Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.
When I was a teenager, I daydreamed of the bohemian artist's life I would lead some day. I pictured my lover and I dining and drinking with friends in a Greenwich Village flat, speaking passionately of film and music and politics and theater and Art with a capital A. Smoke from our clove cigarettes swirled up to the sky light; sounds of laughter and genius tumbled out onto the sparkling city street.
My grown-up life is not quite the beatnik fantasy I'd imagined, but it's not as far off as I realized. Last week, CB and I shared a delicious meal with our friends M and R and their friends J and G. We spoke passionately of zombie movies and intellectual property law and world travel and SpiderMan: Turn Off the Dark. Beer swirled in glasses; the food was as brilliant as the company.
Our party was evenly split down food lines: three omnivores and three vegetarians. M prepared a meatstravaganza for the omnivores - Mario Batali's proscuitto-wrapped skirt steak flanked by pancetta. She also set out a delicious array of salads and vegetarian side dishes that could have fed twice as many.
I was tasked with the vegetarian entree, but something about my assignment made me nervous. It's rare that I cook for strangers, or that I make an "entree." I'm more of a grain/bean/green vegetarian: one pot, three ingredients, one full belly. I wanted my dish to be special, so I knew I should make something I'd made before.
I turned to Mark Bittman's Parsnip and Wheatberry Pie with Phyllo Crust, a variation of which I'd vowed to never make again. Phyllo and I didn't get along very well that one time, but oh, it's tasty and damn impressive. I would give it another go.
Against my better judgment, I stopped at the grocery on my way to M's for ingredients: frozen phyllo dough, wheatberries, etc. Planning ahead is not my strong suit. Turns out wheatberries need an overnight soak and three hours to cook before edibility, so I made a last-minute adjustment: kasha.
In the vegetable aisle, I was seduced by the sweet potatoes and right to believe they would add a delightful sweetness to the nutty kasha and peppery parsnips.
Phyllo dough is labor intensive and decadent, by virtue of just how much butter (or oil) it takes to make it work. But oh Man Ray, it's certainly worth the splurge on occasion. Frozen phyllo dough needs to be defrosted overnight in the refrigerator (trust me). Those thin sheets of dough will tear if not fully thawed before handling.
And Mark Bittman's not kidding when he tells you you'll need 1/2 cup of melted butter to lubricate 8 to 12 layers of pastry. I thought I could cut back on the fat, but my frugality just kept me running back and forth to the microwave.
But oh, those two hours of preparation and sweating over paper-thin sheets of dough were worth it. The pie was a smashing success. J and G were thrilled with our extravagant entree, and the omnis were just as impressed. M shared that she and R savored the lonely leftover slice the next day.
Light, buttery, and flaky, the delicate crust highlighted the earthy flavors of the filling, and the provolone cheese gave a pungent kick. Just a hint of thyme balanced the scales.
The filling was so delicious, I wanted to make the pie again immediately; but phyllo pie seems a bit out of reach for a Monday night supper. A couple of frozen whole wheat pie crusts saved the day, cutting prep time nearly in half. What took me two hours to prepare in phyllo took less than one episode of RuPaul's Drag Race (45 minutes) with frozen pie crust from the market (or homemade, if you've got the energy or extra few minutes). I still had to defrost the suckers, but only enough to make a top crust out of a bottom, and that can be done while the rest of the prep is happening.
The work-a-day version came out looking a little more like a succubus than its light and flaky phyllo counterpart, but it tasted just as delicious, even sans butter and cheese. There was no savings in the calorie or fat departments, but this savory pie makes for a delicious departure from the quotidian. The sweet and nutty filling pairs beautifully with a hearty whole wheat crust and makes a terrific pot pie alternative.
Whether you wax philosophic with friends over layers of phyllo or catch up on your reality TV with pie dough, Sweet Potato, Parsnip and Kasha Pie will make you grateful for the dream you're living.
If this recipe tips your canoe, swim on over to:
Sweet Potato, Parsnip and Kasha Pie
adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
1/2 cup kasha
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 tablespoon butter or extra virgin olive oil
2 cups grated parsnips (about 8 ounces)
2 cups grated sweet potatoes (about 8 ounces)
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup provolone, grated (optional)
8 to 12 sheets phyllo dough, thawed overnight
7 tablespoons butter, melted or 1/2 cup (less 1 tablespoon) extra virgin olive oil
Traditional Pie Crust:
2 whole wheat pie crusts, thawed
Wash, peel, and grate sweet potatoes and parsnips. Chop garlic, shallot, and fresh thyme. For phyllo variation, lightly coat pie pan with oil, butter, or cooking spray.
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) In a medium saucepan, bring vegetable stock to a boil. Stir in kasha, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until water is absorbed and grains are fluffy. Set aside.
3) Heat oil or butter in a large heavy-bottomed skillet. Add grated vegetables, shallot, garlic, salt, and pepper and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often. Add a few splashes of water if mixture sticks to bottom of pan.
4) Combine kasha, cooked vegetables, thyme, and optional cheese.
Eleganza Phyllo Dough Variation
5) Dampen clean tea towels or paper towels, enough to cover unrolled phyllo dough. Ring out so that they are just damp, not dripping wet. Unroll phyllo dough.
6) Peel up one sheet and place in greased pie plate. Cover unrolled sheets with damp toweling to keep from drying out. Baste phyllo pastry you've placed in pie plate with melted butter using a soft-bristled brush. Repeat four to five times, basting each layer and turning the sheets slightly as you go around.
7) Add filling to phyllo crust. Repeat step six with four to six sheets of phyllo dough to form the top crust. Fold up the edges and basted to seal.
8) Score top and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting. Serve with a green salad or sauteed greens and sparkling conversation.
Everyday Whole Wheat Crust Variation
5. Add filling to defrosted pie crust. Place second crust on top of filling, trim away excess, pinch edges together, and score top.
6. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting. Serve with a green salad or sauteed greens and biting political discourse.
Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
Phyllo/Dairy Variation: 418 calories, 25g fat, 4.6g fiber, 11g protein, $.97
Whole Wheat Crust/Dairy-free Variation: 418 calories, 23g fat, 9.6g fiber, 8.5g protein, $.97
1/2 cup kasha: 283.5 calories, 2g fat, 8.5g fiber, 9.5g protein, $0.46
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock: 15 calories, 1.5g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.16
1/2 tablespoon butter: 70 calories, 7.5g fat, 0g fiber, 0.5g protein, $0.08
2 cups grated parsnips: 100 calories, 0g fat, 6g fiber, 3g protein, $0.36
2 cups grated sweet potatoes: 224 calories, 0g fat, 8g fiber, 4g protein, $0.68
1 shallot: 30 calories, 0g fat, 3g fiber, 2g protein, $0.20
6 cloves garlic: 24 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.07
1 tablespoon fresh thyme: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
pepper: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
1/2 cup provolone: 392 calories, 28g fat, 0g fiber, 28g protein, $1.48
8 sheets phyllo dough: 392 calories, 4g fat, 2g fiber, 12g protein, $1.84
7 tablespoons butter: 980 calories, 105g fat, 0g fiber, 7g protein, $1.05
2 whole wheat pie crusts: 1760 calories, 128g fat, 32g fiber, 32g protein, $4.39
TOTALS (Phyllo/Cheese Variation): 2510.5 calories, 148g fat, 27.5g fiber, 66g protein, $5.82
TOTALS (Whole Wheat Crust/Dairy-free Variation): 2506.5 calories, 139g fat, 57.5g fiber, 51g protein, $5.84
PER SERVING (TOTALS/6): 418 calories, 25g fat, 4.6g fiber, 11g protein, $.97
PER SERVING (TOTALS/6): 418 calories, 23g fat, 9.6g fiber, 8.5g protein, $.97