Want To Make a Vegetarian Happy This Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is perhaps the most-dreaded holiday for vegetarians, because it really is all about the bird.  Even the side dishes are often loaded with poultry stock.  While I am not a vegetarian, I am a highly sympathetic carnivore, and I wanted to come up with a dish that has the necessary flair to serve as a holiday centerpiece, but without including any meat substitutes or stuffed squash, which are the typical answers to this problem.  While football-shaped meat substitutes have their place, I am not a big fan.  My answer was a kind of vegetable charlotte, studded with chestnuts and served with a sherried mushroom sauce:

Isn’t it pretty?  It has the advantage of being a dish that would make a stunning centerpiece on its own, if you have an all-vegetarian crowd, but which would also work well as an impressive side dish for a mixed crowd.

As you might imagine, this takes a few steps, but it is worth the effort. I started by mashing up some boiled, peeled potatoes to get 5-6 cups of mashed potatoes.  I seasoned the potatoes with salt, white pepper, and butter, as well as a little milk.  To this filling I added two cups of cooked, peeled chestnuts.  I roasted and peeled my own, using these directions, but I first tried to locate some canned, cooked chestnuts and only resorted to this step when I failed.  I really recommend buying them canned if you can, both because roasting your own is a pretty big pain (and half of them are usually bad), but also because the texture of the canned product is softer, which would work better in this dish.  Your choice.  To this I then stirred in three whole eggs, 6 ounces of shredded Gruyere cheese, and a cup of plain bread crumbs:

Next I blanched the greens that serve as the “case” for the charlotte.  I had on hand some small chard, spinach, and curly kale, so I blanched the chard to line the bundt pan.  Cut off the stems and then plunge the leaves into simmering water for about three minutes:

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the leaves into ice water to stop the cooking process and set the color:

When the leaves are fully cooled, drain them and oil a bundt pan.  Any size will work, but I used a standard 12-cup.  Line the bottom and outside wall of the pan with the blanched chard, remembering that this is what you will see when you unmold the dish:

Now, spoon in the filling.  I spooned in half of the filling, pressed it down, put in a layer of blanched kale for a “middle ribbon” effect (totally optional–roasted red peppers would also make a pretty layer), then spooned in the rest of the filling and pressed it all down:

On top of this, I layered blanched spinach leaves–only because I ran out of chard!  I then placed the dish in a larger pan with a hot water bath (just an inch or so of hot water around the pan):

I baked this at 350 degrees for an hour, then removed it from the oven and carefully removed the pan from the water bath and placed it on a towel–this so that no moisture from the pan would end up on the serving platter.  Run a sharp knife around the center dome before you place your serving platter over the top of the pan and CAREFULLY invert–it is nice to have two people for this task:

Voila!  Serve with the mushroom-sherry sauce inside and/or on the side.  For the sauce, I cleaned and halved a pound of cremini mushrooms and rehydrated an ounce of dried porcinis, reserving a cup of the strained soaking liquid for the sauce.  To insure lack of grit with the mushroom stock, I run it through a sieve that I have lined with a damp paper towel.  Cook your mushroom in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil along with some chopped shallots, garlic, and cracked black pepper.  When they have softened, sprinkle a quarter cup of flour over the surface of the mushrooms and stir.  Let it cook for a couple of minutes, then deglaze your pan with a half cup of dry sherry.  Add in your mushroom stock (that reserved soaking liquid) and a half teaspoon of salt, and cook until it thickens:

Taste and adjust the salt and pepper, as needed. Absolutely no one will miss the poultry stock with this sauce.  To serve, I spooned some of the sauce into the center of the ring, and garnished the whole thing with sugared cranberries.  Pretty darn festive, if I do say so myself:

To serve the vegetable charlotte, use a serrated knife to cut wedges and a pie server to move them to the plates.  It will be soft but it will hold its shape.  Spoon on some mushroom sauce, garnish with some cranberries, and follow up with a wedge or two of pie.

Thanks for reading,


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  1. That is not only gorgeous, but inspired!!!

  2. Beautiful, colorful and a wonder to behold. Your sugared cranberries give the right finishing touch. Great idea.
    Your mother, Jayne

  3. Oh wow! I've never had a charlotte before and I must say that the cranberries really do make everything festive.

  4. Very interesting, that's for sure! Certainly does look tasty!

  5. […] add rich texture and nutty flavor to the pumpkin.  Last year I tried roasting my own chestnuts for this post and vowed to avoid it in the future.  If you want to roast your own, I commend you. For the […]

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