Even professionals can get into a cooking rut from time to time. This time of the year we’ve got the best of summer and fall produce converging — and yet still I find myself relying on the same old dishes. The stir-fries, the pastas, the chopped salads.
Just when I was scratching my head, wondering what the next creative thing to do with vegetables might be, along comes Mollie Katzen with a 450-plus-page set of answers.
Katzen, of course, is the woman who gave us “The Moosewood Cookbook,” which has sold millions since its debut in the 1970s. She has written 11 more cookbooks since. Spend time talking to Katzen, as I’ve had the pleasure of doing, and it’s obvious she delights in cooking — and in vegetarian cooking, of course (even though she’s not a strict vegetarian). Actually, that delight is just as obvious when you read her cookbooks, all of them illustrated by her.
The newest is “The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), and in it Katzen encourages improvisation, offers optional “enhancements” galore and proclaims the glories of a lighter, sharper style of cooking no longer so dependent on cheesy, rich additions. As a newbie vegetarian cook wanting my own cooking to glorify, not hide, vegetables, I see her more clarified approach as a godsend.
Take the mushroom popover pie I made for an easy dinner (and again for lunch) recently. It comes together in little more time than it takes to cook down mushrooms in butter and to whirl together a three-ingredient batter in the blender. The batter is poured over the mushrooms in the skillet, and the thing bakes up almost like a clafoutis, that French dessert of cherries suspended in a custardy pancake. In this case, the edges get crisp and puffy like a popover’s, and the interior stays creamy. The mushrooms, deepened with thyme and a heavy dose of black pepper, infuse the whole thing with an earthiness.
Mushroom popover pie
3 to 4 servings
For the deepest flavor, use a combination of white and shiitake mushrooms, but you can substitute cremini or wild mushrooms for part or all of the mix. Adapted from “The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation,” by Mollie Katzen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup finely chopped onion
8 ounces white button mushrooms, wiped clean, stemmed and thinly sliced
About ten 2-inch-wide (4 ounces total) shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and minced
1 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the center position.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a 9- or 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it softens, about 5 minutes.
Add the mushrooms, garlic, 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, the thyme and a generous amount of pepper; cook, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until the mushrooms’ liquid has been released and has evaporated in the skillet and the mushrooms start to turn golden around the edges. (It will seem like a lot of mushrooms at first, but they will cook down.) Remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, combine the eggs, milk, flour and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a blender; puree to form a smooth, aerated batter. (Alternatively, if you don’t have a blender, whisk the ingredients together in a medium bowl. It’s fine if the mixture has a few lumps.)
Transfer the mushroom-onion mixture to a bowl. Rinse and dry the skillet, then return it to the stove top over low heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter; once it has melted and begun to foam, immediately remove from the heat and swirl to coat to the skillet. (Be sure the edges of the skillet are coated; this will ease removal after the popover is baked.) Add the mushroom-onion mixture, spreading it into a fairly even layer, then pour in the batter.
Transfer to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the batter is dry on top and feels solid when touched lightly with a fingertip. The popover will be slightly puffed (it deflates fairly quickly), and its edges will have shrunk from the sides of the skillet and become quite brown.
Cut into wedges and serve hot or warm.
Nutrition per serving: 280 calories, 13 g protein, 32 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 180 mg cholesterol, 620 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar.