Monday, 17 October 2011 | 9 comments

Pushing the envelope: Autumn vegetables en papillote with sage brown butter

Right now is that golden time of year where we’re all completely excited about winter squash and root vegetables and other things that signal autumn. I’ve been cooking long enough to know that this will inevitably wear off when it’s actually cold, and we’ll all be a little sad and tired of things that turn taupe or brown or burnt orange when roasted or mashed. But despite that knowledge, I’m not immune to the guiles of autumn vegetables.In fact, this is my dining room table after coming back from the market recently. I am so not immune to rhapsodizing about squash that that big basket you see was actually full of other things, and I had to walk home with a sweet potato, a butternut squash, and two enormous turnips under one arm. Embarrassing. It’s a bit disconcerting, being revealed to the public as someone who cradles turnips on her way home. People stop you on the street (I am not making this up), asking what they are and if they taste like potatoes. If I were the kind of girl who carried, oh, I don’t know, a bouquet of sunflowers as I walked on Saturday morning, people would smile, perhaps, at the lovely picture I made in the early fall sunlight. But, no. I’ve always been more the grubby turnip-toting type.These sorts of veggies are the kind that we learn two or three ways to prepare, and then stop. Squash, for instance, seems forever destined to be pan roasted or pureed into soups. Stumbling onto this fantastic Amanda Hesser article*, though, gave me the idea to cook the autumn veggies en papillote, or in a parchment paper envelope. Only Amanda Hesser can write 1,500 words about cooking food wrapped in parchment paper (or, less glamorously and decidedly reminiscent of old Reynold’s Wrap commercials, in aluminum foil) and have it be pretty thrilling. If it seems unnecessary to fuss with parchment paper when the end product seems similar to what you’d get by tossing the veggies in oil and roasting, it’s worth reading her piece just to sort of revel in thinking about how, “As the package is heated, the air inside expands, and the flavors of the ingredients are swept into it, swirling and mingling, with no escape. The ingredients are, in a sense, cooked with flavored air and form a sauce purely of their own essence.” A sauce purely of their own essence. Perhaps a bit romantically, I’ve become slightly obsessed with this idea, of losing none of the ingredients’ flavor to the air or to pots and pans. Moreover, the presentation is dramatic—–after your folded envelopes come out of the oven, you place them on individual plates, slash an X in the top with a sharp knife, and billowy steam bursts forth. Not a bad step up for those grubby turnips.

* Please don’t ask why I was reading NYT food articles from 1999.

Autumn vegetables en papillote with sage brown butter

Makes approximately 6 individual envelopes.
Inspired by this article, especially the last recipe on the page.

Sage is the classic partner for earthy fall veggies, because they’re one of the few things that can stand up to its fuzzy-mustiness without being overwhelmed. The brown butter adds a touch more depth. This is fantastic served with a side of brown rice.

You will need

1 medium butternut squash, skin removed, seeds scooped out, and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 large sweet potato, skin removed, chopped into 1-inch cubes
2 medium turnips, skin removed if tough, and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 onion of your choice, roughly chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, halved
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
A decent handful of fresh sage leaves, chopped

Note: In total, the volume of chopped vegetables should equal about 6.5 to 7 cups to make the servings indicated above.


Combine squash, sweet potato, onion, turnips, and garlic together in a large bowl. Toss with salt and pepper. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Allow the butter to just sizzle, moderating the heat while continuing to cook it over medium to medium high until the white dairy solids that separate from the butter turn golden brown. Stir in chopped sage and remove from heat immediately.

While butter is still melted, pour over the bowl of chopped vegetables and toss with a wooden spoon so that the vegetables are evenly coated with the brown butter.

Tear off 6 parchment paper pieces that are about 8 inches wide (this is for individual envelopes; you could also do one enormous envelope). Place about a cup of the chopped veggie mixture in the center of a piece of parchment paper. Fold the shorter sides in first, then, take the longer sides and roll or fold it down in a series of small folds (see the above picture). Place the envelope seam-down on a baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the vegetable mixture.

Bake in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 30 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

To serve, place each envelope on a plate. At the table, slash with a knife or cut with scissors an X in the top of each envelope, and garnish with additional fresh sage. Pull back the paper and eat.

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