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LENTEN LUSTER Recipes by Ron Skaar


Recipes by Ron Skaar

by Ron Skaar

Ancient Anglo-Saxons and other northern European pagans celebrated the return of spring with vernal equinox festivals. Nearing the end of winter, when food supplies were lowest, fasting became a part of these festivities, and possibly a necessity. The Anglo-Saxon phrase for spring, lanceted, evolved into lent.

The rituals and duration of lent varied widely amongst the early churches. Near the beginning, these sanctuaries blended their religion with ancestral traditions to gain converts. Easter is the name of a pagan vernal festival almost coincident in date with the church’s celebration. The idea of fasting, supported by Biblical scripture, fit in nicely.

By the middle ages the word lent was adopted to designate the fasting period before Easter. By the 17th century cooks were adapting to new foods and adjusting to fresh cooking methods. To make the meatless diet of lent more interesting, chefs to the aristocrats created recipes highlighting the vegetables’ own distinct flavors.

In 1835 the great French chef, Antonin Careme proclaimed that “it is in the confection of the Lenten cuisine that the chef’s science must shine with new luster”. By the turn of the century, the famed French chef Escoffier had 300 egg dishes and 200 sauce recipes in his repertoire. Many incorporated or embellished an enlarged list of vegetables including broccoli, eggplant, sweet potatoes, peas, turnips, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, cabbage, celery, carrots, beets and fresh fruits.

“I think the soft flavors of dairy items are the ideal enrichment for good fresh produce” wrote our very own French chef, Julia Child, some forty years ago. “I have vast respect for their (vegetarian cooks) imagination and care in cooking and for the way they seek out the ultimate in fresh, exquisite produce. In America we still eat needless, indeed preposterous, quantities of animal protein, but I think the time is coming when we’ll have to join with the rest of the world.” 

At long last, the nation’s top nutritional panel “recommended Americans be kinder to the environment by eating more foods derived from plants and fewer foods that come from animals.” By cutting back or skipping meat you can reduce your risk of chronic disease, cut back on greenhouse gases and water pollution, plus, perhaps, lessen the amount of animal abuse. And, if enjoying all the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits available at this time of year also helps us with penitence, so be it.

Showcasing those “soft flavors of dairy items” along with radiant fresh vegetables is this crepe recipe adapted from “Julia Child and More Company”. “As for crepes themselves, they’re one of the most versatile elements in cookery, and one of the first things a beginning cook should master.” They were one of the first things I learned to prepare and their ingenious use shines in this recipe.

You can use your own combination of vegetables to fill the layers. I have adapted this for an 8” spring-form pan. Crepes can be made ahead of time or store bought.



For crepe batter:

Mix 2/3 cup each milk and water into 1 cup unbleached flour in food processor until smooth, add 3 eggs, ¼ tsp. salt and 3 TB melted unsalted butter. Remove to bowl and let rest. Heat 7-8 inch frying pan on medium high heat. Brush with a little butter and pour a little less than ¼ cup batter into pan, swirling in all directions to cover pan. Cook for 30 seconds, turn and cook for 15 seconds more. Stack on parchment.

For the custard:

Wipe out food processor bowl and mix 8 ounces cream cheese, 4 eggs,

¾ cup heavy cream, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.

For the vegetables: 8 ounces shredded carrots sautéed in 2 TB unsalted butter until tender but not brown; chop 8 ounces mushrooms and sauté in same pan with 2 TB unsalted butter; steam 8 ounces of  broccoli flowers with stems until barely tender, let cool and chop. 8 ounces coarsely grated Swiss, jack, cheddar or jack cheese.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray inside of spring form pan, line with parchment paper and spray paper. Place five crepes along the inside of the pan, overlapping them, with flaps overhanging over outside top and on bottom of pan. Fit one crepe on top of those flaps at the bottom. Spread ¼ of cheese over the bottom crepe, cover with the carrots and more cheese then ladle over enough custard to cover. Arrange one crepe on top and spread over the mushroom mixture and enough custard to cover. Arrange one more crepe over the mushrooms; spread ¼ of remaining cheese, then the broccoli and the final bit of cheese and custard mix. Cover with one or more crepe and fold the outside flaps over to cover. Place on pan, to catch dribbles, and bake for 1 hour. Turn oven up to 400 degrees, cover top with foil and bake for another ½ hour or until a thermometer placed into center reads 160 degrees. Allow to rest 15 minutes, remove from mold and serve. Can be accompanied by a diced tomato sauce or served at room temperature. Serves 6 to 8.

Photos by Jon Russo