Have you ever looked at those 1960’s and 1970’s cookbooks? You know, the ones with everything under aspic, and things like avocado creme? A friend sent me a link a few years ago to one of the books that had been digitalized, and when I say “Ewwww..!” I wholeheartedly mean it. Everything had this yellowish hue, but the real kicker was all this supremely labor intensive stuff that came out perfect looking, even if it was a bit technicolor to the eyes! I recommend looking carefully at the picture above. Look a the precision you had to have to make that! My hat is off to them! I am nowhere as precise as that, and am incapable of being so. I also found this blog in my wanderings. They have totally retro recipes, it’s totally worth a browse! “Hey, my Granny used to make that!”
I saw the below recipe in the New York Times Food section, where I find a lot of my ideas, and the name intrigued me, which led to the search for the dish called a chartreuse. Normally it’s a “country surprise” dish, meaning it looks decidedly vegetably externally, but hiding a game breast (partridge or woodcock or capon) with foie gras and all kinds of pork and bacon on the inside. My version is a completely vegetarian version, with butter and a cup of Parmesan but otherwise all vegetable.
The recipe is simple, but the work is quite labor intensive, and should take the better part of a day to make and cook.
Chartreuse of Vegetables:
- 1 head savoy cabbage, about 2 pounds
- 4 teaspoons sea salt, separated,plus more for blanching
- 6 large celery stalks, finely julienned, save the leaves
- 6 large celery stalks, finely diced
- 9 tablespoons butter, separated
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
- ¼ cup finely diced white onion (I had shallots so I used them, leaks will work as well)
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped sage, rosemary and thyme, combined
- 10 – 12 cups finely diced mushrooms — any combination white-button,
cremini, wild (six 8oz packages)
- ¼ cup good dry white wine (NOT chardonnay)
- ¼ cup chopped parsley leaves celery leaves
- 2 heaping tablespoons crème fraîche (or sour cream)
- 2 pounds or 4 large bunches spinach
- 1 large grate of nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sherry (or red wine)
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* One 6 or 7 inch springform pan
To begin, slice the end off your cabbage and discard. separate all the leaves, and select the best, prettiest and most intact 13 or 14 of them, set them aside. Trim them so there isn’t much of the touch white core. Put a large pot of water on to boil, and while waiting, finely shred the remaining cabbage and place it in a bowl. When the water comes to a boil add a pinch of salt and blanch your cabbage leaves for 30 to 60 seconds. They should be bright green, not dull green. Plunge them into an icewater bath to stop them cooking, and lay them on paper towels or kitchen towels to dry. Once you’ve worked through the whole batch wrap them up in a package and place in the fridge until you need them.
While the cabbage leaves are cooling, in the bowl you have the shredded cabbage, add 1 & 1/2 cups julienned celery and leaves. Sprinkle over them 1 teaspoon of the salt, and mix well. I like to use my hands and fingers to really work the salt in well. Let this stand at room temperature.
Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, add 3 tablespoons of butter and one of oil, and heat until the butter stops foaming. Then add the chopped onion, garlic, remaining celery and combined sage, rosemary and thyme, and mix well. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until onion is just translucent. If it starts to brown or stick, add a few drops of water. Add all diced mushrooms, and stir occasionally, cooking 15-25 minutes until the mushrooms’ liquid has all emerged and evaporated. Add 2 teaspoons salt. Mix through, add white wine and cook for another minute. Turn off heat. Add parsley/celery leaves and crème fraîche, and mix through. Remove to a bowl, and refrigerate.
Rinse spinach in a large colander. Put a large pan over medium-high heat. Cook spinach in batches with only the water clinging to the leaves until they are completely wilted. Remove to a colander to cool. Put the spinach in a strong clean kitchen cloth, and squeeze well, until completely dry. Put leaves through a food processor until very well chopped (or chop finely by hand). In a small pan, heat 5 tablespoons butter in 1 tablespoon olive oil until butter has just begun to brown. Add chopped spinach and nutmeg. Add 1 teaspoon sea salt, then sherry. Cook a few moments, until sherry is absorbed. Take the pan off the heat and add Parmesan, mix well.
Now it’s time for assembly. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly butter a 6- or 7-inch springform pan. Make sure the cabbage leaves are very dry. Put the prettiest cabbage leaf in the bottom of the pan, spreading it into a single layer. Trim any stem/central vein that overhangs. Use 5-7 more leaves to line the sides, pressing some of each leaf carefully into the bottom of the pan and the rest up the pan’s side. There should be some leaf remaining overhanging the top. Continue, lightly overlapping the leaves, until sides are covered.
Put a third of the mushroom mixture into the food processor, and blend to semi-smooth. Mix back into the rest of the mushrooms. Spread half the mushroom mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan, over the cabbage. Cover with an even layer of half the spinach. Drain the cabbage-celery slaw very well, pressing all the liquid. Spread the very dry slaw over the cabbage. Repeat with the remaining spinach, and then the remaining mushrooms. Cover the mushrooms with 1-3 more cabbage leaves, in a very thin layer, trimming to fit if necessary. Fold overhanging leaves to cover the bottom. Dot with remaining butter, divided. Put into the middle of the oven. Bake 30 minutes. Remove from oven, and let sit to cool for 5-10 minutes.
When it is cool enough to handle, turn it out onto a serving plate or platter.
It’s so pretty! Reminded me of the tree of life. Don’t forget this is all about the layers of flavor.
Eventhough it’s fairly labor intensive, it was so pretty, and very tasty! Enjoy this one.