Vegetarian Potluck — A Conundrum

4 Feb

Friends have hosted an annual Skating and Vegetarian Potluck party for 19 years. They serve appetizers mid-afternoon, folks head off to Ottawa’s world-famous Rideau Canal Skateway and then back to their home as dusk approaches for a vegetarian potluck supper and a few warming beverages from their wine cellar. It’s an all-ages, casual, relaxed and delicious mid-winter celebration. My 2013 contribution was Winter Vegetable Croustade Au Gratin.

Vegetarian Potluck Conundrum

Vegetarian Potluck Conundrum

It’s been a gentle challenge for we guests to consider and enjoy vegetarian fare in all its glory. I start saving (and now bookmarking) recipes the day after each party. For avid followers of Savvy Single Suppers, you realize I cook vegetarian mains at least once a week. Cooking vegetarian is not a big deal for me.

Cooking vegetarian for a potluck is an entirely different matter. The dish should be portable, easily consumed from one’s laps or standing at the kitchen island (while holding a wine glass). It’s also a bonus for the hostess if the dish re-heats without a lot of time in her already over-flowing oven.

I aim to offer a ‘whole nutrition’ meal (grain/protein combos, plus vegetables) because some years the buffet table leans more to desserts than mains. Once you get away from chili, lasagna and quiche most of us run out of ideas. One year we could have held a vegetarian chili-tasting contest. This year, fresh leafy produce in Ottawa has faced shortages and price increases because of crop failures in the southern United States, so there wasn’t a green salad in sight.

The other challenge of some vegetarian dishes is the time involved in their preparation. For folks low on time or energy or mobility, this can prove a barrier to cooking vegetarian. Part way through my peeling, chopping and slicing Saturday I began to wonder what I’d been thinking. I wasn’t terribly confident the effort would pay off in a tasty dividend.

(L - R) Parsnips, Parsley, Fennel seeds, Carrots, multigrain bread, rutabaga, red onion, garlic, shredded Cheddar cheese, sweet potatoes

(L – R) Parsnips, Parsley, Fennel seeds, Carrots, multigrain bread, rutabaga, red onion, garlic, shredded Cheddar cheese, sweet potatoes

Thankfully, I was wrong. The dish was amazingly delicious considering the basic nature of the ingredients. Locally grown, easily stored and with a long ‘shelf’ life, root vegetables have been a staple of Canadian cooks for decades.

But let’s be honest. Most Canucks despair if they have to eat another potato or carrot by the middle of February. Winter Vegetable Croustade au Gratin will help you over that hump. Fennel seeds for the seasoning were the elevating factor in this dish. And while the prep time was onerous, the cooking time was quick and easy.

A food processor with good slice/dice/Julienne discs would cut down on the prep time. Most folks receive such appliances as wedding gifts, but this single could never justify the expense. If your grocer sells pre-peeled and diced root vegetables, you could save time (but not money) by using them. But don’t sacrifice freshness in this recipe.

Another Savvy strategy is to increase the quantity you prepare for the potluck and make one or two smaller servings of the same dish for your own meals later in the week.

Here is the original recipe (from Pleasures of Cheese, a magazine insert from the Dairy Farmers of Canada), which serves 6 as a side dish or 4 as a main. The recipe is easily halved or doubled (I prepared 50 % more for the party dish, plus my own smaller casserole).

Winter Vegetable Croustade Au Gratin                              Serves: 4 – 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 (30 mL)                  Butter
  • 1                                   Onion (I used red), chopped
  • 2 cloves                      Garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups (1 L)                your choice of Winter Root Vegetables [carrots, turnips, rutabaga, celeriac, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.] peeled and cut into 1″ (2.5 cm) sticks or dice
  • 1 tsp ( 5 mL)                Fennel seeds

Croustade au Gratin:

  • 2 cups (500 mL)       Canadian Old Cheddar, shredded
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL)         Butter, melted
  • 2 slices                         fresh Whole Wheat Bread (I used multigrain), crumbled or diced
  • 3 Tbsp (45 mL)         chopped fresh Parsley leaves
  • to taste                        Salt and freshly ground Pepper

Instructions:

1.             Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Wait to do this until almost all your vegetables are prepared. It will save you money!

Cook Julienned root vegetables, chopped onion + garlic and Fennel Seeds for 5 minutes

Cook julienned root vegetables, chopped onion + garlic and Fennel Seeds for 5 minutes

2.         Peel, slice (or dice) onion, garlic, a pleasing mixture of root vegetables and the fresh parsley. Keeping the sticks (Julienned is the proper cooking term) or dice small allows this dish to cook quickly, retaining more of the nutritional values of the food. Also makes the dish more manageable for potluck eating conditions.

Stir frequently to allow even cooking/softening of vegetables.

Stir frequently to allow even cooking/softening of vegetables.

3.       Set a large saucepan (I used a Dutch oven when I increased the recipe by 50%) over medium heat and melt 2 Tbsp of butter. Add onion, garlic, root vegetables and fennel seeds. Cook, stirring for 3 – 5 minutes until the onion and garlic are golden.

Croustade au Gratin ingredients - cheddar, parsley, fresh bread crumbs. melted butter

Croustade au Gratin ingredients – cheddar, parsley, fresh bread crumbs, melted butter.

4.      Meanwhile, crumble or slice & dice the bread slices. Put 2 Tbsp of butter in a small microwave bowl and melt on High for 30 – 60 seconds.

Combine crumbs, parsley + butter. Fold in shredded cheese.

Combine crumbs, parsley + butter. Fold in shredded cheese.

5.     In a medium-large bowl, combine bread crumbs and chopped parsley. Drizzle in melted butter and stir to coat the bread crumbs/cubes. Fold in shredded cheese to combine well. Season with black pepper and salt (if you must, the cheddar will be salty enough).

Turn lightly cooked vegetables into oil sprayed casserole(s).

Turn lightly cooked vegetables into oil sprayed casserole(s).

6.     Remove the sautéed vegetables from the heat. Salt (lightly if you must) and pepper to taste and transfer to oil-sprayed casserole dish(es). Set aside.

Top evenly with crumb/cheese mixture.

Top evenly with crumb/cheese mixture.

7.      Spread bread crumb topping over the vegetable mixture. Smooth topping and spread to the edge of the baking dish. Bake in pre-heated 400 F (200 C) oven for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft (but not limp or mushy) and the topping is crusty and golden.

The recipe suggests this is a side dish which complements fish or poultry or could be baked with cooked, cubed meats. I think adding anything to the vegetable mixture will lessen the subtle, sweet flavour of the dish. As a vegetarian dish, you have a complete protein with combination of whole grain (in the multigrain bread) and the cheese. You may wish to add a green side salad . . . spinach perhaps . . . to complete your supper.

As a potluck dish, the croustade can be prepared ahead and then baked or re-heated before serving. I baked my casseroles, let them cool completely and then reheated the one for the party in a 300 F oven. At first, cover the casserole to prevent the crumb crust from burning (about 20 minutes). Continue warming, uncovered, about 15 minutes. I bundled the covered dish in a towel and drove to my friends’ house. Twenty minutes later, it was still warm on the buffet table. I think it would be tasty cold, too.

Bake for 15 minutes in 400 F oven until Croustade au Gratin is golden and melted.

Bake for 15 minutes in 400 F oven until Croustade au Gratin is golden and melted.

Next time, I might try topping the vegetables with a dry bread crumb/Parmesan cheese crust for a slightly lighter version. The Canadian cheese makers suggest trying Swiss, Gouda, Oka, Provolone or medium Cheddar in place of the old Cheddar. They also kindly offer wine matches: Reif Estate Shiraz (Niagara), Peninsula Ridge Cabernet (Niagara), Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz (Okanagan) or Hester Creek Cabernet/Merlot (Okanagan).

But trust me, it’s not the great glass of wine that resurrects the reputation of the humble root vegetable. It’s this recipe that elevates Canada’s cold-cellar staples.

Let me know if you agree.

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One Response to “Vegetarian Potluck — A Conundrum”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A February Kick — Sofrito Baked Shrimp « Savvy Single Suppers - February 16, 2013

    […] had some of the Winter Vegetable Croustade au Gratin as a side dish with the Sofrito Shrimp, largely because it needed to be eaten. It was, however, a […]

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