Vegetarian made simple

“Flexitarian” is a recent term, but the idea of eating less meat than usual from time to time is customary in many cultures.

Bow-tie pasta with brussels sprouts, Gorgonzola and hazelnuts (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Bow-tie pasta with brussels sprouts, Gorgonzola and hazelnuts
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Spending a year in Spain kindled Carla Snyder’s passion for gastronomy. At her recent presentation of her latest book, One Pan Two Plates: Vegetarian Suppers, she said that although she loves to cook, she hates cleaning up. She told us that she developed her book to help people who would like to enjoy a gourmet meal at home but find it hard to prepare one at the end of a workday. In her recipes, the preparation is easy and there is only one pan to clean.
When cooking pasta for two, instead of boiling a large amount of water in a pasta pot, save time by using a medium-large saucepan of about 3 liters, Snyder recommends. Then you can make the sauce in the same pan, as Snyder does for her creamy dish of bowtie pasta with brussels sprouts, Gorgonzola and hazelnuts. (See recipe.)
Cooking vegetables along with pasta or grains is another way to speed up supper preparation. Snyder makes use of this technique in her bow-tie pasta dish and in her barley salad with fennel and nectarines. (See recipe.)
“Learn to love your skillet,” advises Snyder. If you use a large, heavy skillet, you’ll find it easy to prepare one-pan main courses in it. Snyder prefers a skillet with a lid and an oven-safe handle so that it can go from the stove top to the oven for such dishes as tortilla espanola, a classic Spanish potato omelet. (See recipe.)
Finding ways to prepare speedier suppers was only one of Snyder’s goals. She told us that she wrote her book for those who would like to improve their diets by eating meatless meals more often. Her aim was to develop vegetarian recipes that would be satisfying to meat eaters, and indeed, the dishes we sampled were tasty and substantial enough to serve as supper.
“Many of us are adopting the label ‘flexitarian,’ wrote Snyder, “...which might apply to people who are moving their meat-based menus in a more vegetarian direction, or to... vegetarians who are adding meat or fish back into their diets. The word ‘flexitarian’ suggests a regimen that includes more whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables than the standard diet.”
“Flexitarian” is a recent term, but the idea of eating less meat than usual from time to time is customary in many cultures. In some religions, there are “fasting” periods during which people abstain from meat. Some Jews follow the tradition of eating meatless meals during the Nine Days leading up to Tisha Be’Av (beginning in the evening of July 23), except on Shabbat, when meat is permitted. 
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook and of 30 Low-Fat Vegetarian Meals in 30 Minutes.
Bow-tie pasta with brussels sprouts, Gorgonzola and hazelnuts
Snyder wrote that this dish is “one of those quick-and-easy dishes that’s still really impressive. When tossed with hot pasta, the Gorgonzola turns into an instant creamy sauce with chunks of brussels sprouts and crunchy hazelnuts, all cooked in one pan.” You can substitute any blue cheese you like for the Gorgonzola. You can use frozen brussels sprouts, when fresh ones are not available.
For a matching wine, Snyder recommends a buttery chardonnay or a Pinot Noir with this dish.
Serves 2
■ Coarse salt
■ 230 gr. bow-tie pasta
■ 15 brussels sprouts, quartered (thawed if frozen, then quartered) (see note)
■ 115 gr. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
■ 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
■ ¹⁄3 cup (40 gr.) toasted and chopped hazelnuts
■ 2 Tbsp. minced parsley
■ Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
In a 2.8-liter saucepan over high heat, bring 2 liters water to a boil. Add 1 tsp. salt and the pasta and cook about 7 minutes. Add the brussels sprouts and cook until the pasta is al dente and the brussels sprouts are tender-crisp, 4 to 5 minutes longer. To check the pasta for doneness, fish out a piece and bite into it; it should still be chewy, just a little underdone.
Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water and then drain the pasta and brussels sprouts in a colander in the sink.
Return pasta and brussels sprouts to the hot pan and pour in about ¼ cup of the pasta water. Add the Gorgonzola, butter, hazelnuts, 1 Tbsp. of the parsley and a few grinds of pepper. Stir until a creamy sauce forms. If mixture is dry, add more of pasta water. Taste for salt.
Mound pasta onto heated plates and sprinkle with remaining parsley and more pepper. Serve hot.
Note: Bow ties, or farfalle, can cook anywhere from 11 to 13 minutes, depending on the brand, so check the pasta every minute after 10 minutes. If you have a small wire-mesh strainer, cook the brussels sprouts in the strainer, dropping it into the water on top of the pasta. That way you can remove the brussels sprouts if they cook faster than the pasta.
Barley salad with fennel and nectarines
Snyder emphasized that barley “cooks up fast, fast, fast.” She notes that this crunchy, juicy dish is really two salads in one. To speed things up, she recommends prepping the vegetables while the barley cooks.
This is a flexible recipe and you can substitute vegetables according to what’s available. For this salad, Snyder uses Treviso, an elongated radicchio; you can use any radicchio or substitute red cabbage. In the US Snyder uses sugar snap peas; snow peas are a good substitute and cook even faster. If fennel heads are not available, you can substitute sliced celery or Chinese cabbage. Snyder finishes this salad with grated ricotta salata cheese, but you can use the more readily available Parmesan.
Serves 2
■ 2 cups water
■ ½ cup (100 gr.) pearled barley, rinsed
■ Coarse salt
■ 1-1½ cups snow peas, ends removed
■ 3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
■ ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
■ 1 shallot, finely diced
■ ¼ cup (60 ml.) extra-virgin olive oil
■ 2 Tbsp. minced parsley
■ Grated zest of 1 orange
■ Freshly ground black pepper
■ 2 nectarines, peeled and cut in bite-size pieces, juices reserved
■ ½ head fennel, cored and thinly sliced, plus a few fronds, minced
■ Leaves from 3 or 4 basil sprigs, thinly sliced
■ 1 head radicchio, thinly sliced into slivers
■ 28-55 gr. grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste
In a 2.8-liter saucepan bring the water to boil over medium-high heat. Add barley and ½ tsp. salt and bring to simmer. Turn heat to low, cover and gently simmer until barley is tender, about 20 minutes. Add snow peas and simmer until tender-crisp, about 1 minute. Drain barley and peas in fine-mesh sieve and run cold water over them to cool slightly and stop the cooking.
In a large bowl, make vinaigrette: Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, shallot and ¼ tsp. salt, until salt dissolves. Whisk in olive oil, parsley, orange zest and a few grinds of pepper.
Transfer 2 Tbsp. of the vinaigrette to a small bowl. Add nectarines and their juices, the fennel and fronds and the basil and toss to coat well.
Add barley mixture, radicchio and cheese to the large bowl of vinaigrette and toss to coat well. Taste for salt and pepper. Scoop into serving bowls, top with the nectarine salad and serve.
Tortilla espanola
“A traditional tapas favorite, this egg and potato dish can be found in almost every tapas bar in Spain,” wrote Snyder. She commented that this thick omelet is designed to curb hunger pangs with cocktails before 10 p.m. Spanish dinners, but it makes a fine 6 p.m. supper as well. Her wine recommendation: a red wine from Rioja in Spain.
Serves 2
■ 4 eggs
■ 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
■ Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
■ ¼ cup (60 ml.) olive oil
■ 2 baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 12-mm. dice (see note below)
■ 1 small onion, diced
■ 1 garlic clove, minced
■ 1 tomato, seeded and diced
Place an oven rack in the second highest position and preheat the broiler.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs with parsley, pinch of salt and a few grinds pepper.
Heat a 30.5-cm. oven-safe skillet over medium- high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the potatoes, ¼ tsp. salt and a few grinds pepper, and stir to coat the potatoes in the oil. Cook the potatoes, tossing them every now and then, until crispy on the outside and tender inside, about 10 minutes.
Add onion to pan and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Turn heat to medium, add garlic, and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato, ¼ tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper and cook until tomato has broken down, about 2 minutes. Mixture will become liquidy from the tomatoes, so turn heat to low if it starts to spatter.
Spread vegetables evenly in skillet and pour eggs evenly over them. Turn heat to low, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover and transfer pan to oven. Broil the tortilla until it is set, about 3 minutes. To test, press center of tortilla lightly with your finger (careful, it’s hot). If it feels firm, it’s done.
Remove tortilla from oven and let sit for 5 minutes. It will be puffy when it comes out of oven but will deflate and become firmer as it cools. Cut in wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.
Fig pizza with Brie and arugula
In this pizza and salad combo, wrote Snyder, “crispy pizza with sweet figs, Brie, and a little red onion topped with an herbal salad and a sprinkle of Parmesan is a marvelous play of textures and tastes... arugula’s bite is perfect against all the cheesy sweetness.”
Serves 2
■ 10 dried figs, stemmed and coarsely chopped
■ 455 gr. fresh or thawed frozen pizza dough
■ 2 Tbsp. olive oil
■ 2 garlic cloves, minced
■ ¼ cup (75 gr.) fig jam
■ ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
■ 115 gr. Brie cheese, thinly sliced
■ Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
■ 3 cups (60 gr.) packed baby arugula
■ 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
■ ¼ cup (8 gr.) grated or slivered Parmesan cheese
If you have a pizza stone, place it on the bottom rack of your oven. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can bake the pizza on a sheet pan. (It won’t be as crisp on the bottom and may take a few more minutes to bake.) Preheat oven to 230°C (450°F).
Soak figs in 1 cup (240 ml.) very hot water until softened, about 10 minutes; drain.
On a slightly floured surface, roll out dough to a 40.5-cm. circle and place it on a sheet of parchment paper. Transfer the dough and parchment paper to a pizza peel or a sheet pan.
Brush the dough with 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil and sprinkle the garlic over it. Spread a thin layer of jam over the garlic and top it with the figs, onion, Brie, a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
Slide the pizza, still on the parchment, onto the heated pizza stone or transfer the sheet pan to the oven. Bake the pizza until the bottom is crisp and the cheese has browned slightly, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, toss arugula with lemon juice, remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
Slide the peel under the pizza to remove it from the stone; or transfer the sheet pan to a work surface. Top with the dressed arugula and sprinkle with the Parmesan. It’s nice when the heat from the pizza wilts the arugula a bit, so you can wait a minute or two before cutting it into wedges. Serve hot.