The last week of October is nearly upon us. How on earth did this happen? I really enjoyed the cool summer just past, and I liked the warm September, too. I even appreciated the gusting, rainy, snowy drama of autumn's premature arrival. I guess I just thought we'd have another little respite, an Indian Summer idyll, before we had to pack it all in for the season.
So it goes. It's looking every bit November outside my window this morning, though we have a long week of October to go. We've been stocking up on vegetables at the market, pulling things in from the garden. We have more produce that we know what to do with...except, fortunately, we do know what to do with it, a lot of it, anyway. One great thing to do with the glut of autumn vegetables is to make a batch or two of vegetable stock. And then, to reward yourself for your industry and economy, cook up a beautiful vegetable-lentil ragout to serve over polenta. Or, call out for pizza. It's up to you.
The beauty of a vegetable stock like this is that it's made largely from stuff that might otherwise wind up in the compost pile. The tops of a celery root do not look very appetizing. You would not use this to make a plate of "Ants on a Log" to munch with your happy hour martini. But it adds great flavor to stock. Likewise, those overgrown leaves of kale. Chop them up, stems and all. When they're roasted, and then simmered, they impart a deeply savory quality to the stock. It's that sort of "sixth flavor" called umami, I do believe.
I like a lot of oniony things--onions, of course, and leeks, garlic, shallots--in a stock, veggie or otherwise. Not too much of the sweet things like carrots or parsnips. The well-washed skins of organic potatoes could go in. A tomato added toward the end of the oven browning adds depth of flavor.
So here's the basic method for...
Roasted Vegetable Stock
makes about seven cups
Preheat your oven to 450. Add one tablespoon canola or olive oil to an oven-proof dutch oven or stock pot. To the oil add around six cups of vegetables, chopped into smallish pieces--this won't cook for hours and hours like a meat stock, so you want the pieces fairly small.
An example of the vegetables you might use:
a rib of celery, or some celery root tops
three or four leaves of kale
one ear corn--chop it up, cob and all; slice off some of the kernels
one medium leek or equivalent--I used some tops of leeks I found in the crisper, and some of the tough outer layers
3 or 4 cloves garlic
celery root trimmings
You could also add mushrooms fresh or dried, shallots, scallions, parsnip, potato skins. Maybe a few chard stems. Green beans, why not? Other greens, like turnip or mustard, would probably be fine--just don't use too much of strongly flavored or "cabbage-y" things.
Roast the vegetables for 30 minutes stirring every 10 minutes, until the vegetables are getting brown and a nice glaze is developing on the bottom of the pan--but watch that the pan-bottom stuff isn't getting too brown, as there's lots of sugar in many of these vegetables, which could burn and make your stock bitter. If it looks like it's getting too brown, add a little water and scrape with a wooden spatula.
After 30 minutes, stir in one tomato, chopped. Roast for another 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven. Deglaze with a cup of water, then add three more quarts of water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, a couple of bay leaves, a few sprigs of thyme, a couple of whole cloves if you like, and give it a few coarse grinds of pepper. I added some additional leek greens, some fennel stalk, and a few carrot greens (which you might not have known are edible; they are, but use sparingly), all chopped up.
Simmer for one hour partially covered, and then 45 minutes more, uncovered. Strain the stock, then put the vegetables back in the pot, add another cup and a half of water, sluice it about, strain this into the rest of the stock.
There you go. What I wasn't going to use right away I froze in plastic containers, popped the frozen stock out of the containers and returned to the freezer in a zipper bag. Use it as a soup base, in braises, sauces, rice dishes, etc.
That same day I made this
Vegetable-Lentil Ragout on Polenta
Parcook 1/2 cup lentils in boiling water for 20 minutes; drain and set aside.
Preheat your oven to 400.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add one half onion and one half a small leek, chopped. Sauté for one minute.
Add a couple of wedges of cabbage, six leaves kale stemmed and chopped, one half delicata squash, seeded, cut in chunks (you don't have to peel delicata squash, but I used a vegetable peeler to remove some of the rind). Cook over medium-high to lightly brown the cabbage and squash and wilt the kale.
Add one or two cloves garlic, chopped. Cook one minute more.
Add the lentils, one and a half cups vegetable stock, one half cup water, a good pinch salt, a few sprigs of thyme and a few leaves of sage. Put the pan in the oven and cook for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables and lentils are tender and the top is nicely browned. Add additional water or stock if needed. Serve on polenta, if you like.
We garnished this with a drizzle of olive oil and a handful of grated Roth Kase gruyere. It is entirely vegetarian. If you omit the cheese (and the butter we stirred into the polenta), it's even vegan, for cripes sake. This is easily adaptable to whatever vegetables you have on hand. You could also substitute dried beans or chickpeas for the lentils. A damn fine way to eat your vegetables.
Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw