September in Minnesota really could not have been any more beautiful. The weather was temperate throughout the entire month with warm sunshine and cool, crisp nights. It was also extremely dry. Like desolate and parched, desert-like dry.
By the end of the month, the air was almost caustic, and any amount of wind kicked up rolling dust devils. The few zucchini left on my vine withered in the dryness and the grass, once again, became parched and crackly. And then, just when it seemed the haze that hung in the air would never break up, October came along and with it, a long and much needed drenching rain.
And cold. Those gorgeous September days of upper 70′s and purely blinding sunlight have given way to temps in the 50′s and a lot of clouds. I finally had to give in and turn on the heat when both the cats began fighting over who got to snuggle in my lap for warmth, and a cozy, comforting meal from the oven seemed like just the ticket to usher in a cold, blustery and rain-driven night.
Most any Wednesday finds me eagerly perusing the New York Times Dining and Wine section, skipping over the restaurant news and market talk to find the weekly recipes, eager for some new ammunition to add to my cooking arsenal. Sometimes I fall flat, or I print off an interesting specimen that ends up languishing, forgotten, in a pile somewhere. But this recipe for Ratatouille and Sausage Pot Pie with Cornmeal Biscuits seemed to be one destined to go from the printer to the prep table in record time. And it did. One day was all it took and it was bubbling on the trivet, my stomach growling in desire as the rain pelted the rapidly darkening windows and the furnace hummed happily.
What a wonderful twist on comfort food, a new definition for an age-old favorite. The recipe calls for italian sausage, but if you’ve got a meat market in your area, one that makes its own artisan sausages, pick a richly flavored one to use in this recipe. A local market near us makes it’s own bratwurst and the Wild Rice variety paired beautifully with this dish. Roasting the vegetables brings out so much sweetness and flavor; both Mike and I were really happy with this dish, the complex flavors and the ultra-comforting way it filled us up.
Ratatouille and Sausage Pot Pie with Cornmeal Biscuits
From The New York Times Dining section, 9/30/09
For the Biscuits:
1 c. AP flour
1/2 c. cornmeal
2 t. sugar
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. kosher salt
6 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
3/4 c. sour cream or plain whole milk yogurt
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. With a pastry cutter or two forks, cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the yogurt or sour cream and fold in gently until mostly combined. Gather the dough with your fingers and press any remaining dry ingredients into it, kneading it lightly until it all comes together. It should be slightly sticky. If too wet, sprinkle with a little more cornmeal. If too dry, add a small amount of milk. Press dough into a ball and place plastic wrap over the top of it. Set aside.
For the Ratatouille:
1 large eggplant, cut to 1″chunks
2-3 medium zucchini, cut to 1″ chunks
1 large red pepper, cut to 1″ chunks
1 large yellow onion, cut to 1″ chunks
3 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
3/4# italian sausage, casings removed
2 large tomatoes, cored and rough chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh oregano
3-4 large basil leaves, chopped
Oil for roasting, salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 450°. In a large bowl, place all the vegetables and drizzle them with about 3-4 T. of good quality olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and gently stir to coat. Spread the vegetables on two cookie sheets without crowding them. Roast until golden and browned in spots, about 20-25 minutes. Stir once during roasting.
Meanwhile, in an oven proof skillet with deep sides (or use a regular pan, then a separate baking dish) cook the sausage until browned, breaking up into small pieces. When sausage is cooked, add the tomato and stir gently. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes without disturbing. The tomato should break down slightly, but not too much. At this point, if the vegetables are not done yet, turn the burner off under the skillet and wait for the vegetables to finish. You don’t want the tomato to become mushy.
When the vegetables are done, scrape them into the skillet with the sausage and tomato, or pour everything into a 2-3 quart baking dish. Divide the cornmeal biscuit dough into five or six workable pieces and flatten them with your palms, placing them on top of the vegetable and sausage mixture, pressing them down slightly. They can be in rounds, or you can cover the top as much as possible with the dough. Reduce the oven temperature to 400°. With a pastry brush, dip into the juices in the pan and brush the tops of the dough with the juices. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden and the filling is bubbly.
This dish would be just as good without the addition of any meat.