Veggie bakes for brunch

These casseroles are easy ways to make vegetables enticing.

Brunch, the signature meal of a relaxed day, combines the best of breakfast and lunch.
In some American homes there are breakfast sausages and quite a few other preserved meat items at brunch. For me, growing up in a strictly kosher home, these foods never became favorites for the first meal of a leisurely day. I love brunch on the dairy side, with the emphasis on egg dishes, kugels and blintzes.
To balance the brunch menu and add fresh flavors and colors, I include vegetables, and not just as salads or as the usual steamed and boiled veggies. Instead, I like them baked with other savory ingredients in casseroles.
I got a lot of appetizing ideas for brunch dishes from the members of the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County, California, who put together their favorite recipes in the Merage JCC Cookbook and gave me a copy after I gave a talk on healthy Jewish cooking at the center.
Their book includes all sorts of creative dishes of vegetables baked with eggs and often with cheese. Some are labeled pies or quiches but they don’t have crusts; some are frittatas that include bread cubes or bread crumbs, although classic frittatas do not. One is simply named zucchini appetizer. You could easily categorize all these dishes as kugels, casseroles or pashtidot. I call them veggie bakes. They are a great way to make vegetables delicious.
The technique is simple – I call it the kugel principle: Mix the main element, in this case vegetables, with eggs and flavorings. In many cases, you also need a “starchy” ingredient such as bread crumbs or flour to hold the mixture together and make it more substantial, thus facilitating neat slicing.
Best of all for the busy cook, these dishes are practically effortless. There’s no layering of ingredients lasagna style, and a minimum of precooking. Many are simply a matter of mixing the ingredients and baking them.
For example, in Sharon Weidberg’s zucchini pie, thinly sliced zucchini are mixed with a batter of beaten eggs, biscuit mix (a blend of flour, baking powder and shortening) and oil. The flavorings are Parmesan cheese, chopped onion, parsley, salt, pepper and marjoram. My zucchini kugel (see the recipe below) has bread crumbs rather than biscuit mix, and no cheese, but the technique is essentially the same. For her spinach brunch pie, Betty Gorelick combines frozen chopped spinach with biscuit mix, eggs, cottage cheese, sour cream, melted butter and grated Parmesan cheese. Elana Samson’s corn quiche is made of canned corn mixed with a batter of eggs beaten with flour, evaporated milk, sugar and salt and enriched with butter. Jane Brenner’s mushroom frittata calls for sauteing mushrooms with zucchini, peppers, onion and garlic, and blending them into a batter of eggs, cream, cheddar cheese and bread cubes and baking it in a rectangular pan.
You can adapt this method to any vegetable you like. Saute tender vegetables or grate them and add them raw or, to save time, use canned or frozen ones. Make your veggie bake as creamy or cheesy as you wish, or keep it parve, with no cheese at all, and increase the savory seasonings. You can even omit the eggs to make dishes like the speedy corn casserole below; simply serve such dishes with a spoon instead of cutting them in squares. Whichever route you choose, these casseroles are easy ways to make vegetables enticing and are good choices for weekend brunches or for the upcoming holiday of Shavuot.
Serve this kugel as a light brunch entree and top each serving with a dollop of yogurt seasoned with salt and a touch of minced garlic. If you like, stir in 1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan or 1⁄2 cup grated Swiss style or cheddar cheese along with the bread crumbs.
900 gr. medium zucchini or white squash (kishuim)
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or butter, or 2 Tbsp. of each
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1⁄4 cup chopped parsley
1⁄4 cup dry bread crumbs
salt and freshly ground pepper
cayenne pepper to taste
4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 190º. Grate zucchini on large holes of grater. Put in a strainer and squeeze firmly to remove excess liquid. Transfer zucchini to a bowl.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil or butter in a medium skillet. Add onion and saute over medium heat, stirring often, about 7 minutes or until soft but not brown. Remove from heat and stir in garlic. Cool slightly, then add mixture to zucchini. Let cool.
Add parsley and bread crumbs to zucchini mixture. Season well with salt, pepper and cayenne so mixture will not be bland. Add eggs and mix well.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a shallow 20-cm. square baking dish in oven for about 3 minutes. Add zucchini mixture to hot dish. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon oil. Bake about 50 minutes or until set. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
This casserole is an easy version of a buttery Louisiana dish made from corn kernels cut from the cob. Using frozen corn is much quicker, and there’s no need to thaw it for this dish; you can use drained canned corn as well. You can prepare this convenient casserole two days ahead and keep it, covered, in the refrigerator.
2 to 3 Tbsp. butter, vegetable oil or olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large red or green bell peppers, or 1 of each, diced
450 gr. frozen corn kernels (31⁄3 cups)
a 400-gr. can tomatoes, diced, drained well
1 tsp. sugar
salt and black pepper to taste
1⁄4 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
Preheat oven to 175º. In a large skillet, melt butter and stir in onion and pepper. Saute over medium heat for 7 minutes, stirring often; cover pan if vegetables begin to stick or if pan looks dry.
In an 8-cup casserole combine pepper mixture with corn, tomatoes, sugar, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Mix well. Cover and bake for 30 minutes or until corn is tender and mixture is hot. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.
Makes 4 servings.
This rich veggie bake, from Merage JCC Cookbook, features mushrooms, zucchini and peppers and is enriched with a liberal amount of cheese. For the light cream, you can substitute equal amounts of heavy cream and milk, or simply use all cream or all milk.
3⁄4 cup chopped peppers – 1⁄2 red, 1⁄2 green
11⁄2 cups sliced mushrooms
11⁄2 cups chopped zucchini
3⁄4 cup chopped onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
11⁄2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups cubes of white bread (4 slices), crust removed
1⁄4 tsp. pepper
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
6 eggs, beaten
1⁄2 cup light cream or coffee cream
225 gr. cream cheese, diced
Preheat oven to 175º. Grease a 23-cm. x 33-cm. pan. In a large skillet, saute peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, onion and garlic in oil until crisp-tender.
In a bowl beat eggs with cream and cream cheese and add cheddar, bread,pepper and vegetables. Mix well. Pour into greased pan. Bake for 1 houror until center is set. Cool 10 minutes before cutting.
Makes 8 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of The New Casserole.