, here's all you need to know: it's almost impossible to mess them up. Delicate spring and summer vegetables, like green beans and asparagus, can go from crispy perfect to airplane food in a matter of minutes. Not so with squash, eggplants, turnips, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes, which benefit from all kinds of time in the oven. You can even forget about them for a half an hour and nothing bad will happen. No need for a kitchen timer. Just keep peeking, poking, and tasting every 20 minutes or so.
Remove them from the oven when desired gooeyness (eggplant) or tenderness (squash) or caramelization (Brussels sprouts) or crispiness (potatoes) is reached. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs. Maybe some crème fraîche. Serve as a side dish.
Or savor throughout the week sliced on pizza, tossed with pasta, stirred into risotto, or smeared on toasted baguette with a sprinkle of salt and a splash of olive oil. And at the end of the week, gather up all of the remaining scraps and eat them warmed and scattered over a bowl of buttery polenta. That's what we did. And now we're so sick of vegetables that we're heading back into another run of breakfast food. Blintzes, to be precise.
Here are some specifics and variations.
ROASTED EGGPLANT WITH GARLIC AND ANCHOVIES
The most important thing to know about eggplant is that it's nasty when it's undercooked.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
When your children aren't looking, make a paste out of six anchovy fillets and six cloves of garlic with a mortar and pestle.
Remove stems and cut eggplants lengthwise into eighths or so (if they're small, just cut them in half).
Score inner flesh with paring knife and place skin-side down in pan.
Use your hands to smear eggplant with the anchovy/garlic paste, tucking it deep down into the scored flesh.
Add salt (not too much, anchovies are already very salty) and pepper.
Scatter some unpeeled garlic cloves around the pan.
Add some more olive oil and maybe some sprigs of fresh thyme.
Place in preheated oven.
Keep an eye on it, be patient, it can take almost an hour and a half to cook. I know. Crazy. Trust me.
Cover with tin foil if it starts to get too brown.
It's done when it's sweet, soft, and gooey, without a trace of sponginess left.
Serve right away or reheat later.
Garnish with chopped mint and parsley.
BALSAMIC-GLAZED DELICATA SQUASH
The most exciting thing about delicata and kabocha squash is that you can eat the peel.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Remove the stems, cut the squash in half, scrape out the seeds and pulp.
Place halves skin-side down in a baking dish and sprinkle insides with salt and pepper.
Coat with generous amounts of olive oil and thick or reduced balsamic vinegar. Do not use thin balsamic because it will soak into the squash, creating a mealy texture and an ugly color.
Toss in some fresh sage and a handful of unpeeled garlic cloves.
Bake in preheated oven until squash is tender and scoopable. Serve right away or reheat later.
LEMONY ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS, TURNIPS, AND POTATOES WITH HORSERADISH CREME FRAICHE
Preheat your oven to 425 °F.
Use a large sheet pan or baking dish so that everything has room to get nice and crispy.
Here's what I threw onto my sheet pan: unpeeled garlic cloves, sage, rosemary, thyme, halved Brussels sprouts (funky outer leaves removed), quartered Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered turnips, thinly sliced leeks, and quartered lemons. Make sure potatoes and turnips are cut to about the same size.
Be really generous with the salt, pepper, and olive oil; use your hands to make sure everything is well coated.
Keep checking and tossing the vegetables about so that they cook evenly.
Bake until the leeks caramelize and the vegetables are just cooked through and golden brown.
It's even okay to let things burn a bit.
Serve with Horseradish Crème Fraîche (freshly grated horseradish and chopped parsley mixed into crème fraîche).