Believe it or not, I can identify with the plight of the vegetarian during the holiday season. I have a particular “food intolerance” – I can’t eat chicken, turkey or eggs that aren’t organic. So you can imagine my excitement a few years back when my loaded brother took us to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving instead of the usual 4 star restaurant. While I like the people, I knew they hadn’t been forewarned of my allergy and I was looking at a dinner of mashed potatoes and green beans. Over the years this has happened to me many times, but with notice we can bring a dish of our own that I can eat. I’ve even influenced my husband’s ex-mother-in-law to buy organic so we could all eat our Thanksgiving meal together. (Yes, you read that right, ex-mother-in-law. We all get along great. That’ll have to be another article.)
So when Jessie May asked who’d be willing to write about vegetarian Thanksgiving I jumped at the chance. Although I’m an omnivore I believe we can all eat less meat, and I thought it would be an interesting challenge to come up with a vegetarian meal that brought home the flavors of the holiday.
I asked a few vegetarian friends what they usually do for the holiday. One told me she brings her own thermos of vegetarian gravy and usually ends up eating a lot of side dishes smothered in veggie goodness. Now, I have to say right off the bat, that’s a great idea. A thermos is small, unobtrusive; hopefully it won’t be the catalyst for a long discussion of your eating habits. As long as your hosts didn’t put chicken stock or turkey drippings in everything you should be set.
Making your own gravy is quite easy if you want to avoid the canned kind. Start off with some top quality veggie stock or broth, homemade if you’ve got it, and add some butter for flavor and richness and then a spoon of cornstarch mixed in water. As it boils it will thicken. Season, of course, with salt, pepper and sage – if you really want to step it up add some mushrooms. Sautee the mushrooms in the butter first and then add the stock and cornstarch slurry.
But what else? My mind always goes to stuffing pumpkins around this time of year. I’m actually waiting for the first Pumpkin Stuffers Anonymous meeting at the local secular church, but neither of those things exists so I’m forced to shove the idea out of my mind with my own will power. Of course you can stuff a pumpkin; hollow it out, mix up some sautéed onion, celery and carrot with some croutons, stock and a raw egg or two and bake that pumpkin until it’s done. No one would notice it was vegetarian, that’s how good it is.
But I wanted to kick it up a notch, and I believe I’ve done it. (Chris Anderson, drum roll please) Pumpkin Ravioli Cupcakes! These little bad boys are easily transported and reheated. Plus they really drive home the flavor of the holiday and the hominess of real comfort food.
First I made my own fresh pumpkin pasta. And I can’t in good conscience recommend you do so; I was swearing like a sailor and threatening my pasta maker with death. I made the dough with ½ a pound of AP flour, 2 eggs and about ¼ cup of pumpkin pureed with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil. The dough was wet, sticky; I added a ton of flour to it before I was able to put it through the rollers of the pasta maker without it sticking. I can’t even describe the level of frustration. I only rolled out half the dough, the rest is still in the fridge. Buy sheets of regular fresh pasta at the store if you can find them, or ask a restaurant that makes fresh pasta to sell you some sheets (Rizzuto’s in Westport can do it with 24 hours notice) or you can use wonton wrappers like every recipe I saw for lasagna cupcakes suggested. Me and my big ideas…
Once the pasta was rolled out into sheets I cut big circles out of it using a rocks glass. I ended up with just enough to put a top and a bottom layer on each cupcake. I sprayed my cupcake pan with oil and carefully molded the bottom layer of pasta. Then I filled the centers with cubes of cooked pumpkin, spoons of mashed potatoes, caramelized onions, mozzarella and gorgonzola. I topped them off with another pasta circle, tucking it in gently around the sides, finished them with a spot of the cheeses for good measure and then covered them all with foil before baking them in the oven at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, removing the foil at the end for a few more minutes just to crisp it up a bit.
Fan-friggin’-tastic. These are a completely different lasagna experience. The pasta gets crunchy as it’s holding together perfectly the inner bites of sweet pumpkin, creamy potatoes and oniony goodness. The mozzarella brings it all together as the gorgonzola periodically wakes up your taste buds. I only wish I had made mushroom gravy for that extra earthy-meatiness. This is a home-run in the final game of the Vegetarian World Series.
So there you have it, vegetarians. I hope I’ve created a dish you can enjoy as a main course, along with the regular sides of green beans, mac-n-cheese, sweet potato mash and even can-shaped-cranberry. And who knows, maybe you’ll convince some folks to eat vegetarian more often! And that’s something to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!
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