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Vegetarian Comfort Food at Thanksgiving

Nutrition | Comments Off on Vegetarian Comfort Food at Thanksgiving
Vegetarian Comfort Food at Thanksgiving
 

By TARA PARKER-POPE

Zucchini cakes are among the comfort foods of Thanksgiving.
The traditional Thanksgiving table is filled with comfort foods like cheesy casseroles, creamy potatoes and marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes. But the cookbook authors Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough offer a new spin on traditional comfort foods by packing them with fall vegetables.
Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough
“Our goal lately is more vegetables in every spoonful,” says Mr. Scarbrough, whose latest book with Mr. Weinstein is “Real Food Has Curves: How to Get Off Processed Food, Lose Weight and Love What You Eat.’’
Although the duo isn’t planning to go vegetarian this Thanksgiving, they do want to amp up the vegetables in the side dishes they serve. “I would prefer my plate not be a huge slab of turkey and a tablespoon of this and that around it,” said Mr. Scarbrough. “I’d rather it be the other way around. People get more creative at Thanksgiving, and that’s the stuff that I want to eat.”
For the Eat Well Vegetarian Thanksgiving series, Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Scarbrough have offered four of their favorite comfort foods from three of their cookbooks. Included are recipes for crisp zucchini cakes, a veggie-laden skillet macaroni, a garden vegetable gratin and a winter squash pizza that Mr. Scarbrough suggests be served as a pre-meal snack.
“I think kids would be thrilled to have pizza show up at a Thanksgiving table,” Mr. Scarbrough notes. “And in my house, we tend to eat at 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and there’s always the need for a snack from about 11 to noon. It would be nice to have this out, cut into little squares in the hours before the meal.”

Zucchini Cakes (Adapted from “Real Food Has Curves”)
These savory patties are delicious on their own or with a little mustard slathered on the side. They are also a great after-Thanksgiving leftover, recrisped in the oven and served for breakfast or in whole-wheat pita pockets for lunch.
4 medium zucchini
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 small yellow onion, peeled
1/2 cup low-fat ricotta
5 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
1 large egg, beaten with a fork in a small bowl
1/2 teaspoon mild paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1. Trim the ends off the zucchini, then shred them into a colander, using the large holes of a box grater. (You’ll need about 4 cups shredded zucchini.)
2. Sprinkle the zucchini shreds with salt, toss well and set in the sink for 15 minutes to drain.
3. Rinse the zucchini shreds under cool water in the colander. Then pick up handfuls and squeeze them over the sink to get rid of almost all of the moisture. Set the shreds in a large bowl.
4. Grate the onion into the bowl using the large holes of the box grater.
5. Stir in the ricotta, whole-wheat flour, egg, paprika, dill and pepper, just until the mixture is uniform and there are no streaks of dry flour anywhere.
6. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Swirl in the oil, then use a 1/2-cup measuring cup to scoop up the zucchini mixture and plop it into the skillet, scraping out any mixture left in the cup. Flatten the mixture into a thick cake with the bottom of the cup and continue making more.
7. Cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes, then turn them with a large spatula and continue cooking until lightly browned on the other side and a little firm to the touch, about 4 more minutes. If you can’t fit all six into your skillet, you’ll need a little more oil for the second batch.
Yield: Serves 6.

Skillet Macaroni and Broccoli and Mushrooms and Cheese (Adapted from “Real Food Has Curves”)

This skillet-supper version of the classic is quicker and easier to make. This hearty comfort food easily functions as the main dish for vegetarians.
4 ounces grated Cheddar
2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, chopped
6 ounces cremini or white button mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups low-fat or fat-free milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced tarragon leaves or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces dried whole-wheat pasta shells (not the large ones for stuffing), cooked and drained according to the package instructions
4 cups small broccoli florets, cooked in boiling water for 1 minute (broccoli can be added to the pasta during the last minute of cooking, then drained with the pasta in a colander)
1. Mix the Cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano in a medium bowl. Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a large, high-sided, oven-safe skillet. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid and it comes to a simmer, and then reduces by about two-thirds, about 5 minutes.
4. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables in the skillet. Stir well to coat.
5. Whisk in the milk in a steady, thin stream until creamy. Then whisk in the mustard, tarragon, salt and pepper. Continue whisking until the mixture starts to bubble and the liquid thickens, about 3 minutes.
6. Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in three-quarters of the mixed cheeses until smooth. Then stir in the cooked pasta and broccoli.
7. Preheat the broiler after setting the rack 4 to 6 inches from the heat source. Meanwhile, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the ingredients in the skillet. Set the skillet on the rack and broil until light browned and bubbling, about 5 minutes. (If your skillet has a plastic or wooden handle, make sure it sticks outside the oven, out from under the broiler, so the handle doesn’t melt.) Cool for 5 to 10 minutes before dishing up.
Yield: Makes six side-dish servings.

Garden Vegetable Gratin (Adapted from “Cooking Know-How”)

A layered potato casserole, a gratin (pronounced grah-TAN) is a French dish named for both the technique and the dish it’s baked in: a fairly shallow, oval, oven-safe baking dish. Nonetheless, you can make it in a standard 9-by-13-inch baking dish, more in keeping with standard American cookware. Here’s a perfect version for your holiday table: a side dish that just may even conquer the main course!
3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces shallots, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons stemmed thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated or ground mace
3 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup low-fat or fat-free cream
1. Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel and thinly slice the potatoes. Place the slices in a bowl, cover with cool water and set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
3. Add the shallots, carrot, zucchini and peas. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the garlic, thyme, salt, pepper and mace. Stir well to warm through. Remove from the heat.
5. Layer the potatoes and vegetable mixture in a 10-cup gratin or 9-by-13-inch baking dish by first blotting some potato slices on a paper towel, then layering them across the bottom of the dish. Add some of the vegetable mixture, spread it over the slices, then blot dry more slices and add them as another layer. Keep layering the casserole, like a lasagna, ending with a layer of potato slices.
6. Whisk the broth and cream in a large bowl. Pour it over the contents of the baking dish.
7. Bake, uncovered, basting occasionally, until it is golden and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 2 hours.
Yield: Makes about eight side-dish servings.

Winter Squash, Onion and Pine Nut Pizza (Adapted from “Pizza: Grill It, Bake It, Love It!”)

This flavorful autumnal pie uses winter squash purée as the pizza topping; the purée is spread like a sauce on the crust. You can find puréed winter squash (sometimes labeled as “puréed acorn squash” or “puréed butternut squash”) in the freezer section of most markets — thaw according to the package instructions before using.

Yellow cornmeal to dust the pizza stone (or nonstick spray to grease the baking sheet)
1 pound fresh dough (from a pizza shop) or a frozen dough, thawed; or prebaked pizza crust
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, halved through the stem, then thinly sliced
3/4 cup frozen winter squash purée, thawed
2 teaspoons minced sage leaves or 1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano or pecorino, finely grated
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1. Preheat pizza stone or oven. If using a pizza stone, preheat it in the oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 45 minutes; if using a pizza tray or a large baking sheet, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Prepare the crust. If you’re using fresh dough on a pizza stone, dust a pizza peel lightly with cornmeal. Add the dough and form it into a large circle by dimpling it with your fingertips. Pick it up and shape it by slowly turning it by its edge, stretching that edge all the while, until the circle is about 14 inches in diameter. Set it cornmeal side down on the peel.
To use fresh dough on a pizza tray or a large baking sheet, grease the tray or baking sheet lightly with nonstick spray. Lay the dough on the baking sheet and dimple it with your fingertips — then pull and press it until it forms a circle about 14 inches in diameter on the pizza tray or a 12-by-7-inch, somewhat irregular rectangle on the baking sheet. If you’re using a prebaked crust, place it on a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel or on a greased pizza tray or a large baking sheet.
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then swirl in the oil. Add the onion slices, reduce the heat to very low, and cook, stirring often, until soft, golden and very sweet, 20 to 25 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, stir the squash purée, sage, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until uniform. Spread this mixture evenly over the prepared crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border at its edge.
5. Top with the caramelized onions, then sprinkle the finely grated cheese and pine nuts over the pie. Slide the pizza from the peel to the very hot stone, or place the pie on its tray or baking sheet with the pie either in the oven or on the section of the grill grate that’s not right over the heat source.
6. Bake or grill with the lid closed until the crust is golden and somewhat firm to the touch, perhaps even a little darkened on its bottom, 16 to 18 minutes. Check fresh dough occasionally to prick any air bubbles that may arise so you’ll have an even crust on the pie. Slip the peel back under the pie to get it off the stone, or set the pie on its tray or baking sheet with its pie on a wire rack. Cool for 5 minutes before slicing. If you want to make sure the crust stays crunchy, consider transferring the pie directly to the wire rack after a minute or so.