October 13, 2012

Millet Bake with Greens

Fall is the best season. With the best colors, the best smells, the best food. What about summer, you ask? With its glut of fresh produce, its salads, and berries, and cold tomato soups? Sure. Summer is great. But it's got nothing on autumn. On the first chilly days of the year, when you break back into your sweaters for the first time, the crisp smell of winter fills the air, you know it is time to turn the oven back on. Blame it on my New England roots, but I have always preferred bundling up in a cozy wool scarf to sweating it out in August.

It is time for apple crisps and hot chocolate. Shopping for this dish, I felt like I was actually purchasing fall: cranberries, butternut squash, and pumpkin seeds. Actually, at the Harris Teeter, they told me it was too early for cranberries, but I was skeptical. The Yes! Organic Market proved Harris Teeter's folly; it stocks cranberries only for Thanksgiving, as though they didn't have other delicious uses aside from sauce.

I tried this recipe first earlier this week, following it exactly. And it was great. The millet and squash smashed together and the cranberries provided a tart pop in every other bite. But it was missing something. I mulled it over for a few days, and determined it was missing several things: onions (preferably caramelized), garlic (preferably roasted), and greens (to make it a complete meal). Also fennel (because it seemed like just the thing to bridge the gap between cranberries and garlic).

Adding the onions and the garlic in particular turned this meal from a mostly one-pot, one-hour affair, to a many-pot nearly two-hour affair, but trust me, it's worth it. If you're going to take the time, you may want to double the recipe, make it on a Sunday afternoon, and eat it all week. If you want to keep it a simpler weeknight meal, you could forgo the onions and garlic.

Promising lots more fall favorites to come,


Millet Bake with Greens
Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, via 101 Cookbooks
Total time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Sweetness Factor: 4; Indulgence Factor: 3; Difficulty Factor: 4; Chance I'll Make it Again: 10

1 head of garlic (separated into cloves and peeled)
1 onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup millet
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, lightly crushed
1 bunch of kale, rinsed, destemmed, and broken into smallish pieces
1/2 medium size butternut squashed, in 1 inch cubes
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup warm vegetable stock (plus up to another 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly butter a 8*8 glass baking dish. Put the garlic on a baking sheet, and put it in the oven (no need to wait for it to finish preheating). Thinly slice the onion. I recommend a mandolin, if you have one. Otherwise, make sure to use a very sharp knife. Saute the onions for about ten minutes on low-medium heat, lid on, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to get limp. Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Continue to cook, lid on, stirring occasionally, until they are as caramelized as you want them to be, about a half hour, for me. When they are done, the garlic should be done as well. You know the garlic is done if you get a good waft of roasted garlic when you open the oven door, and the garlic is lightly browned.

In the meantime, prepare the squash and other ingredients. Toss together the squash, cranberries, and syrup. Add salt and pepper. Toss with the greens.
Remove the onions from the saute pan and pour in the millet and fennel seed along with a bit more olive oil. Saute, stirring frequently for about two minutes. Stir in the onions and garlic. I cut each garlic clove in half, to get better dispersion (there were only about 9 cloves altogether), but this is not necessary.

Spread the millet/onion/garlic mix over the bottom of the baking dish. Spread the greens/squash/cranberry mix over it. Slowly add the broth. Don't pour it all into one spot; instead try to pour it evenly over the whole dish.

Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven, take off the tin foil, and stir the two layers together. Check to see how close the millet is to do and how dry the dish is. You may want to add another splash of water (or stock) if the millet is still crunchy and the dish is getting dry. Bake another 10 minutes. Check the millet again. If it isn't done and is dry, add a little bit more water and bake another five minutes. Once the millet is done, remove the tin foil, sprinkle the pumpkin seeds on top, and bake another 10 minutes.

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