Sunday, November 25, 2012
Wheat Berries with Caramelized Onions and Maple Roasted Squash: 'Tis the season
Let's slow down.
Let's go see Silver Linings Playbook on a Saturday afternoon at the local theater.
Let's pay $3.75 for a small (regular) coke just for nostalgia's sake.
Let's paint our toenails gold.
Let's buy holiday dresses that we'll have no use for in January.
Let's drive to Beverly Hills to see the Christmas lights on Rodeo Drive.
Let's watch Love Actually.
Let's light candles that smell like apple cider and mulling spices.
Let's listen to the Michael Buble holiday station on Pandora.
Let's watch Love Actually again.
Let's make hot chocolate with whole milk and extra marshmallows.
Let's sing along to "All I Want for Christmas is You" at the top of our lungs.
Let's send holiday cards.
Let's roast butternut squash in maple syrup and walnut oil.
Let's caramelize onions until they are sweet like candy.
Let's make wheat berries.
Let's sit down at a table set with cloth napkins, the "good" glasses and real china.
Let's open a bottle -- and then finish two more.
Let's celebrate the season.
Notes: I made this recipe for my family's Thanksgiving dinner this year -- my contribution to a table already overflowing with mashed potatoes, pecan praline sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans, two kinds of cranberry sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts, and, of course, a 17-lb turkey. For four people.
My addition was not particularly necessary, but then again, nothing about Thanksgiving is particularly necessary -- certainly not the canned cranberry sauce my mom insists upon nor the third glass of wine nor that second helping of pumpkin spice cake. I wanted to take the time to create something special for my family that, while wholesome, could still hold its own next to more indulgent offerings at the table. This dish succeeded in doing just that -- even if my older brother did refuse to try any.
The secret (that he missed out on - hmmph!) is in the varying textures -- the sweet strands of onion sluggishly woven around cubes of butternut squash and chewy wheat berries, and surprising interludes of dried mulberries and toasted pepitas. If you can't find dried mulberries (mine were purchased in the bulk bins at Whole Foods), feel free to omit or substitute golden raisins or dried cranberries. Though, I wouldn't raise an eyebrow even a centimeter if somehow a smattering of well-rendered bacon bits found their way into this dish in their stead. 'Tis the season, no?
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (approximately 3 cups)
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 red onion, sliced thin
1 tablespoon olive oil (or bacon fat, if available)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup soft wheat berries
1/4 cup dried mulberries
1/4 cup pepitas, toasted
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss butternut squash with walnut oil, maple syrup, fresh thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread out into a single layer onto a baking sheet. Roast, stirring once, 20-30 minutes or until tender and lightly caramelized.
While butternut squash is roasting, prepare the onions and wheat berries.
Heat large nonstick or cast iron pan over medium heat. Add the tablespoon of olive oil (or bacon fat, if using), swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the red onion, lower the heat and let cook down for 10 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, and continue cooking, over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, approximately 20 more minutes. Reduce the heat to low, and add the tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.
As the onions are caramelizing and the squash is roasting, bring 3 cups water to a boil. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the wheat berries. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes until wheat berries are tender. Drain and toss into the pan with the caramelized onions. When ready, add the butternut squash, mulberries, and pepitas, as well, stirring until well-combined. Serve immediately.