Clay Pot Cooking for a Sunday at Home

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Here is a comforting recipe for Squash, Bean & Quinoa Stew with Kale served with a boule miche of French bread and garnished with a spoonful of homemade pistou.

Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile.
-William Cullen Bryant

November is here with crisp air, a gray strata of clouds looms over the horizon of the sea, and finally it feels like fall weather. And I am becoming melancholy more than anything, so I want comfort food to nourish me. Sunday, a day to sleep in, to be warmed by the fireplace with a cup of tea and a good book, and the pleasure of cooking in the kitchen.

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Last week was warm with Santa Ana winds stirring, palm fronds scattered along the black asphalt, summery weather. I was even thinking about taking the children to the beach for bicycle riding. Now, suddenly, cold November days are here. When it’s chilly outside, I love to get cozy at home with a hot cup of tea. It’s also time to make something comforting in my clay pot like soup or stew, and bake bread or make a cake just so the place smells wonderful. Hot chocolate and steamed vanilla milk with honey is a big request from the kids. They also ask for my squash soup, but this Sunday I made a stew with butternut squash, beans like kidney beans, chickpeas, and French lentils, adding in quinoa (in place of farro or barley), and kale.

Stew can be vegetarian, and beans give it a hearty quality with a dash of chipotle just to lend a smoky flavor. Of course, to appease the meat-eater in my Darling and all three of my kids that love bacon, I added that to the leek & mushroom quiche I made to serve with the vegetarian stew. I suppose remembering all of the recipes would be a good idea, however, just like me, I make it up as I go, promising that I will write down the recipes before I forget them, and of course I never do. I think I will remember exactly how I made something. Silly me. So I am writing this vegetarian stew recipe down to share with you before I forget because everyone loved the meal and it’s worth telling about.

The kids ate most of the quiche and small bowls of stew, and the French boule miche in its thick slices the size of my four-year-old daughter’s face satisfied everyone, using ricotta and the pistou I made to spread on the bread and dip into the stew.

Squash, Bean & Quinoa Stew with Kale

(served with French Bread and Pistou)

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil to sauté shallot

  • ½ cup marsala or sherry

  • 2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

  • ½ small bunch of kale, trimmed and chopped

  • 1 shallot, minced

  • 6 cloves of garlic

  • 2 cups quinoa, rinsed

  • 1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed

  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

  • ½ cup steamed or pre-cooked French lentils

  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes, any kind

  • 5 cups vegetable stock, more as needed

  • 2-3 pinches of chipotle spice

  • Zest of 1/2 a lemon for flavor and garnish

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

  • 2 sprigs of oregano

  • 2 bay leaves

  • Freshly grated Parmigiano and Romano cheeses, garnish

  • Sea salt to season

Peel and chop up the butternut squash into cubes and place them on a large sheet pan. Add the cloves of garlic. Drizzle generously with olive oil and marsala. Roast in the oven at 400°F for about 30 minutes or until it turns golden and looks delicious. Sprinkle with a little sea salt.

Put olive oil in a large, deep pot (clay is best for slow cooking) over medium heat. Add the minced shallot. Once it starts to cook, add a pat of butter. Saute the shallot a little longer, about 5 minutes, and add a splash of marsala.

Add ½ cup of broth and let the shallot mellow in the pot. Add squash and garlic. Add the rest of the broth. Add the lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, tomatoes, and stir. Add chipotle and sea salt. Add bay leaves, oregano, and thyme.

Bring to a boil, adjust heat to simmer. Add the quinoa. Cook until quinoa has blossomed into spirals, at least an hour, adding stock if needed.

NOTE: Add the kale about 15 minutes before finishing the stew so its lively green color remains and it's only gently wilted.

In the meantime, make the pistou. Pistou is the French Provençal word for “pesto” and I made mine just as I always do, with olive oil, lemon juice, Parmigiano and Pecorino Romano cheese, sea salt, pepper, toasted pignolias (pine nuts) and this time, macadamia nuts. *See recipe below last photo at bottom of post.

Once the quinoa is tender and the stew looks ready, taste and adjust seasoning. You might want more chipotle or sea salt, or even a smidge of sunny lemon zest, but with the addition of pistou and the subtle, smoky flavor of chipotle, I didn’t want to overwhelm the senses. I kept the seasoning amounts minimal, allowing the blend of ingredients to compliment each other rather than clash and overpower with too much salt and spice. My grandmother, soon to be ninety-two, disagrees with my salting methods, and anytime I make her something she adds her usual garlic salt to it, claiming it improved. So, do whatever pleases you with your stew. You could even add chorizo to the pot.

Serve with a giant boule miche of crusty French bread and garnish the stew with a good dollop of pistou, a sprinkle of Parmigiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses, lovingly finished with a drizzle of good olive oil.

As I am writing this late at night, I became inspired to heat up some of this stew. So I did. Writing about food late in the evening, or any other time, can make one very hungry. I added a small end of a jalapeño, minced up, just about ¼ of a teaspoon, and sprinkled in some more chipotle while I toasted a big slice of French bread with olive oil under the broiler. Once the stew re-heated nicely (I added more broth) and my toasted bread was beckoning 'eat me,' I slathered it with pistou and dipped it heartily into my stew. The jalapeño gave it some kick along with chipotle to warm me. It’s cold outside. I miss my Darling when he isn't home in bed. My feet are chilly and I want his arms around me, but... I'm alone. So, tonight, it's stew, a consoling bowl of Squash, Bean & Quinoa Stew with Kale

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Pistou

I made this pistou (pesto) before in an earlier post, but this recipe uses macadamia nuts and toasted pine nuts. Just after I blended up this pistou recipe, my Darling came into the kitchen and began nibbling the back of my neck, kissing here and there. From that point on, what amorous mischief evolved is my secret and most passionate ingredient. Wasn’t it mentioned somewhere that the fragrance of basil inspires the passion of men?

Ingredients

  • olive oil, 2 generous cups

  • bouquet of basil, plucked leaves

  • lemon juice, 1/2 cup freshly squeezed

  • parmigiano and romano cheeses, 1/2 cup and some

  • garlic, 1 clove, blanched to remove bitterness

  • toasted pine nuts, 1/2 cup and some

  • macadamia nuts, 1/4 cup

  • sea salt and ground pepper, to taste

Pour a generous amount of olive oil into your blender. Blanche the garlic quickly in boiling water for about a half a minute. Add the garlic, lemon juice, basil leaves, parmesan, pine nuts, and macadamias into the blender and combine until it is smooth and green. Keep adding parmesan, basil leaves, and pine nuts until you have created a nice consistency, either rough or smooth, to your liking. Sea salt and pepper to taste.