A Showstopper for my Practice Vegetarian Thanksgiving

Vegetarian Thanksgiving Main Dish

Vegetarian Thanksgiving? Did those two words just come out of my mouth?

I mean 22 pounds of turkey-shaped bulghur and red bean mash (or anything called tofurky) is not getting anywhere near my carefully curated Thanksgiving table.

However, vegetarians do present a real challenge at Thanksgiving. What do you do if they’re related to you? Just not invite them? That might be construed as rude. Besides, when I’m entertaining I’m a firm believer in anticipating a guest’s needs and making all (reasonable) efforts to accommodate them (really I do, I swear). Vegetarians aren’t unreasonable people, boring maybe, but not unreasonable (insert smiley face here).

All joking aside, a delicious vegetarian main course option at Thanksgiving is a very good idea. Sure your vegetarian folk could sit at the vegetarian table and swap war stories about vegetarian Thanksgiving impertinence. But who has room for a vegetarian table and a kids table? It’s gotta be one or the other, right? The other option is to let my vegetarian Thanksgiving friends sit at the big table and fill up on side dishes, but that’s not really the point (or the spirit) of the holiday. So as long as you’re in the kitchen anyway, you might as whip up a vegetarian Thanksgiving showstopper.

Vegetarian Thanksgiving Main Course

Take a look at this beauty. This gorgeous Italian Butternut Squash and Roast Asparagus Crespelle Torta may seem like a lot of work (not to mention a lot to say). But I promise you it’s not as hard as it looks. In fact it’s no more difficult than lasagna. It just seems more special because it’s pie-shaped and the noodles have been replaced with delicate sheets of crespelle. These Italian “pancakes” are layered with rich besciamella, asparagus and sweet butternut squash. Besides, so much of the preparation takes place in advance, making this recipe perfect for a vegetarian Thanksgiving main course. You’ll be deliciously rewarded. So will your vegetarian friends. That is, unless your non vegetarian thanksgiving friends beat them to the torta. In which case there’s always the side dishes (oh, the impertinence.). GREG

Vegetarian Thanksgiving Main Dish

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6-8Published

Ingredients

  • 15 Asparagus spears
  • 1 pound peeled & seeded butternut squash cut into 3/4-inch chunks
  • ½ large onion (cut into ¼-inch dice, about 1-cup)
  • 4 clove garlic (peeled & halved)
  • 20 large sage leaves (thinly sliced crosswise)
  • 2 tablespoon minced thyme leaves
  • 1 pinch freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt (divided, plus more for seasoning)
  • Freshly cracked pepper (as needed)
  • 2 tablespoon minced chives
  • 15 ounce whole milk ricotta (drained)
  • 9 tablespoon unsalted butter (melted and divided)
  • 1 ⅓ cup all-purpose flour (divided)
  • 3 cup milk (plus more if necessary, divided)
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (plus more for seasoning)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup Fontina cheese

Directions

Prep the vegetables and make the filling: Place oven rack in center position. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Trim the tough ends off asparagus and discard. Slice the tips off and set them aside. Slice the remaining asparagus stalks crosswise into ¼-inch rounds.

In a large bowl toss squash, onion, garlic, half the sage, half the thyme and a pinch of nutmeg with olive oil. Pour the mixture onto a rimmed parchment-lined baking sheet. Season with salt & pepper, then roast in the oven until very soft and lightly caramelized, about 45 minutes. You may need to stir the vegetables and rotate the baking sheet halfway through to assure even roasting.

Remove squash mixture from oven. Turn off oven. Discard garlic pieces and put the mixture into a large bowl. Add asparagus rounds (but not the tips) to bowl, followed by chives and ricotta. Use a fork or potato masher to mix everything together into a rough mash.

Make the besciamella: Heat 4 tablespoons melted butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium heat. Once it becomes frothy whisk in ⅓ cup flour until a thick paste forms, about 1 minute. Slowly add 2 ⅓ cups milk whisking almost constantly until it begins to thicken and bubble, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer whisking often, 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt & pepper. Cover and set the besciamella sauce aside, kept warm. May also be made up to 2 days ahead to this point, brought to room temperature then kept covered and refrigerated. In which case, return the sauce to a spreadable consistency by gently reheating it with about 1 tablespoon milk before using.

Make the crespelle batter: Mix 3 tablespoons melted clarified butter, eggs, remaining 1 cup flour, remaining 2/3 cup milk and ¼ teaspoon salt together in a blender until lightly frothy, about 20 seconds. Pour the batter into a bowl. Adjust consistency by adding up to 2 tablespoons sparkling water, stirring to incorporate. You want a velvety texture that is just thick enough to coat the spoon. Refrigerate batter at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day before proceeding.

Make the crespelles: Lightly brush a 8 or 9-inch nonstick skillet or crepe pan with some of the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter. Place pan over medium heat. Allow the pan to get hot but not smoking. Ladle ¼ cup batter into the center of the pan and then tilt the pan in all directions to cover the bottom evenly. Cook about 1 minute, or until browned on the bottom. Turn and cook briefly on the other side. Slide the crespelle onto a paper towel lined plate to cool. Use the rest of the batter to make more crespelles in the same manner, brushing skillet with melted butter as needed. You will only need 4 crespelles for this torta. Choose the 4 best and set them aside. Enjoy the others with some sugar, butter and a spritz of lemon. The crepes may be made up to 2 days ahead kept with sheets of parchment or wax paper between them; covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before continuing.

Make the torta: Place oven rack in center position. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a medium bowl mix together the grated Fontina, grated Parmesan, remaining sage and thyme. Set aside.
Brush the inside of an 8 or 9-inch springform pan with some of the remaining melted clarified butter. Place 1 crespelle on the bottom of the pan. Trim it if necessary so it lays flat. Spoon in about ¼ of the warm besciamella sauce, spreading it evenly with the back of the spoon, then dollop about ¼ of squash filling covering the pan evenly. Make 3 more layers in the same manner. Sprinkle cheese mixture evenly over the top, followed by reserved asparagus tips.

Bake uncovered, until top is bubbling and golden, about 30 minutes. Let the torta rest on a wire rack about 15 minutes. Remove the sides of the springform pan. Cut into wedges. Serve warm.



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