Sunday, January 16, 2011

Veggie Voyage: Orzotto and Vegetable Crumble

I’ve long admired the restraint of the vegetarian set.  In a North American culture so deeply rooted in “meat and potatoes”, I find it amazing that vegetarianism (nevermind veganism!) has survived and flourished.  It’s truly impressive how creative and delicious vegetarian recipes can be.  For whatever reason (Lack of time?  Lack of money?) I’ve found myself cooking more meatless dishes lately.  A few gems stood out in particular, so I thought I’d share.

First up: Orzotto.  No doubt you’ve heard of its rice counterpart, risotto... it seems pretty ubiquitous on restaurant menus at this point (though frequently made by cheating and adding cream… tsk tsk).  You might’ve picked up that I’m a bit of a risotto snob (I prefer the term “purist”, myself).  So, I was incredibly skeptical about this recipe for leek and lemon barley risotto.  First problem?  Barley.  I think my only prior exposure to barley had been beef and barley soup, complete with boiled-to-death vegetables and tinned broth (let me be clear: this was NOT one of dear mom’s offerings).  I was, to say the least, hesitant about inviting this grain into my dish.  It is, however, dirt cheap from the bulk bin, so at least any financial losses would be minimal if the dish tanked.

The dish did not tank.  Instead of laboring over the ladling of stock for the next 45 minutes, I could walk away, fold my laundry, and play with the cats as this super-simple dish bubbled away, perfuming the apartment with its onion and lemony scents.  Finish it off with some more lemon and some pecorino romano, and you’ve got yourself dinner.  To paraphrase Nonna, “I will do again”.

Leek, Lemon and Pea Orzotto
Adapted from "The G.I. Diet Clinic" by Rick Gallop
Makes 4 to 6 servings (main versus side dish)
  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped leek (white and light green parts only)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp thyme (fresh if you've got it)
  • 1 cup barley
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (low fat, low sodium) plus 1/2 cup more if needed (you can use chicken stock for a non-veggie option)
  • 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
  • Zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp each salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. In saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat; cook leek, garlic, and thyme, stirring, for 3 minutes or until softened.  Stir in barley until well coated.
  2. Add wine and stir until absorbed. Add stock and bring to boil.  Cover and reduce heat to low; simmer, stirring occasionally (yay!) for 40 to 45 minutes or until barley is tender.  If necessary, stir in a little more stock or hot water near the end of cooking time to maintain a creamy consistency.  
  3. Stir in peas, lemon zest and juice, and Parmesan cheese; season with salt and pepper.
Step 4: After decorating prettily and taking pictures, scarf down.
 Next up is vegetable crumble.  Most people are acquainted with the dessert variety of crumble, with fruit on the bottom and sweet oatmeal-cinnamon-ish crumbly topping.  This is a much more savory application.  Instead of fruit, you’ve got a fantastic assortment of veg (though admittedly, some of these are technically fruit).  I’ve made this a couple of times, most notably for the vegetarian girlfriend of one of Hubs’ friends. 

Mmm.  Crumbly.
I’ve fiddled with the recipe a bit to suit my tastes.   I think I’ve previously confessed just how terrible an Italian I am: I’m not a fan of peppers, olives, or mushrooms.  I’m also not big on celery.  This dish calls for 75% of my no-thanks veg list.  Not a problem.  In place of the mushrooms, I use Chinese eggplant for its slightly spongy texture but lack of bitterness.  Sometimes, I do actually add pepper, since it softens nicely in the cooking and imparts a nice flavour.  Celery gets ignored entirely.  I can do without its mild licorice taste and impossible to chew fibers.  Grr.

Just look at all that veggie goodness!
Vegetable Crumble
 Adapted from "The G.I. Diet Clinic" by Rick Gallop
Serves 4-6 (again, main vs. side dish sizes)
  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup sliced leeks (while and light green parts only)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 large carrot, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 Chinese eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes and lightly salted
  • 1/2 red pepper, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 Tbsp thyme (again, fresh if you've got it... you know how I kill herbs)
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup drained canned plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup vegetable stock (low fat, low sodium)
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (freeze-dried for me)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
For topping:
  • 1/4 cup non-hydrogenated soft margarine
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup wheat bran
  • 3/4 cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds or other nuts
  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
  2. In large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Cook leeks and onions for 5 minutes or until softened.  Add zucchini, carrot, sweet potato, eggplant, red pepper, and thyme.  Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes.  Stir in flour; cook for 1 minute.
  3. Stir in tomatoes, stock, milk, parsley, salt and pepper; bring to boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  4. For the topping, in bowl, combine margarine, flour, and bran.  Using your fingers, rub ingredients together until mixture is crumbly.  Stir in cheese, nuts and sesame seeds.
  5. Spoon vegetable mixture into 8-cup shallow baking dish (I used a 9x13 pan).  Sprinkle topping evenly over top.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes or until topping is crisp and golden and vegetable mixture is bubbling.

I do love that this can be a meal on its own, instead of just a side dish—that really is how I eat it.  The contrast from the nuts and seeds is nice.  I think I’ll make just one further addition- chickpeas- to up the protein in future versions (and keep me sated for longer).  Sure, you could probably add meat to it, but why?  All the vegetables (particularly the sweet potato) sort of come together in a delicious harmony of textures, colours and tastes.

Having been exposed to vegetarianism from a very young age via my dear godparents, I’ve always felt that I’m a little more open to veggie-friendly food.  I personally have failed multiple times at adopting the lifestyle (I think Ni and I lasted three days in our childhood home, putting margarine instead of meat sauce on our pasta).  Also, although Hubs’ consumption of vegetables is somewhat of a running family joke, I don’t think he’d be willing to give up chicken wings, baby back ribs, bacon, and burgers to pursue a plant-only diet with me.  Happily, though, he doesn’t seem to complain if I serve up meatless fare.  He usually just goes, “Hm.  There’s no meat in this.”  Then proceeds to continue shoveling food into his mouth.  Guess he’s got an open mind, too!

Hoping her loving aunt and godmother will share the recipe for her awesome hot artichoke casserole served on Christmas Eve,

1 comment:

  1. Hooray for veggie recipes! I maintain that I only truly learned to cook when I stopped eating (most) meat. Now including meat in a meal almost seems like cheating.

    The orzotto looks amazing; I will have to give that a try.