Vegetarian Goes Gourmet: “Plenty” Gives It Glam

Uncategorized By Mar 22, 2012

I’ve never actually seen my heart, but I suspect that a big meaty lamb bone might be etched on its surface.  OK, that’s an exaggeration fueled by a carnivore’s cravings.  I grew up in a family that defined the meal by the menu’s meat.

What’s for dinner? Lamb, beef, chicken, or pork. Occasionally fish.

But what if a vegetarian dish was so scrumptious that it took away any desire for meat? A dish that nurses every bit of flavor out of the veg, made from a recipe as well thought-out as Julia Child’s formula for Beef Bourguignon. That’s how I see Yotam Ottolenghi’s approach to vegetarian cooking.

Not hurry-up weeknight kind of cooking, but dishes best made on a Saturday or Sunday when your schedule calls for time at home.  These are dishes that take an hour or two to prepare, but you end up with something delicious enough to serve as the main event at a dinner party or company lunch.

Ottolenghi is a London restaurateur and columnist for the Guardian newspaper’s Weekend magazine. His column, dubbed “The New Vegetarian,” elevates vegetarian fare. The culinary prizes memorialized in many of his columns are captured in “Plenty” (Chronicle, $35), a colorful cookbook that showcases his innovative style. A flair based on freshness and seasonality, deep flavors and appealing hues.

Brought up in Israel and Palestine, his dishes reflect diverse food cultures, but focus primarily on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavor profiles.  It’s vibrant vegetarian cuisine at its finest, from a chef who isn’t a vegetarian.

I set out to cook my way through his book. No disappointments so far. Of course I want to add my two cents to the recipes, so in the following Plenty recipes you will find my comments sandwiched in parenthesis and in cook’s notes.  My remarks make the recipes look lengthy, but I am hoping that that won’t be discouraging. Tallyho!

 Filled with roast vegetables, this generous tart is a Mediterranean feast. Ottolenghi dubs it “very full” and indeed it is. It could stand alone as a meal accompanied by a simple mixed green salad.

Very Full Tart
Yield: 6 servings
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
About 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
1 medium eggplant (unpeeled), cut into 2-inch dice (chunks)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 small sweet potato, peeled, cut into 1-inch dice (chunks)
1 small zucchini, cut into 1-inch dice (chunks)
2 medium onions, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
2 bay leaves
11 ounces pie crust dough, see cook’s notes, (plus a little butter for greasing pan)
Leaves from 8 fresh thyme sprigs, divided use
1/3 cup (whole milk) ricotta
4 ounces (finely crumbled) feta
7 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 medium eggs (if using large eggs, lightly beat them and remove 1 tablespoon)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Cook’s notes: Of course you can make the crust from scratch, but I used store-bought frozen and defrosted pie dough from Trader Joe’s. Because I used a little bigger tart pan with a removeable bottom than the one called for, I needed to use one full round of dough, plus a little extra that I added to the edge of the dough so it wouldn’t be skimpy. You can use Pillsbury refrigerated pie dough, but it isn’t vegetarian because it uses lard. Both brands contain two rounds of pie crusts.  The tart pan I used was 9 1/2-inches in diameter, plus it was a little deeper than most fluted tart pans with removeable bottoms. I found that the larger pan was necessary to hold all the ingredients. I ease the dough into the pan, using a bent finger to press the dough against the fluted edge. I fold over the overhanging portion of the dough towards the inside (so the top is level with the top of the side of the pan); this double sides approach reinforces the sides so that when the rim is removed the tart is sturdy.
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Use a small serrated knife to cut around the stem of the peppers and lift them out along with the seeds. Discard stems and seeds. Shake peppers to remove all remaining seeds. Place the two peppers in small ovenproof pan, drizzle with a little oil. (Adjust oven racks so that one is about 5 inches below broiler element and the other is below that one). Put pan with peppers on top rack.
2. Mix eggplant in a bowl with 4 tablespoons oil and some salt and pepper. Spread in a large baking pan and place in the oven on the shelf beneath the peppers.
3. After 12 minutes, add sweet potato and gently stir. Return to oven to roast for another 12 minutes. (If peppers are getting charred, turn with tongs before closing oven. Add zucchini, stir and roast another 12 minutes. At this point the peppers should be brown and the rest of the vegetables cooked. Remove all from oven and reduce temperature to 325 degrees (move rack to middle of oven). Cover peppers with aluminum foil and cool, then peel and tear roughly into strips.
4. (Meanwhile), heat 2 tablespoons oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Cook onions with bay leaves and some salt for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they brown and are soft and sweet. Remove from heat and remove bay leaves; set aside.
5.  Lightly grease a 9-inch loose-bottomed tart pan (with butter).  Roll out pie dough to a circle roughly 1/8-inch thick and large enough to line the pan, plus extra to hang over the rim. (See cook’s notes.) Carefully line pan with dough, pressing it into the corners and leaving excess hanging over (above) the top edge. Line the dough with a large sheet of parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in middle of (325-degree) oven for 30 minutes (I took it out after 22 minutes because it was getting nicely browned). Carefully remove paper with the weights, then bake for 10 to 15 minutes more or until it turns golden brown. Remove and cool a little (5 minutes).
6. Scatter cooked onions over bottom of crust and top with roasted vegetables, arranging them evenly. Scatter half of the thyme over. Next, dot the veg with small chunks of both cheeses and then the tomato halves, cut-side up.
7. Whisk eggs and cream in small bowl with some salt and pepper. Carefully pour this mix into the tart; the top layer of tomatoes and cheese should remain exposed. Scatter remaining thyme over the top. (I put a pie shield over the edge of the tart to prevent over-browning; it’s a ring designed to fit over the dough’s edge, leaving the filling exposed.) Place in oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until filling sets and turns golden (my filling never browned to my liking, so I put the tart under the broiler for a minute or two, keeping a close eye on it). Remove (from oven) and allow to rest of at least 10 minutes before releasing the tart from the pan and serving. (Easiest way to remove outside ring from tart pan it so set it on a large can. The bottom releases from the rim easily this way. I use a hefty 29-ounce can, usually a can of hominy, because I always have one in my pantry. I used a serrated knife to cut the tart. I found that the tart was delicious hot, warm or at room temperature.)
Nutrition information (per serving): 370 calories, 51percent of calories from fat, 21 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 92 mg cholesterol, 39 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 580 mg sodium, 3.5g fiber
Source: adapted from “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle, $35)

Cilantro is used as a garnish on this nontraditional ratatouille. Keep it looking fresh by submerging it in cold water; shake once or twice (it will still be damp) then wrap in paper towels and place in a partially closed plastic bag in refrigerator. It will last for several days using this technique!

This isn’t a traditional ratatouille, a summertime dish that showcases zucchini, bell peppers and tomatoes. This hearty concoction is based on a dish created by the author’s friend, a mixture that teams parsnips, butternut squash and eggplant with the usual suspects. Turn on some good music and prep all the vegetables before you get started.  I like to serve it accompanied with a brown rice blend.

Tamara’s Ratatouille
Yield: 4 (generous) servings
7 tablespoons sunflower oil (or extra-virgin olive oil), divided use
2 small onions, cut into 1 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, peeled, sliced
1/2 fresh green chili, thinly sliced, see cook’s notes
2 small red bell peppers, cut into 1 1/4-inch dice
1/2 small butternut squash, peeled, cut into 1 1/4-inch dice (chunks)
1 small parsnip, peeled, cut into 1 1/4-inch dice (chunks)
1 cup French green beans, trimmed, see cook’s notes
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1 1/4-inch dice
1/2 large eggplant, peeled, cut into 1 1/4-inch dice (chunks)
1 small baking potato, peeled, cut into 1 1/4-inch dice (chunks)
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, chopped, see cook’s notes
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste, see cook’s notes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup water
Garnish: chopped fresh cilantro
Cook’s notes: I used a jalapeno chili that was very mild, so I included some of the seeds and veins. If using a Serrano chili, I would have removed the seeds and veins. I used “regular” Blue Lake green beans and snapped them into 1-inch lengths. Instead of fresh tomatoes, I used 1 cup canned diced tomatoes, partially drained. Dealing with leftover tomato paste can be easy. I keep it in an airtight zipper-style plastic bag; when I need some tomato paste I cut off a small portion and return the bag to the freezer. Some sources sell tomato paste in tubes, packaging that permits cooks to remove just the amount they need and return the tube to the refrigerator.


1. Pour 2/3 of oil into large heavy (flameproof) casserole or (4- to 6-quart) pot and place on medium-high heat. Add onions and fry 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic, chili and red peppers; cook, stirring occasionally, another 5 minutes. Add squash and parsnip and continue frying for 5 additional minutes.

2. Using a slotted spoon, lift vegetables out of pot into medium bowl, leaving as much of the oil in the pot as possible. Top this up with remaining oil. Add green beans, zucchini and eggplant; fry 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. (Adjust oven rack to middle position.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Return contents of bowl to pot. Add potato, tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste and plenty of salt and pepper. Stir well, then pour in the water, or just enough water to half-cover the vegetables. Cover with lid and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

4. Use slotted spoon to gently lift vegetables from pot into a large, deep roasting pan to make a layer about 1 1/4-inches deep. (I used a very large skillet.) Pour liquid over vegetables and place in middle of preheated oven to cook for 30 minutes. At this point all the vegetables should be very soft and most of the liquid evaporated. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

Nutrition information (per serving): 280 calories, 20 percent of calories from fat, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 46 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 350 mg sodium, 4.1 g fiber

Source: adapted from “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle, $35)


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