Perhaps no cookbook author has done as much to glorify vegetables as Mollie Katzen, who is credited with changing the way many of us eat.
Now, with her new book, The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation, she shares the joys she has discovered over four decades in her garden and kitchen.
There also are practical tips on essential pantry ingredients and tools and clever menu suggestions. Katzen's impressive artwork and photographs add to the book's appeal.
"My food is sharper, livelier, spicier, lighter, and more relaxed than it used to be," Katzen writes in the introduction. Her new recipes rely on nuances of seasoning and creative combinations of colors, flavors and textures. Take, for example, green beans and beets with pickled red onions, or couscous with dates, pistachios, pine nuts and parsley.
Included in the 250 recipes are soups that make you long for cold weather. There's a Tunisian chickpea soup, wild rice chili-mango soup, and green matzoh ball soup, to name a couple.
And you gotta love a cookbook with a chapter called "Cozy Mashes." (How tempting is this: smoky mashed caramelized eggplant and onions.) Writes Katzen: "In a vegetarian setting, a cozy mash can be served solo, as a little bowlful of pure comfort on its own, and it can also be spread or spooned thickly as a substantial topping over, or a bed underneath, other dishes."
Throughout, there are suggestions for "optional enhancements," encouraging cooks to improvise according to their own tastes or what happens to be on hand in the pantry and fridge.
Many recipes are perfect for feeding a crowd during the holiday season. One of our favorites is a mushroom bread pudding, which works as a Sunday brunch entree or as a side dish at a dinner party.
Turn the page for Katzen's recipe for mushroom bread pudding...
Mollie Katzen's Mushroom Bread Pudding
Note: For the bread, Katzen recommends using a country-style bread with a crisp crust, such as batard, ciabatta or pugliese. Stale French or Italian bread also would work.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Nonstick cooking spray
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups minced onion (1 medium)
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ pounds domestic mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed if necessary, and sliced
12 medium (2-inch cap) shitake mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced or crushed garlic
¼ cup dry sherry
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups bite-sized bread cubes
5 large eggs, ideally at room temperature
2 cups milk (low fat is fine)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 if using a glass pan), with a rack in the center position. Lightly spray a 9-x-13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.
2. Place a large (10- to 12-inch) skillet over medium heat for about a minute, then add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Toss in the onion, thyme, and ½ teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring, for about 8 minutes, or until the onion is very soft.
3. Add all the mushrooms, garlic, and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and continue to cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms cook down.
4. Stir in the sherry and lemon juice. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes longer, remove from the heat, and add black pepper to taste.
5. Arrange the bread cubes more or less evenly in the baking pan. Spread the mushroom mixture on top of the bread, scraping the pan to include every last bit.
6. Combine the eggs and milk in a blender, food processor or mixer and process until smooth. Pour the liquid mixture over the bread and mushrooms in the baking pan and let sit for about 5 minutes. Use your finger or a spoon to poke the bread into the liquid until all the pieces are soaked.
7. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the custard is almost set and the top pieces of bread turn golden on the edges. (It's okay if the top is still moist, as it will continue to cook from its own heat for a few minutes after it comes out of the oven.)
8. Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftovers.
*Grated cheddar and/or Parmesan sprinkled on top before baking.
*After baking, place a little mound of sour cream or crème fraiche on top or on the side.
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Variation: Asparagus-Mushroom Bread Pudding
Add ¾ pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces, to the mushrooms in step 3, after they've cooked for about 5 minutes. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes longer over medium heat, tossing in up to 1 teaspoon dried tarragon, if desired. Proceed with the rest of the recipe as written.
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