11.29.2014

What Shall We Make?

About a week before Thanksgiving, someone invariably comes to me in a panic. "We're having Vegetarians for dinner!" My first thought is always the childish one: "Really? How will you prepare them?"

"I have no idea how to cook vegetarian!" they continue, trying to ignore me. Well-practiced in this conversation, my only answer can be,"A slow braise usually does the trick, lest they be tough and stringy..."

Quickly, I stop being silly, because I know they are serious. They really have no idea what to do, especially around a meal deeply locked in tradition like Thanksgiving. 

Before I get to the Thanksgiving component of this request, I start by reminding people that they probably eat vegetarian (not vegan) quite often without ever knowing it. 

I ask them to think about all the pasta dishes they make that don't include meat, chicken or fish: fettucine Alfredo, spaghetti with tomato-basil sauce, cheese ravioli with brown butter and sage, stuffed shells. I continue with quiches: cheese and spinach, mushroom and herb, or pumpkin /squash. I finish with ratatouille, all variety of risotti, myriad savory tarts and pies, vegetable terrines, and, of course, casseroles.
 
Somewhere in this litany, they generally find some vegetarian roots onto which thy can cling. The point, again, is this: we eat vegetarian all the time without realizing it. Now to Thanksgiving...

Most advice given to people in this predicament is simply to make extra mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and dinner rolls. To that advice, my incredulity cannot be masked. "Seriously?" I ask, "You want your family members and treasured guests to make do with a couple of side dishes and dinner rolls on the most important family and food day of the year?" I don't think so.

For years now, in the November issue of my family recipe newsletter, I have sent out a slew of vegetarian main course dishes that go well with the turkey. Everyone should feel special on this day and, at my table, I want my family and friends to eat well. 

In addition to the list that I put together, I often suggest that my friends seek recipes from other cuisines around the globe. We, in the United States, and our friends in Oz, eat more meat that other places in the world! 

Map from ChartsBin
Referring to the map above, Google "vegetarian main course recipes" from the cream-, yellow-, and orange-colored countries, where meat isn't so prevalent. You may be surprised at the flavors you have been missing: enchiladas from México, curries from India, legumes from Middle Eastern countries, rice dishes from Persia, couscous from North Africa, and root vegetable stews from Sub-Saharan Africa. There is a world of flavor awaiting you.

You can also learn more about your ethnic heritage, and search for some recipes that haven't been made in your family for decades or, perhaps, centuries. What a great surprise that would be for your family.

One last bit of advice: if you have vegetarians coming to dinner (other than at Thanksgiving when it is all about that turkey), make a vegetarian meal for all. Don't make a small portion "just for them." It is rude, singles them out, and makes them feel awkward. Everybody can enjoy a vegetarian meal.

L to R: Daniel, Quinney, Markipedia, Ravi, and Aubri.
This is my favorite vegetarian Thanksgiving dish, based on a recipe from Bon Appétit. Mark and I enjoyed the lasagne recently with four Flinn Scholars from the UA Honors College. It was a very special evening.

~ David

Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagne

Filling
   1 large onion, chopped
   3 tablespoons unsalted butter
   3 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
   1 teaspoon salt
   ½ teaspoon black pepper
   3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
   2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage 
   1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skins rubbed off with a towel, coarsely chopped

Sauce
   1 large shallot, minced
   5 tablespoons unsalted butter
   5 tablespoons flour
   5 cups whole milk
   2 dried bay leaves – or 6 fresh
   1 teaspoon salt
   ½ teaspoon black pepper

Assembly
   ½ pound mozzarella (not fresh), coarsely grated
   1½ cups grated parmesan cheese
   12 “no-boil” lasagna sheets

Make the filing: Cook onion in butter in a deep 12-inch skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add squash, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts. Cool filling.

Make the béchamel sauce: Cook shallot in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 1 minute. Add milk in a stream, whisking. Add bay leaves and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking often until thick - about 10 minutes. Whisk in salt and pepper and remove from heat. Discard bay leaf.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

To assemble: Toss cheeses together. Spread ½ cup sauce in a buttered 13-inch by 9-inch by 2-inch baking dish and cover with 3 pasta sheets, leaving spaces between sheets. Spread the pasta with ⅔ cup sauce, then top with one third of filling. Sprinkle with a heaping ½ cup cheese. Repeat layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta sheets and ending with cheese. Top with remaining 3 pasta sheets, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese.

Tightly cover baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagne in middle of oven 30 minutes. Carefully remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let lasagne stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.




38 comments:

  1. I had a sneaking suspicion that Australia may be up there as a meat loving nation. And as much as I love it, I do enjoy being a vegetarian a couple of days in the week, as well.

    Onto the beautiful lasagne, I'd never think to put nuts into one. Great flavour addition and the texture would be nice also.

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    1. I wonder if they divided the U.S. by state, if Arizona and Texas would be in the lead for most meat!

      In addition to a nice crunch, the nuts add a wonderful flavor to the squash.

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  2. Anybody would be lucky to eat at your Thanksgiving table David! This lasagna looks beautiful, I love butternut squash!

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  3. What a wonderful dish, David! And a perfect blend of Fall flavors! I'm forwarding to a vegetarian friend.

    Hope you two had a wonderful Thanksgiving! <3

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    1. Several of my vegetarian friends have been having this for Thanksgiving for years. And for Hanukkah/Christmas, too!

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  4. This looks fabulous, David! I know just how your friends feel. Our daughter is vegetarian, and I always seem to feel like I'm hitting a brick wall when she comes to dinner. And why? Yes, we eat meat, but a lot of our meals are meatless!!! I think it comes from the fact, you want it to be special. Something wonderful. And I shouldn't feel this way, for she is very easy going. For TG, I made a delicious savory vegetable bread pudding, which of course, everyone loved! I really need to learn to stop over-thinking these things. I so agree with you, about not making a dish just for them. Hope you had a wonderful TG, and enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend. Cathy~

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    1. Cathleen - that bread pudding sounds wonderful! I bet your daughter was over the moon! Sounds like you are doing a great job for her.

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  5. Hi there David, hope your Thanksgiving went well for you and yours. I love this lasagna and suspect you are right with your thoughts here... I think I get a little confused with vegan... that said, it's easily sorted. Have a great Sunday!

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    1. Vegan is definitely much harder, Liz - but I have even been learning a lot on that front, too. Desserts are the hardest vegan dishes for me... so I end up just serving fresh fruits and dark chocolate!

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  6. I know that anyone sitting at our table would enjoy your meal. The butternut squash lasagna sounds delicious especially with the crunch of the nuts.

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    1. Thanks you, Karen - I really enjoy making my guests happy!

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  7. Hi David, your lasagna is such a wonderful dish to share for the holidays, I am always looking for a veggie dish that is special enough and this certainly fits the bill. I hardly eat much meat myself but my husband cannot go more than a few days without so I am always cooking a little bit of both. We ate outside on Thanksgiving and were even a little warm. One of the nice perks about living here. Nice dish! and Happy Holidays to you and Mark!

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    1. We enjoyed our Thanksgiving in Scottsdale, too - although we ate indoors because I don't think it even occurred to my brother and his family to eat outside! No matter - we had a great time!

      Yes, having a major carnivore in the family does make it a little more difficult to eat meatless... but it is probably so much better for us! Hope you are having a great start to the holiday season!

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  8. David, I am SO stealing your response on how to cook vegetarian! Love this recipe - I've been making a veggie lasagna for years with recipe I clipped from Bon Appetit's Tuscany edition - I always substitute zucchini (in recipe) for butternut - DELISH!!! xo

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    1. Thanks, Karin! It's no trash can turkey, but (then again) what is?

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  9. Dear David, I know we are on the same wavelength when I look at your amazing Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagne - that particular recipe caught my very attention a few years ago as well - mainly because I adore butternut squash and the kids adore lasagna - what a treat to serve to all your guests and what a nice way to make everyone feel special - next time you are making this, please make sure to send out invitations to us...we would love to come over for a visit and enjoy your great food.
    I also love what you wrote about the panic-striken faces when "having to cook for vegetarians" - makes me smile...
    Wishing you and Mark a wonderful start to this last month of the year, a special month for all of us!
    Hugs from afar,
    Andrea

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    1. Andrea - with books like River Cottage Veg, and Ottolenghi's Plenty and Plenty More, there is no reason for cooks to be concerned about finding good recipes fro their guests - or themselves! Wishing you and your family a beautiful Advent season, David

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  10. Among the fabulous features of the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas holiday season are the stupendous scents that waft through the air. On Thanksgiving day alone, just in our own neighborhood, we detected a few different versions of stuffing and at least one potent barbecued turkey. In the days since, light breezes carried fresh-baked bread...and did we note the first supply of Christmas cookies? So be warned, David, that depending on your recipes, and the air currents, all your neighbors might come knocking on your door!

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    1. That is very true, Observer - as we roasted some turkey thighs in the oven yesterday, we could smell then from outside the house! We also smelled something baking - perhaps a pie? - and someone else had a piñon pine fire going... The smells of the holidays are wonderful!

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    2. Oops, sorry we used the "Observer" title for our post, instead of our neighborly names of Bob & Ursula. Soooooo... if that wasn't YOUR pie we detected, we've gotta find out whose it was, and pounce while it's fresh!

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    3. Nope - not our pie! I feel one coming on soon, though! Look forward to seeing you - and glad that you are back!

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  11. Ohhhhh, yummmmmm.
    Neither my dad or Shawn like anything pumpkin.
    But, Mom & I love it, especially butternut squash.
    This lasagne sounds so delicious, D. I have to make it sometime as a vegetarian option.
    Looks like you had a lovely Thanksgiving! xoxo

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    1. Maybe you could trick them into liking this? Our Thanksgiving was lovely - and I hope yours was, too, Colette! xox

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  12. Since I don't like turkey, quite often I am eating vegetarian on Thanksgiving. Lately we've had someone make chicken for me but my daughter is a vegetarian. She usually enjoys the side dishes but if I had guests who were veg then I would make a special main dish. I have made a similar dish to this years ago, and as tasty as it was, I thought it too sweet. Does this end up balancing out ok? I really like butternut squash and especially the pairing of white sauce and pasta. Delicious! I love your addition of hazelnuts, my favourite.
    Now that I have my new pasta roller, I'm going to have to give this a go :)

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    1. That is funny - I haven't been a huge turkey fan either, so often make a vegetarian, fish or even lamb dish. This year, I really enjoyed the turkey (go figure!) - but I also love the gravy more than anything. :)

      This lasagne isn't sweet at all - just nice and nutty! I hope you try it!

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  13. I love your sense of humour David and between you and me that is the very thing Mr LG would have said about having vegetarians for dinner :) Hope you and Mark are enjoying the lead up to Christmas.....Karen

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    1. I am glad to know that Mr. LG and I share a warped sense of humor! Christmas? Is that THIS month?? :)

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  14. This is the exact direction I go when faced with that aforementioned dietary issues. But I like the idea of teasing them with cannibal humor before getting serious about the subject. GREG

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    1. Thanks, Greg - sometimes snarkiness is required.

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  15. So well said! Everyone should feel welcome at your table. And, I love your lasagna recipe.

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    1. Thanks, Nicole! I just wish it were GF for you! But I imagine you know how to make it so... Onward to the next holidays!

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  16. Gorgeous, luscious looking lasagna! I would never have thought of hazel nuts! Such an interesting combination. Do you recall the story behind the BA recipe? Or which issue? Would love to know more. thanks for a great post!

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    1. Sorry, Susan - but I have no remembrance of the article at all - and I have tossed all my old issues. This wasn't even clipped out - I hand wrote this recipe!

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  17. What an amazing combination of flavours. I love butternut squash with sage... the flavour seems to go so well, particularly when accompanied with herbs and either walnuts or hazelnuts. I've never made it into a lasagne though, I will have to try this next time I have vegetarians over for dinner. I TOTALLY agree on the 'vegetarian meal for all' point. I adhere to that rule all the time, also when we have our vegan friends over for dinner. Vegetarian and vegan food can be delicious and I think it's so much more friendly when everyone shares the same dish(es). Cannot wait to try this when I have a spare afternoon to cook, drink wine and relax (my favourite way to spend a weekend) x

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    1. I am so glad you like the flavor combination here. Mark won't eat butternut squash unless it has a savory preparation, so this was perfect for him.

      It does make me wonder why people make separate dishes for one person at a dinner party. I have some theories...

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  18. Now that butternut squash has started showing up here at the market (hooray for la zucca butternut!) I have started cooking with it often. I really like the idea of the hazelnuts to add texture and flavor.

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    1. I had no idea butternut wasn't readily available in Italy! I guess it IS an American plant, after all... but, still, I thought it was pretty ubiquitous. Thanks fro letting me know that, Fiona!

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