Most cooks have plenty on their plate this weekend.
The turkey, gravy and pots of vegetables are enough to keep a host stirring with extra vigour. Today’s guest list often includes vegetarians, and if cooks don’t have vegetarian fare in their repertoire, choosing suitable dishes can be a challenge. Just for this mix of dining styles is a selection of three recipes — a quick spread, a colourful soup and a vegetable main-course casserole – all using ingredients that fit into a holiday menu, and are supermarket-available.
And, all are equally suitable and delicious for the vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
SWEDE AND LEEK GRATIN
In Maple Cream with Sage and Walnut Crust
The recipe is adapted from For the Love of Food, Vegetarian Recipes from the Heart (HarperCollins, $39), Irish chef Denis Cotter’s latest cookbook. As for the title, think “turnip and leek crisp.” Maple syrup tempers turnip’s assertive side, cream adds richness and with the crunch of walnuts, this is a fine dish for Christmas dinner – a main for vegetarians, but tempting for the whole table.
1 large turnip (rutabaga aka swede), 3 lb. (1.3 kg)
1 bunch leeks, halved lengthwise and well washed
3 Tbsp. (45 ml) butter
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup (125 ml) dry white wine
1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream
1/4 cup (50 ml) maple syrup
1/2 tsp. (2 ml) salt
1/4 tsp. (1 ml) freshly ground pepper
Sage and walnut crust:
8 fresh sage leaves
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) chopped fresh chives
1 1/2 slices good quality white bread
1 cup (250 ml) walnut halves
3 Tbsp. (45 ml) butter (30 g)
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Peel turnip, quarter it, then chop it into slices 1/4-inch (5 mm) thick. Simmer, covered, in the water for 10 minutes, remove and partly cool them in cold water. Drain and set aside.
Chop leeks into pieces 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick. In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat, add leeks and garlic and cook until just golden, stirring, for 8 to 10 minutes. Add thyme and white wine, and boil for 1 minute, then pour in cream and maple syrup. Bring back to a boil and then remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper.
Grease a 12-inch (30 cm) oval baking dish with butter and arrange a layer of turnip slices on bottom. Spoon one-third of leeks and their liquid on top and cover with another layer of turnip. Repeat to get 3 layers of each, finishing with the leeks and cream. Press firmly on the top; cover top with foil. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate for up to 1 day.)
Bake in 350F (180C) oven until steaming hot, about 30 minutes.
Sage and Walnut Crust: Meanwhile, put sage, chives and bread in a food processor and pulse to a fine crumb. Add walnuts and butter, and pulse briefly to chop walnuts coarsely. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 2 days.) Scatter topping over gratin and return to oven until crisp and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Denis Cotter: His restaurant Café Paradiso in Cork, Ireland consistently makes best restaurant lists in Ireland, and one of his previous cookbooks, Paradiso Seasons, was the winner of Best Vegetarian Cookbook at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. I was curious about Cotter’s use of maple syrup and wild rice in his recipes, only to discover that he now divides his time between Cork and Stratford Ont., where he’s part of the vibrant local food community and teaches at the Stratford Chefs School.
ROASTED RED PEPPER AND SQUASH SOUP
A gorgeous bright soup, a small portion of which is perfect for everyone at the table. It’s make-ahead to cut down on last minute bother.
3 large red bell peppers
8 cups cubed squash, about 3 lb. (1.3 kg)
1 large onion, cut in wedges
3 large cloves garlic
3 Tbsp. (45 ml) olive oil
1 tsp. (5 ml) each dried oregano and thyme
1/2 tsp. (1 ml) each salt and pepper
3 cups (750 ml) vegetable broth
1 cup (250 ml) water (approximate)
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) lemon juice
2/3 cup (150 ml) plain Greek yogurt (not low-fat) or Balkan-style yogurt
2 Tbsp. (30 ml) minced chives, green onion or parsley
Quarter and core red peppers. Place in large roasting pan with squash, onion and garlic. Add oil, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper; toss well. Roast in 425F (210C) oven until tender and lightly browned around edges, about 40 minutes. Let cool slightly; peel skins from peppers.
A third at a time, puree roasted vegetables with a third of broth in food processor until smooth. Strain through sieve into saucepan (or large airtight container if making ahead).
Pour 1 cup (250 ml) water into roasting pan. Over medium-high heat, scrape up brown bits from bottom of pan. Boil until blended and slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Strain into roasted vegetable puree. Add lemon juice and whisk to combine. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate for up to 2 days.)
Heat, stirring often, adding more water to thin soup if desired. Pour into small bowls or cups; add a spoonful of yogurt and a sprinkle of chives.
Makes 12 small pre-dinner servings.
CRANBERRY ALMOND BLUE CHEESE SPREAD
Lavish this creamy mix of sweet/tart cranberries and nippy cheese onto crackers or slices of firm but ripe pears. There’s plenty here for two occasions.
1 pkg (250 g) cream cheese, diced
6 oz. (175 g) mild blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup (50 ml) unsalted butter, diced
2 Tbsp. (30 ml) light cream
1/3 cup (75 ml) dried cranberries, chopped
1/4 cup (50 ml) sliced almonds (approximate)
Place cream cheese, blue cheese and butter in a bowl. Let soften at room temperature, about 40 minutes. Mash together until smooth. Mix in cream to soften spread. Stir in cranberries.
Pack into a serving bowl, or 2 bowls, smoothing top. (Make-ahead: Cover surface directly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 4 days. Let soften at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.) Sprinkle almonds over spread, using more if needed for 2 bowls.
Makes about 2 cups (500 ml) spread, enough for about 32 servings.