Gift-wrapped Holiday Dishes

I think vegetables are nature’s perfect gift just as they are. Others prefer their presents gift-wrapped, especially at the holidays. So my gift to you is the opportunity to enjoy both with a vegetable tart recipe that gift-wraps produce in pastry. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

The recipe has its roots in Italy, where it’s known as erbazzone — think calzone filled with greens. It’s baked as a crostata, a free-form Italian tart. The crostata dough is forgiving to work with and encourages you to rock out on rustic. Channel your inner nonna.* You don’t need a pie pan, just a baking sheet. Roll out the pastry dough into a round, top with filling and fold edges in towards the middle. Don’t think Food Network perfect, think authentic and artisanal. With the hectic pace of the holidays, you deserve a present, too. Bake and prepare for raves.

Guests will whip out their cell phones to take food porn shots. They best snap fast, because the crostata is a taste knockout, too, thanks to melt-in-the-mouth pastry and the punch of lemon, olives and capers and tang of goat cheese or cashew cheese.** It’s a gift for everyone who shares your table. Don’t expect leftovers.

This crostata contains two of my favorite secret weapons for wellness, whole grains in the crust and seasonal greens in the filling. Use a nice variety of fresh winter greens — kale, escarole, chard, whatever does it for you. Seasonal local greens offer bright flavor, heaps of nutrients and get you in tune to the rhythm of the planet. The greater the distance your food travels to get to you, the heavier your carbon footprint. Enjoying locally grown food reduces carbon and benefits the planet, which surely deserves a gift, too.

December seems to give us license to overindulge in the wrong foods. There’s nothing wrong with a holiday treat, but treat your body right, too. This tart offers some body-bolstering nourishment disguised as decadence. Knowing you’re getting a little green goodness makes it a gift for me, too. You know how I worry. Happy, healthy holidays.

*Italian grandmother — we all have one, even if only in spirit.
** It’s a thing. A vegan thing. Recipe follows.

 

Holiday Vegetable Crostata

As with many holiday gifts, there’s some assembly required, but not much, and you don’t need batteries. Even better, the pastry and filling may be prepared separately a day or two ahead and then come together whiz-bang. Since I’m in the giving holiday mode, I give you two versions, one your nonna would recognize and a version that appeals to those avoiding dairy and to plant-based people like me. We like to eat, too, you know.

 

Crostata Pastry Dough:

  • 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat or rye flour
  • pinch sea salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, chilled and cut into 8 pieces
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk
  1. Sift unbleached flour, whole wheat flour and sea salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and work in quickly, so mixture becomes like coarse sand.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of the milk and mix together, so it coalesces into a dough. Add the other tablespoon of milk if dough seems dry or isn’t coming together properly.
  3. Wrap well and chill for 2 hours or up to several days.

Crostata Filling:

  • 2 big bunches chard, escarole, kale or other winter greens, rinsed well and blotted dry
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • a small handful of kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Salt water and add greens to blanche for just 2 minutes, so they’re bright green and still keep their essence.
  2. Drain well in a colander, pressing out any extra liquid.
  3. You can use your best knife skills or — much preferred and much faster —a food processor. Chop greens finely, add olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and zest and red pepper flakes and process again until everything forms a thick paste that’s just short of pureed.
  4. Mix in capers and chopped kalamatas by hand and season to taste with sea salt.
    May be kept covered and refrigerated overnight.

To assemble:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle generously with flour.
  2. Roll out pastry onto the floured parchment, forming a 12-inch round, about 1/4 inch thick. Round is relative, round-ish will do.
  3. Sprinkle goat cheese into the center of the pastry, creating a circle about 6 inches across, leaving a 3-inch border of exposed pastry all the way around. Cover the cheese with the greens, smoothing gently.
  4. Gently lift one edge of the exposed dough and fold towards the center, to the outer edge of the greens, creating a loose pleat of pastry. Continue working all the way around, so all the pastry is folded inward. Leave about 3 to 5 inches of greens peaking through the center.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, or until crostata is golden and flaky.

Let the crostata rest for 20 to 30 minutes before serving. Slice into wedges and enjoy.

Makes 6 servings.

 

Holiday Vegetable Crostata (vegan, dairy-free)

Any arcane or unfamiliar ingredients can be sourced at your local natural food store or at Whole Foods. Or if you’re in my neighorhood, I’ll run what you need over to you and we can make it in the kitchen together.

Crostata Pastry Dough:

  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened soy milk
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat or rye flour
  • pinch sea salt
  • 7 tablespoons Earth Balance or other vegan butter, chilled and cut into 7 pieces
  • In a separate bowl, mix together soy milk and cider vinegar. The mixture will clabber and become like buttermilk. Don’t panic, this is what it’s supposed to do.
  1. Sift unbleached flour, whole wheat flour and sea salt into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the Earth Balance and work in quickly, so it becomes like coarse sand.
  3. Pour in clabbered soy milk and mix together, so it coalesces into a dough. Wrap well and chill for 2 hours or up to several days.

Crostata Filling:

  • 2 big bunches chard, escarole, kale or other winter greens, rinsed well and blotted dry
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • a small handful of kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup cashew cheese (recipe follows)
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Salt water and add greens to blanche for just 2 minutes, so they’re bright green and still keep their essence.
  2. Drain well in a colander, pressing out any extra liquid.
  3. You can use your best knife skills or — much preferred and much faster —process greens, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and zest and red pepper flakes in a food processor. Greens should form a thick paste that’s just short of pureed.
  4. Mix in capers and chopped kalamatas by hand and season to taste with sea salt.
  5. May be kept covered and refrigerated overnight.

To assemble:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle generously with flour.
  • Roll out pastry onto the floured parchment, forming a 12-inch round, about 1/4 inch thick. Round is relative, round-ish will do.
  • Spread cashew cheese into the center of the pastry, creating a circle about 6 inch across, leaving a 3-inch border of exposed pastry all the way around. Cover the cheese with greens, smoothing gently.
  • Gently lift one edge of the exposed dough and fold towards the center, to the outer edge of the greens, creating a loose pleat of pastry. Continue working all the way around, so all the pastry is folded inward. Leave about 3 to 5 inches of greens peaking through the center.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, or until crostata is golden and flaky.
  • Let the crostata rest for 20 to 30 minutes before serving. Slice into wedges and enjoy.

Cashew Cheese

Easy yet awesome, creamy yet dairyless, this is how vegans do cheese. Feel free to add a teaspoon of your favorite minced herb, such as basil or thyme. Cashew cheese keeps covered and chilled for several days.

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked in cold water to cover for 2 hours or up to overnight
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon white miso
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • pinch sea salt, freshly ground pepper
  1. Drain cashews and pour them into a food processor or blender.
  2. Add 1/4 cup water and whiz together until it forms a thick white paste.
  3. Add garlic clove, Miso, nutritional yeast and lemon juice.
  4. Process again until it becomes billowy and creamy, like thick whipped cream.
  5. Season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper.

Makes roughly 1/2 cup of cashew cheese, the perfect amount for the crostata recipe with maybe an extra taste for you and your inner nonna

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