Saturday, October 16, 2010

NOMS -- Autumn Millet Bake

This is my take on Heidi Swanson's take on Mark Bittman's recipe.

It is rare for a recipe to go straight from Maiden Voyage to Crack Food Category, but occasionally the stars do align. Usually, the first run generates a list of things that I would tweak, realizations of what I screwed up, or other adjustments to improve either the recipe (I'm looking at you, Mollie Katzen) or my execution thereof, but this dish was pretty fab right out of the oven.

Here is Heidi's version of the recipe: 
Mark Bittman's Autumn Millet Bake Recipe
I screwed up a bit and used dried cranberries. If you are referencing the photo [on her website, pics here are mine ~kxm], you'll notice the shrivel factor. Still good. You can make this vegan, vegetarian, I used a bit of cream* - but you can use just stock or water. The real trick is getting the millet to cook all the way though, so don't over toast it, and keep adding liquids if you need to.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus oil for the dish
3/4 cup millet
1 medium butternut or other winter squash or 1 small pumpkin, peeled seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup fresh cranberries
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon minced sage leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
1 cup vegetable stock or water, warmed*
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds or coarsely chopped hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a 2-quart casserole, a large gratin dish, or a 9x13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the millet and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and golden, about 3 minutes (hs note: don't overdo it). Spread in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. 
Scatter the squash or pumpkin cubes and the cranberries on top of the millet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and the sage and drizzle with syrup. Carefully pour the warmed stock over all (hs note: I did about 1/2 cup stock & 1/2 cup cream based on one of his variations). Cover tightly with foil and bake without disturbing, for 45 minutes.

Carefully uncover and turn the oven to 400F. As discreetly as possible, sneak a taste and adjust the seasoning. If it looks too dry, add a spoonful or two of water or stock. (hs note: This is key! The millet should be close to being cooked through at this point, if not you need to add liquid and keep it moist and cooking - I used another 1/4 cup+ of stock here).
Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds on top, and return the dish to the oven. Bake until the mixture bubbles and the top is browned (hs note: and the millet is cooked through), another 10 minutes or so. Serve piping hot or at room temperature (hs note: drizzled with the remaining olive oil if you like). 
Serves 4 to 6. 
* In the end, I used 3/4 cup stock + 1/2 cup cream

I used a 2 quart Pyrex casserole dish with a glass lid, an ambercup squash*, thawed frozen cranberries, lemon thyme instead of sage, no cream, and honey instead of maple syrup. I used olive oil spray to oil the dish, probably less than 2T to toast the millet, and I didn't add any more at the end. I did not have a problem with the dish drying out at all, and did not add any more liquid at the 45 minute mark. I did, however, screw up and forget to put the pepitas on top and I put the lid back on. Frankly, no harm, no foul. The top didn't brown, and the pepitas didn't get toasty, but neither detracted from the dish at all.

Personally, I think maple syrup would be too strong a flavor and too sweet, but if you are a big lover of maple flavor, it might work for you, or you might want to try it with 1 tablespoon of each, honey and syrup.

This dish was easy to make, the hardest part was cutting up the squash, but once that is done, it moves quickly, though it does require nearly an hour of baking time. You could still do it on a weeknight, so long as you didn't arrive home ravenous.

I foresee this dish becoming a fall/winter regular along with my Spiced Butternut Squash Stew over Couscous (yes, I will get to a post on that...). MMMNOMNOMNOM!  I hope you like it as much as I do!

* Here's a nice list with pictures of different types of winter squashes to help you identify them in the store or at the farmer's market.

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Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.