Friday, March 09, 2012

Nigel Slater's Sausage and Pumpkin Mash


Tuesday evening I came home from work, poured myself a glass of wine, and began to read. I was tired, so I grabbed the first book I saw, the only book I could reach from the kitchen table, which happened to be a cookbook: Nigel Slater’s Tender.

I write about Nigel Slater a lot. I know. I love him.

I had cooked from this handsome book only a few days before, when I made dinner for my mom and her boyfriend, Charley. (An aside: I feel strange continuing to describe Charley as my mother’s “boyfriend.” They have been together ten years now, lived together for 8. He helped to take care of me after the car accident. He was there when I moved to New York City, to California, to Boston. I wrote about him in my book. He’s seen me at my worst, and my best. From now on he shall be, simply, Charley.)

I cooked the simplest of dinners, one that took barely any time to throw together, but filled the house with a sweet and salty aroma, a meaty smell, a hungry smell, a scent that promised satisfaction.

I made Slater’s “Sausage and Pumpkin Mash,” and the recipe title pretty much sums it up. Sausage, roasted with a sauce made of mustard, honey, and lemon. Pumpkin, (or, in this case, butternut squash), steamed and then mashed with butter, salt, pepper, and (my addition of) a glob of sour cream. I served the dish with an arugula salad dressed in a simple lemon vinaigrette.

You see, two weeks ago Charley went into surgery to have his hip replaced. It was a quick and successful surgery. He was home within days. Charley is a stalwart fellow, and is doing okay. But a hip replacement is big, recovery happens slowly, and he has been in pain. I’ve been cooking for him and my mom a lot.

I will admit that it’s been strange to be in that house with someone who is recovering from a serious injury. Seven years ago I was hit by a car and recovered from my own injuries there, too. Months and months of slow-motion healing, lying in the bed we hoisted from the second floor to the living room, nursing my broken pelvis and fractured skull, the knee surgery that left a 9-inch scar snaking down the side of my leg. I remember feeling like a shell of a human, a cracked shell at that. I wasn’t sure I would ever be okay.

Being in that house now brings me viscerally back to those months. Remembering the mechanics of pain pills, the engineering required to climb the stairs with only one working leg. Simply the sound of Charley’s crutches moving along that particular wooden floor echoes in my ears and memory, both.

Anyway. After work, Tuesday, I poured myself a glass of wine and began to read. Slater begins this book by writing about lists. He keeps lists. Lots of them. Some on paper. Some in his head.

“One list that has remained in my head is that of favorite scents, the catalogue of smells I find particularly evocative or uplifting. Snow (yes, I believe it has a smell), dim sum, old books, cardamom, beeswax, moss, warm pancakes, a freshly snapped runner bean, a roasting chicken, a fleeting whiff of white narcissi on a freezing winter’s day.”

Yes, yes, yes.

He goes on:

“High on that list comes cress seeds sprouting on wet blotting paper. It is a smell I first encountered in childhood, a classroom project that became a hobby. Cool and watery, fresh yet curiously ancient, as you might expect from a mixture of green shoots and damp parchment, it has notes of both nostalgia and new growth about it. Sometimes, when I have watered my vegetable patch late on a spring evening, I get a fleeting hint of that scent. A ghostlike reminder of how this whole thing started.”

I immediately copied those passages down into a notebook, the scribbly old notebook I keep handy to write down just such things. It felt very important on Tuesday night. It still does, though I’m not sure why. Something about scent, of course. Scents that bring us back. That move us forward. Something about lists. The lists Slater writes. The lists I write, have written, the ones I keep in my head. Something about remembering who I was, where I was, what brought me there. Something about nostalgia. About growing, and healing, and helping each other out. Maybe I just want a vegetable patch.

Nigel Slater’s Sausage and "Pumpkin" Mash
From Tender
Serves 4, or more, depending on how hungry you are

Sausages:
8 pork sausages, plump ones
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Mash:
2 butternut squash
A large knob of butter
A sizable scoop of sour cream (optional)
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lay the sausages out on a rimmed baking sheet, making sure that they don’t overlap. In a separate bowl, mix together the mustard, honey, and lemon juice. Pour the dressing over the sausages. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, turning the sausages once or twice to make sure that the sauce, which will turn into a thick and sticky glaze, covers them all.

For the mash: Peel and seed the squash, and then cut the flesh into 1 – 2 inch chunks. Steam the squash pieces, covered in a large pot, for about 20 minutes, until tender. Mash the squash with a wooden spoon (note: Slater recommends giving it a whirl in a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment) in a large bowl. Add the butter, and stir until relatively smooth. Add salt, pepper, and sour cream (if using), to taste.

Divide the mash onto four plates, and balance the sausages, drizzled with their sauce, on top. Pretend you’re in Britain, and enjoy.

7 comments:

Molly said...

Best wishes for a speedy recovery for Charley. Being by his side as he slowly regains his strength must mean so much more to you than anyone could understand.

Now, about Tender: I was at a girlfriend's house on Sunday to do some baking. I grabbed that cookbook off the shelf and had to say out loud to myself, "OK, time to put this back on the shelf. Must focus!" When Sara offered to lend me the book I furiously shook my head no. I was worried she'd never see it again.

Molly said...

Thanks, Molly. I'm super glad that I can be around to help out. And Tender? I love this book. It's simple and smart and the photos are quiet and beautiful. It's definitely worth spending some time with.

Megan said...

Wishing Charley a quick recovery... I'm sure meals like this make it easier. And next time you make this, I'd like an invite. :) Glad you are blogging again!

Victoria said...

Tender is one of my all time favourite cook books and books to read. Nigel Slater is a poet in my mind. I often make this recipe (sometimes with sweet potato if I can get my hands on a squash). All the best to Charley.

Molly said...

Megan, you're def on the invite list for my next sausage & pumpkin extravaganza!

Victoria: Nigel Slater is a total poet. There's such lyricism in his writing. Also, sweet potato is an excellent idea for this. I could see carrots, too. Maybe I should rename it "Sausage and 'Anything Bright Orange' Mash"?

Jess said...

Molly, I forgot to tell you this the other day: I had Tender out from the library last month, and I had just read the very lines you quoted - and thought of you, of course - when you posted them here.

Best wishes to Charley. Talk soon. xo.

Girl Booker said...

Thank you for this beautiful post Molly.