My sister-in-law’s post on food writing so inspired me this morning that I thought I’d just sit down and tell you what I’m fixing for dinner tonight, as it’s one of my all-time favorite meals.  This recipe is Comfort Food, pure and simple, which is what my hearth-loving soul craves in winter.  I love to cook–I love the breathless challenge of a mousse or a triple-layer cake (though I have a cache of amusing stories on the latter I’ll just have to share someday!).  I once even made a dessert for my sister’s birthday that was supposed to resemble the Duomo in Florence to celebrate her deep passion for all things Italian.   But in all honesty, it’s in the simple, hearty, healthy dishes that I find my greatest motivation and joy; those inglorious, unglamorous everyday meals that you won’t find on the pages of Bon Apetit, but which nourish the heart as well as the body and create an atmosphere that truly defines a real home.  Like the melt-in-your-mouth pot roast that appeared on our Sunday table almost every week growing up and its fragrant accompaniment of broth-drenched vegetables.  Or the lovely herb-stuffed hen, roasted with a surprising assortment of peppers and turnips and new potatoes that held the place of honor all of the other Sundays, it seems.  My grandmother’s crispy hoecakes, slightly blackened on the outside, golden perfection on the inside, of which all of my attempts to imitate have resulted in a rather unappealing mush of corn meal and canola.  Philip’s mother’s eye-popping spread of mashed potatoes, creamed corn, sweet potato casserole, fried okra, green beans, hot rolls, cole slaw and fresh tomatoes–it makes me hungry just thinking about it!

So here’s my offering to that noble registry of Meals of True Renown.  I hope that my own children someday will say that it makes them think of Home.

Winter Vegetable Pie

This pie is made with a lovely assortment of roasted root vegetables and mushrooms.  I even love buying the ingredients–how few recipes in our American repetoire call for parsnips!  I always feel so ‘Mr. MacGregor-ish’.  And I usually pile the vegetables on the counter for a while, or in a big stainless collander just because they’re so pretty to look at.  Begin with:

4-5 medium carrots, peeled, halved lenthwise and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 1/2 lbs button mushrooms, stems removed and halved or quartered
1 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 large parsnips, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 lb leeks, white and pale green parts only, washed well and sliced into half-moons

Toss all of the vegetables with 1/4 cup olive oil and 3/4 tsp thyme and season generously with salt and pepper.  Roast for 25 minutes at 425 degrees on two rimmed baking sheets; toss.  (If they’re sticking to the pans, sprinkle up to 1/4 cup water over each.)  Roast until browned and tender, up to 20 minutes more.  Transfer to a shallow 3-quart baking dish, or 9/13" casserole.  For the topping, combine 2 cups flour, 2 1/4 tsp baking powder, 3/4 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.  Cut in 6 Tbsp of cold, unsalted butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Mix in 3/4 buttermilk and 3/4 shredded cheese and with a floured hand knead against the sides of the bowl till combined.  If dough is too sticky, add up to 1/4 cup more flour.

For the sauce, bring 3 cups vegetable broth (homemade or canned low-sodium) and 3/4 cup dry red wine to a boil.  Whisk in 2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/3 cup warm water; continue to boil for one minute.  Pour over vegetables and toss to coat.  Drop small mounds of dough on top of vegetables and bake until brown, 15-20 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes and serve.

*this recipe orginally appeared in Everyday Food magazine, January 2004.  A most worthy publication!

The whole process of this dish is delightsome.  The rythmic peeling and chopping and piling; the subtle sizzle coming from the oven as the vegetables roast and the intoxicating aroma that fills the house as the flavors intensify.  Even the walk down to the hen house to toss out the trimmings as a special treat to the girls, and the happy, chuckling clucks of pleasure with with the carrot peels and mushroom ends disappear before my very eyes.  Though Jenny Penny and the brood have made it quite clear that they do not like leeks.  They won’t even cast a sideways glance at them (and if you’ve ever seen a hen give something a sideways glance you know what an amusing gesture it is!) but step over them indignantly and leave them untouched till Philip or I remove the dried stalks!