Lyn from across the credit union counter is describing the grotesque vegetarian dish served up to her and her partner in Sydney. Lyn, whose new man is a vegetarian, has gradually over the months been increasing her stock of suitable dishes they may both enjoy; she has admitted to the challenge of it all. But this – quiche, she supposed it was – was worse than anything she had managed. Into a puff pastry case, she confided, wide-eyed at the awfulness of the recollection, had been poured a tin of chickpeas then a whisking of eggs and cream, then into the oven. I can only imagine.
I hear it time and time again. The difficulty faced by those thrust into the position of needing to cater for non-meat/chicken/fish eaters; vegans must prove even harder. And
I continue to find it beyond comprehension. What is so hard about cooking a meatless meal? What is so daunting about vegetables? In season, preferably procured from one of the increasing number of farmers markets we have at our disposal, ideally ripped from the soil of our own gardens, there is so much, or so little, you can do to transform them into something wonderful.
Especially given the glut of cookbooks, food magazines, cooking programs and general obsession prevailing with which to indulge our pampered palates – there is no excuse for toppling a tin of pre-cooked pulses into a store-bought pastry case, no matter how deplorable a cook you are.
The following is a small solution for those who quail at the prospect of a vegetarian to dinner. Non- vegetarians will love it too and all it needs is a green salad and some good bread.
ROAST VEGETABLE TART
For the pastry base a food processor makes life simple. Bung in 220 grams cold, roughly chopped butter together with 335 grams plain flour and whizz together until it resembles breadcrumbs. Then add one 60 gram egg mixed into 30 ml milk and keep processing until the mixture comes together in a ball. Wrap in cling-film and chill while you prepare the filling. In a 200°C oven roast in olive oil small batches of any or all of the following: diced pumpkin, sliced sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, whole button mushrooms, thinly sliced red capsicum, zucchini chunks, chopped eggplant, asparagus spears, whole garlic cloves, and finely sliced red onions. The vegetables all have different cooking times so you do need to be alert. When they’re cooked, season and remove. Now roll out the pastry into a flan dish and blind-bake for about 10 mins. Remove and cool. In a bowl whisk together 350 grams ricotta, 70 ml cream, 2 eggs and 40 grams freshly grated parmesan. Season to taste and pour into the pastry case, then bake until firm, up to 35 minutes. Then all you have to do is remove it and gently arrange like an artwork, like an edible poem, all those vibrantly glistening differently coloured vegetables on top. Strew with fresh herbs – basil or thyme or rosemary – and there you are.