As executive chef at Greens, San Francisco's landmark vegetarian restaurant, Annie Somerville's tastes run to the refined but unfussy. Equally straightforward is her advice on planning a meatless holiday menu.
"It's not about finding a substitute for meat or fish," she says. It's about combining beautiful produce and high-quality ingredients to make great food." In her upcoming book, Everyday Greens (Scribner, New York, scheduled for spring 2003), Somerville hopes to convey that flavorful vegetarian food doesn't have to be complicated. This Thanksgiving menu is a good example: autumn root vegetables, leafy greens, hearty beans and grains, and seasonal fruit are deftly coaxed into simple dishes that are distinctive enough for the holiday table.
Start the meal by offering a casually assembled variety of flavors--marinated vegetable salads, olives, a few special cheeses, and slices of artisan bread. Follow the selection of room-temperature appetizers with a warm spinach salad tossed with goat cheese, crisp Fuji apple slices, pumpkin seeds, and roasted sweet onions. The centerpiece of the meal, a juicy autumn vegetable ragout with white beans, butternut squash, and kale, is served over a mound of soft polenta. Sweet pears and tart cranberries baked under a buttery crisp topping make a delicious ending to a meal from which nothing is missing.
Autumn Vegetable Ragout with Soft Polenta
PREP AND COOK TIME: About 1 3/4 hours plus at least 2 hours to soak beans
NOTES: If using dried beans, save 4 cups cooking liquid to use in the ragout; if using canned beans, reserve and measure the liquid when draining and add water to equal 4 cups. You can roast the vegetables and blanch the kale up to 4 hours ahead; wrap separately and chill, then proceed from step 4. Prepare the polenta while the ragout cooks.
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings
1 1/2 cups dried small white beans,
rinsed, or 2 cans (15 oz. each)
white beans (see notes)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 onion (about 8 oz.), peeled and
cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound parsnips, peeled, ends
trimmed, and cut into 1-inch
2 1/2 pounds butternut squash,
peeled, seeded, and cut into
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 pound kale
1 can (28 oz.) diced or crushed
1/2 cup pitted calamata olives,
Soft polenta (recipe follows)
1. Sort beans for debris, then rinse. In a 5- to 6-quart pan over high heat, bring beans and about 2 quarts water to a boil. Cover, boil for 2 minutes, and remove from hear. Let stand at least 2 and up to 4 hours. Drain beans, rinse, return to pan, and add 2 quarts water. Bring to a simmer over high heat, cover, reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until beans are tender to bite, about 40 minutes. Drain beans, reserving 4 cups cooking liquid (see notes).
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix olive oil and garlic. Add onion, parsnips, squash, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; mix to coat evenly Spread mixture in single layers in two 12- by 15-inch baking pans. Bake in a 400[degrees] regular or convection oven for 15 minutes. Stir with a wide spatula and bake until vegetables are tender when pierced, 10 to 15 minutes longer.
3. Rinse kale and tear leaves from center ribs; discard ribs and stems. In a 6- to 8quart pan over high heat, bring about 2 quarts water to a boil. Add kale leaves and cook, uncovered, until tender to bite, 2 to 3 minutes. Lift out with a slotted spoon and immerse in cold water until cool. Drain and coarsely chop.
4. In a 6- to 8-quart pan over high heat, combine beans, the 4 cups reserved bean cooking liquid (see notes), roasted vegetables, tomatoes with their juices, and olives. Adjust heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 15 minutes to blend flavors. …