The Seasonal Chef

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Feeling the after-the-holiday effects of overindulgence, I recently ordered an attractive and satisfying vegetarian dinner at a small restaurant in the Berkshires.

It started with a salad of romaine and frisée lettuce with tomatoes and shaved Parmesan cheese. The entrée of roasted vegetables was cooked to perfection and perfectly presented. Bear in mind that roasting vegetables enriches their flavor without altering their basic nutritional value.

Mushrooms contain polysaccharides that may enhance the immune system’s pathogen-killing potential. In addition, sulforaphone-filled cabbage and kale help white blood cells in defending the body against free-radical damage. Meanwhile, the yam, acorn squash, onions, and beets added vitamins A and C as well as iron and riboflavin. What a delicious approach to healthy eating!

I skipped dessert, but if you’d like another course to complete the meal at home, why not serve pears? Black pepper and maple syrup are not often flavors associated with pears, but the combination is definitely a winner in the dessert department. And while whipped cream would be perfect on top, yogurt cheese is a lean, and tasty, alternative. Bon appétit!

Winter Vegetable Plate

(Serves 4)2 large beets, scrubbed2 large yams, scrubbed1 small acorn squash, quartered and seeds removed4 medium white boiling onions, peeled and root end removed4 small portobello mushrooms, washed1 small head red cabbage, slicedAbout 2 cups curly dark green kale, washed and cut into 2-inch slicesAged balsamic vinegar for drizzlingExtra virgin olive oil for drizzlingSea salt and freshly ground black pepper to tasteTo prepare:

Preheat the oven to 400.

Wrap the beets in aluminum foil. Place beets and yams on a shallow baking pan and roast until they are tender to the point of a fork.

The beets will take longer than the yams, about 60 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside, until cool enough to handle. Arrange the acorn squash and onions on an oiled baking pan, season to taste with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle the onion with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Roast both squash and onions until they are tender to the point of a fork, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Place the portobello mushrooms, smooth side up, in an oiled baking dish large enough to hold them in one layer. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and roast until tender, about 20 minutes.

While the vegetables roast, put the red cabbage in a non-reactive, medium-size saucepan with about a third of a cup of water over medium high heat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, cover, and steam until tender, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Remove from the heat, drain off steaming liquid, drizzle with olive oil, and keep warm.

Coat with olive oil the bottom of a small skillet over high heat. Add kale and stir-fry until just barely tender, about 5 minutes. Season to taste and keep warm

When the tender beets are cool enough to handle, remove the foil with rubber-gloved hands and slip off the skins. Cut the beets into even slices.

When the yams are tender, split them in half and transfer the pulp to the food processor. Add about one tablespoon olive oil and purée until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a fluted tip.

To serve:

On four warmed dinner plates, pipe one-quarter the amount of yam purée into the center of each plate.

Arrange one onion, one portobello mushroom, a slice of acorn squash, beets, and equal servings of cabbage and kale around the purée and serve at once.

Roast Pears with Yogurt Cheese

(Serves 2 to 4)2 large Anjou pears, peeled and sliced about 1/3- to 1/2-inch thickJuice of half a lemon1/2 to 1 tablespoon pure maple syrupFreshly ground black pepper to taste (approximately 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon)For yogurt cheese:2 cups plain non-fat yogurt1/2 to 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup or more to tasteTo prepare:

Preheat the oven to 400.

One day ahead, place yogurt in a damp cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Next day, discard the “whey,” or accumulated juices in the bowl, and transfer the “curd,” aka cheese, to a plastic container and store in the refrigerator.

Arrange the sliced pears in fan shape in a shallow, round baking dish. Drizzle with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.

Grind black pepper over the pears, drizzle with maple syrup, and roast until the pears are tender to the point of a toothpick, about 10 to 20 minutes. Roasting time will depend on the thickness and ripeness of the pears.

Pour the pan juices into a small saucepan set over high heat, bring to a boil, and reduce until the liquid becomes somewhat thickened, 5 to 10 minutes.

Drizzle thickened sauce over the pears and serve warm or room temperature.

To make the topping, whisk maple syrup into about a third of a cup of yogurt cheese. Taste and adjust the sweetness.

Arrange the pears on dessert plates and place a dollop of the yogurt cheese on top.

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