As summer winds down and we start to think about cool winter dinners, I think about roasting vegetables for side dishes and complements to our dinners. But should vegetables always be the side dish? Why not make them a main dish this year?
Our King Arthur Flour baker's hotline receives numerous calls every holiday season with requests from new mothers-in-law or worried grandfathers who suddenly have seats at their table filled with vegetarians, piscatarians, and vegans. "What can I make!?" they ask. "I can roast the turkey with my eyes closed, but I don't know what to serve a vegetarian!"
The good news is, there are wonderful dishes that can be enjoyed by your vegetarian guests, and non-vegetarians as well. You don't need to foist them off with a mountain of broccoli or pass them the potatoes over and over; you have many more choices.
Start your meal off with this amazing Garlic Vegetable Dip, dairy free and delicious. Follow up with this rich and creamy Roasted Winter Vegetable Soup and a batch of your famous dinner rolls. Also dairy free, it can easily be converted to vegan as well. Now that your friends and family are talking excitedly about your vegetarian prowess, pull this Vegetable Crêpe Torte out of the oven and send them over the moon. Don't be surprised if your non-vegetarian friends bypass the green bean casserole and clamor for a slice of their own.
A bright array of vegetables will not only make for a colorful torte, but science is now telling us that "eating the rainbow" is great for our bodies. Colorful peppers, mushrooms, onions, leeks, and shallots are all excellent candidates for this dish. There are no rules about veggies you can't use, but keep in mind that you don't want them too wet or too firm. Broccoli wouldn't really be on my list, but you could probably get away with french-cut green beans.
Plan on a total of about 2 to 3 cups of diced vegetables for the torte.
Wash your veggies and divide the wetter ones from the drier ones (ie: mushrooms from peppers). Preheat your oven to 400°F and line your pans with parchment paper or foil for easy cleanup. Roasting time will depend on the size, moisture, and volume of your veggies. Plan on at least 35 to 45 minutes.
Roasting vegetables is the perfect time to use the convection setting on your oven, if you have one. Susan Reid and I were curious to see if cutting the peppers would make a big difference in the roasting, so we tried a bit of each. We found that we liked leaving the peppers whole for roasting and cutting them up later a little better than cutting them prior to roasting. Keeping the steam in the peppers seemed to result in peppers that were nicely caramelized, but not dried out. Of course, you can choose your favorite method, just as long as the veggies get some pre-cooking before being layered in the crêpe.
To roast mushrooms, shallots, and onions, roughly chop them and sprinkle with a bit of coarse salt to draw out the extra moisture. Roast until the veggies are well browned all over, stirring once or twice during the roasting time.
Not really into roasting? You can simply sauté your chopped vegetables in a little butter or olive oil until they begin to give up their moisture and turn brown.
Sharp cheddar cheese is a nice counterfoil to the sweetness of the roasted vegetables. I'm a big fan of Cabot Sharp Cheddar; we used to buy it in 3# blocks and shave off what we needed, but that became a little too tempting for snacking. So now we just buy the smaller blocks when we need them.
You'll need about 2 cups total of diced cheese. Shredded will work fine as well. Use the cheese that makes you happy. I think goat cheese would be great in this torte, and so would Swiss.
While the vegetables are cooking and cooling to room temperature, prepare your crêpe batter. You'll need a single batch of our crêpe recipe, or use your favorite recipe to make about two dozen 8" crepes.
For our recipe combine:
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt (use less if your cheese is on the salty side)
1 1/2 cups milk
4 large eggs
Pour half of the liquid into the flour mixture and blend well. Add the rest of the liquid and mix until a few lumps remain.
Stir in 1/2 cup of melted, warm butter. Mix once more and then set aside to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
At the end of the hour's rest, the batter will be smooth and slightly thickened, but much thinner than pancake batter.
Prepare an 8" or 9" springform pan. Butter the inside well, and the bottom. To ensure the easy release of the torte, line the bottom of the pan with a slightly larger circle of parchment. As my lovely assistant Susan Reid demonstrates here, there should be enough parchment in the bottom of the pan to poke out of the bottom once the ring is snapped closed.
If you need to use a cake pan, go with a 9" round, and make your crêpes slightly smaller than the bottom of the pan.
Now for the fun part, making crêpes!
I just had to share this page from the instruction booklet for our cast aluminum crêpe pan. No fancy directions, no "slot A" and "tab B" here. Just heat, dip, cook.
I've made crêpes before in our regular crêpe pan and that works just fine. You heat the pan, add batter, swirl it to a thin layer, then cook on the stove top. Easy peasy. But I really loved the convenience of this set. Just pour the batter into the base (the red part on the right), then dip the heated rounded pan into the batter briefly, flip it over, and cook. I found I could dip and flip, then walk away for 30 seconds or so, and come back to a cooked crêpe.
Peel off your cooked crêpe, dip again for the next one, and off you go. Cooked crêpes can be layered on a baking sheet while you cook more. Don't worry about little holes and tears, no one will know once they're layered with the cheese and veggies.
What happens when you let a professional chef give your new crêpe gadget a try? Susan decided to see what the fuss was all about, but she dipped the pan a little too enthusiastically and sent a waterfall of batter cascading down the front of the cupboards. Gently, Susan, gently!
One caveat I will add about this crêpe pan is avoid the double dip. If you try to dip your crêpe back into the batter for a second coat, you'll end up with a half cooked crêpe floating in the batter. Better to go with the one dip method and don't worry about little holes or incomplete coverage.
Once you have a goodly sized stack of crêpes, you can begin to build your torte. Place 2 to 3 crepes in the bottom of the round pan. Layer on about 2 to 3 tablespoons each of cheese and roasted, cooled veggies. Cover with a single crêpe and repeat, repeat, repeat.
As you near the top of the pan and finish off your fillings and crêpes, be sure to end with another 2 to 3 crepes on top. This ensures a sturdier base and top for your stack.
Cover the pan with foil and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until heated through. You can peek under the foil to check, the torte won't fall like a souffle.
Let the torte cool on a rack for about 10 minutes. Unlatch the outer collar and remove it carefully. Place a plate over the top of the torte and quickly flip to invert onto the plate.
Peel the parchment off gently and top with a few chives for garnish, if desired. Serve in wedges, warm or at room temperature.
One of the things I love the most about this torte is how the colorful vegetables can be seen through the whisper-thin crêpes. If you can, be sure to present the torte whole at the table so that your family and guests can marvel along with you.
When I first looked at this photo from our studio, I thought "OH NO! Somehow ham got into the veggie torte, I see bits of pink!"
I raced back through every photo I took of every torte that I made, and finally to my relief I found one version where I had used red onion along with the rest of the veggies. So rest assured, the tortes we made were all meat-free.
That being said, a few thin slivers of ham or turkey could be very nice in this torte if you're not averse to a non-vegetarian version.
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