That’s right—I’m bringing “Sunday Dinner” posts back!
Last winter when I started this blog, Sundays meant some extra free time and a chance to try my hand at recipes that were a little more ambitious and/or too time-consuming for a weeknight meal. Then spring arrived and with it came work travel and a new job and lots of things to do. Sundays became more about relaxing and/or (more often than not) getting ready for the coming work week and less about kitchen explorations.
But yesterday was different. For the first time in a really long time, I found myself with no plans and very little that absolutely had to get done. Even better, it was a rainy day. Perfect for spending some quality time in the kitchen!
And spend time in the kitchen I did! For my first Sunday back in the kitchen I chose to make Cook’s Illustrated’s Vegetable Torta, which while not exactly difficult was incredibly time consuming. From start to finish it took at least 2 and a half hours to make. (It was also borderline too much for my small apartment kitchen—at one point toward the end of the process every inch of counter space I have-- including the breakfast bar-- and even part of the dining table were in use.) But as usual the efforts were completely worthwhile--layers and layers of tender, roasted vegetables with a hint of richness thanks to a roasted garlic custard and grated Italian cheese. A hint of lemon added to the depth of flavor.
When we finally sat down to eat (I think it was almost 8:30 by that time—I had underestimated just how long it would take to get the torta on the table), Jason pronounced the dish his new summer favorite. Too bad summer is almost over!
Note: while this recipe is time-consuming it makes a lot which means less time in the kitchen the rest of the week! It is also a show-stopper that would make an impressive dish to entertain with.
Adapted slightly from Cook’s Illustrated
2 large eggplants, halved crosswise and cut lengthwise into ½ inch pieces
1 medium head garlic, outer papery skins removed and top third cut off and discarded
2 medium red bell peppers
2 large tomatoes, cored and cut into ¼ inch slices
3 large zuchinni, cut on the diagonal into ¼ inch slices
4 slices white sandwich bread (I used Sourdough since that is all we had), torn into quarters
3 TBL unsalted butter, melted
5 ounces Asiago cheese, finely grated (I used a pre-shredded mix of Asiago, Parmesan, and Romano cheeses that worked just fine)
3 large eggs
¼ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
Juice from 1 lemon
Salt and Pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
LOTS of paper towels!!
1.Generously sprinkle both sides of the eggplant with salt and transfer to a colander set over a bowl. Let stand for about 30 minutes while the eggplant releases some liquid. Arrange slices in a single layer on a double layer of paper towels; cover with another double layer of paper towels. Firmly press each slice to flatten and remove as much moisture as possible.
2.While the eggplant drains, adjust oven racks to the upper middle and lower-middle positions. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Set two wire racks on 2 rimmed baking sheets (you can also you a broiler pan if you have one); generously coat the racks with olive oil or cooking spray.
3.Place garlic cut side up on a double layer of aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap foil tightly around garlic and set aside.
4.Arrange salted and pressed eggplant slices on prepared racks. Season with pepper. Brush peppers on all sides with olive oil and place one on each of the baking sheets. Place baking sheets into the oven. Place foil-wrapped garlic onto the edge of the baking sheet on the lower rack. Roast vegetables until eggplant slices are well-browned and peppers are blistered and beginning to brown, about 30-35 minutes. Make sure to rotate the baking sheets and turn the peppers halfway through the baking time. Transfer peppers to a medium bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow eggplant to cool on the wire racks. Continue to roast the garlic for about 10-15 minutes longer or until the cloves are soft and golden brown.
5.Meanwhile, arrange tomato slices on double layer of paper towels; sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 30 minutes, then cover with another double layer of paper towels. Gently press tomatoes to remove moisture.
6.While vegetables roast and tomatoes stand, sprinkle both sides of zucchini slices with salt and transfer to the large colander set over a bowl. Let zucchini stand for about 30 minutes while it releases liquid. Place a triple layer of paper towels onto a microwave safe plate. Arrange a third of the zucchini on the paper towels, then cover with another triple layer of paper towels. Repeat two more times until all zucchini are gone. Top the final layer with paper towels and another microwave-safe plate. Microwave stack on high for about 5-7 minutes or until zucchini are steaming hot. Remove carefully USING POTHOLDERS and let stand for about 5 minutes before removing the top plate.
7.When peppers are cool enough to touch, remove skin and slit pole-pole. Remove stem and seeds. Unfurl peppers so they lie flat; cut each lengthwise into three pieces each.
8.To make the crust, place torn bread into a food processor. Pulse for about 10 seconds until coarsely ground. With machine running, add melted butter through the feed tube and process until combined. Add 2/3 cup of cheese and pulse to combine. Transfer mixture to bowl (don’t wash the food processor).
9.Thoroughly grease a 9 or 10 inch springform pan. Pat bread crumbs onto the bottom and sides to make the crust, using all but about 3 TBL of the crumbs.
10.Squeeze garlic from cloves and mash with a fork. Transfer to the food processor. Add eggs, cream, thyme, and lemon juice. Process until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.
11.Arrange a single layer of eggplant on top of the crsut, tearing pieces as needed to cover the entire bottom surface. Sprinkle with 2 TBL of cheese. Arrange a single layer of zucchini and sprinkle with another 2 TBL of cheese. Repeat another layer of eggplant and cheese. Layer in all of the red pepper pieces and sprinkle with 2 TBL of cheese. Pour half of the custard mixture over the top; tilt and gently shake the pan to evenly distribute. Repeat layering of eggplant and zucchini, sprinkling each layer with 2 TBL of cheese. Pour remaining custard over the vegetables, tilting and shaking the pan to evenly distribute. Arrange tomato slices around the top. Sprinkle torta with remaining 3 TBL of bread crumbs.
12.Set torta on a baking sheet (I re-used one I had previously roasted the eggplant on so as not to mess up yet another kitchen item) and bake on the lower-middle rack until tomatoes are dry, bread-crumb topping is brown and the center of the torta registers 175 degrees. The recipe said this would take 75-90 minutes but it only took mine about 65 so depending on the strength of your oven (mine is gas and gets really hot, really fast) you might want to start checking at the 60 minute mark.
13.Cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around the inside of the pan to loosen, then remove springform pan ring. Let stand about 10-20 minutes longer (depending on how hungry you are—I think we lasted about 8 minutes), cut into wedges and serve.
Note: according to the recipe you can assemble, bake, cool and remove the torta from the springform pan, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate overnight. Let it stand at room temperature for about an hour before serving.