Pippa is a vegetarian friend who finds my carnivorous habits distinctly off-putting.
She’s asked me for more meat-free recipes. It’s not that I don’t cook vegetarian food. I do. But I wouldn’t say any of it was particularly ground-breaking.
Cauliflower cheese, vegetarian curries, mushroom risotto, cheesy quiches and omelettes. I mean, they’re all really tasty, but any self-respecting vegetarian would already have their own version.
I’ve been racking my brains for something a bit more imaginative. I’m not sure this qualifies but it is something I’d be happy to serve to any of my friends for supper.
It is a bit fiddly – you have to make the pancakes and two different sauces before bringing it all together and finishing the dish in the oven – but I think it’s worth the effort especially if you’ve got people round for a meal.
Busy cooks with fat wallets might care to note that you can buy the two sauces ready-made from supermarket chiller cabinets – but where’s the fun in that?
You can reduce the workload by serving a crunchy green salad on the side and following up with a refreshing no-cook dessert, perhaps an orange and date salad scattered with torn mint leaves (see below).
150g asparagus spears
150g tenderstem broccoli
8 spring onions
Pancakes (see below)
Tomato and basil sauce (see below)
Cheesy bechamel sauce (see below)
2 tbsp grated Parmesan to sprinkle on the top
Tomato and Basil Sauce:
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
Small bunch of basil, leaves picked and torn
Salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar
Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a saucepan on a low to medium heat. Fry the onion gently until soft and golden but not browned.
Add the tomatoes, season to taste and simmer until reduced to a thickish, spoonable sauce.
Add the ripped up basil leaves and check the seasoning. Set aside.
Cheesy bechamel sauce
Up to 350 ml milk (you may need a little less)
40 g butter
35 g plain flour
120g good-quality hard cheese (I used Cheddar and Parmesan)
Salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour and cook gently for a minute or two.
Add the milk a little at a time, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick and glossy.
Season with a little salt and pepper. Continue to cook gently until any floury taste has disappeared, stirring often.
Mix in the grated cheese and cook until melted and velvety. Check and adjust the seasoning.
Put lid on it to stop a skin forming and set aside to keep warm.
You’ll need a small frying pan about 20cm across. This mixture is meant to make 8 pancakes but I only managed 6 – then again my pan was bigger.
Make the batter at least half an hour before it’s needed, preferably longer. This gives the starch granules time to expand and improves the pancakes.
The melted butter makes the pancake mix slightly richer and less likely to dry out in the oven.
If the first pancake is a disaster, and it usually is, just chuck it out and start again.
100 g plain flour
250 ml milk
50g butter, melted, plus a bit more for frying
Large pinch of salt
Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and whisk in the beaten eggs and half the milk until you have a smooth batter. Add the melted butter and enough of the remaining milk to get the consistency of thin cream. Set aside for at least half an hour.
To make the pancakes, melt a small amount of butter in the frying pan and get it hot and sizzling (but not burnt) and tip the pan from side to side so the base is coated.
Pour in enough batter to thinly cover the base of the pan, cook until the underside is golden, then flip it over with a spatula – or toss in the air if you’re feeling confident.
Once the second side is cooked, slip the pancake onto a plate and continue until you have seven more, layering them with greaseproof paper. Keep warm.
To assemble the dish:
Preheat the oven to 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6.
Trim the vegetables and briefly steam each type separately (they’ll cook at different speeds) until the stalks can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife but they still have a good bit of bite. Put them on kitchen paper to drain.
To complete the dish, put the pancakes on a flat board and place two asparagus spears, two broccoli stems and a spring onion in the centre of each. Top with a generous spoonful of the tomato and basil sauce and roll them up by folding over the sides.
Put them in a lightly buttered baking dish, leaving a space between each one.
Then carefully spoon over the bechamel sauce, allowing it to fall into the gaps so the pancakes will look nicely pillowy when they’re baked. I rather overdid the cheese sauce so mine looked more like a goosedown duvet.
Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the top is crusty and golden.