Saturday 22 November 2014

For Thanksgiving: A Savory Apple Cobbler

The other day I stumbled across a recipe for savory oatmeal cookies. I thought it was a clever idea, and was particularly intrigued by the nice balance of novelty and familiarity it evokes - something that manages to feel traditional, yet at the same time is fresh and new. That same approach, I realized, could go beyond simply creating delicious food; it could also provide an elegant solution to a dilemma that becomes especially apparent as holidays approach: how to reconcile the desire to keep with tradition, and the need to change tradition that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with food sensitivities. I don't mean just swapping sweet and savory, or using alternative ingredients; I'm talking about that larger idea - something that's not quite familiar, yet somehow seems to belong, with all the appeal of the other well-loved traditions on the table. Sometimes we directly adapt the old recipes; other times, we replace them with something entirely different. And sometimes, there is something in between - a bit from both, a bit from neither - which neither replaces nor competes, but rather adds. It takes the focus off of dietary restrictions, and instead allows food to be simply food - with all of the enjoyment that entails.

This is one of those foods. With its roasted squash, apples, savory herbs, and nutty cornmeal-oat topping, this cobbler even tastes like Thanksgiving - all autumnal and cozy, homey but by no means homely. There's just a hint of sweetness to complement those flavors - it's definitely a side dish, not a dessert (though it would fit in wonderfully as an accompaniment to a cheese course, too). The recipe is designed for flexibility: almost everything can be done a day in advance, and the quantities/types of filling can be varied as needed. Best of all, the grain ingredients - just cornmeal and oats, no added starch or binders - are easy-to-find (and all "normal" ingredients, for those family members who may be skeptical of GF baked goods!).

Savory Apple Cobbler
For the crumble topping:
80 g GF rolled oats, divided
70 g cornmeal
30 g brown sugar
60 g EV olive oil and/or butter (I used 30 g of each)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 g (1/2 tsp) salt
1 large egg (approx. 50 g)
80 g water, boiling hot
35 g hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

several fresh sage leaves, minced
sprig of fresh thyme, or a good pinch of dried
small sprig of fresh rosemary
black pepper & sea salt, to taste

1. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, salt, and about half of each of the herbs (save the rest for the cobbler part). Rub the mixture between your fingers to help release the herbs' oils. 
2. In a larger bowl, stir together the cornmeal, 40 g of the oats, baking soda, and baking powder. Pour in the water and stir well. Cover the bowl and set it aside for a few minutes.
3. Meanwhile, add the remaining 40 g oats to the first bowl. Then add the oil and/or butter (butter, if using, should be cut in as for pie crust before adding oil). Add pepper to taste.
4. Add the egg to the large bowl, stirring well, and then stir in the hazelnut pieces, followed by the other mixture. It will form a soft dough. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. 

For the cobbler:
These measurements are approximate, and for the most part are very flexible as far as proportions and substitutions go. Don't be afraid to improvise!
1 large butternut squash, cut into smallish pieces - or about 2 pounds precut squash
3-4 apples, preferably a mix (suggested varieties include Stayman, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Braeburn, Cortland, and Gala)
1 yellow onion, sliced thin
a few handfuls cremini mushrooms (about 5 mushrooms), sliced very thin
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
a handful or two of walnut pieces
olive oil
1-2 tsp real maple syrup (not absolutely necessary, but I think it really enhances the mix of flavors)

1. Toss butternut squash pieces with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400º F until moderately tender, about 45 minutes - stir occasionally to prevent burning.
2. Sautee onions in oil until just softened. Add remaining herbs, garlic, and mushrooms (and more salt & pepper, to taste). Lower heat and cook for a couple more minutes.
3. Combine the cooked squash pieces, onions, and mushrooms with the raw apple pieces, then add the walnuts and stir in maple syrup.  
4. --If you are preparing ahead of time, this is the point to pause - cover and refrigerate mixture until needed. Otherwise, continue.--
5. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Put above mixture into baking dishes (two 8x8" dishes or equivalent would do nicely - I used one 8x8 and one 11x13, but the topping was spread a bit thin). Break up the chilled dough until crumbly, and drop small spoonfuls evenly over the surface. Sprinkle a little more pepper and salt on top if desired. 
6. Cover the baking dishes with foil. Bake 30-40 minutes covered, then remove foil and bake another 20-30 minutes. After removing from the oven, loosely drape the foil over the dishes again and let it sit for just a few minutes. Serve warm.
Have a happy Thanksgiving!