Nov 06 2011

It Happened Last Night

Published by Christine at 7:22 pm under Vegan

It may not be the kind of plot Frank Capra would have turned into a movie, but last night, I made the most wonderful vegan pie crust.

Vegan. Pie. Crust.

I know what you’re thinking: Pie crust without butter? Are you mad? What has the world come to? Is it any wonder the euro zone is in crisis? OK, maybe not that last one, but still. I know that the grocery store will sell you something that calls itself a pie crust, which is made with vegetable shortening of some kind and/or lard. But have you ever noticed that it typically leaves behind a greasy film in your mouth, a fake-tasting, saliva-resistant coating? Maybe I’m being too picky, but hear me out: if you’re going to have pie and consume all of those calories anyway, aren’t you better off eating the real thing, given how easy it is to make? That attitude has worked pretty well for me in the past, except that I wasn’t counting on Jason.

Jason is a vegan friend who had never been at my house before, and I never had to cook/bake for someone on a vegan diet until yesterday. No eggs, no cheese, no butter. No animal product of any kind. And I really wanted to make a crostata, which is a lovely freeform, rustic, typically-sweet-but-this-time-vegetable-filled pie. What to do? I refused to go out and buy something pre-made, both because of the aforementioned quality issue, and because, well, I won’t be vanquished by lack of butter. So there.

I looked online and found someone who recommended using Earth Balance Vegan Butter in lieu of regular butter. Truth be told, I was a bit skeptical, but the product has some undeniable health advantages (no trans-fats, no cholesterol) compared to other non-dairy options. Since my local supermarket had some, I decided to give it a try.

I’m happy to report it works like a charm, but note that there are a couple of tricks to making this pie crust, which hold true for butter-based recipes as well, but are even more crucial in this case: use very cold ingredients, and a mixture of water and vodka as a binding agent. The ingredients should be very cold because you do not want the fat to melt into the flour before baking, and the oils in vegan butter have a lower melting point than regular butter. Little particles of fat that cling to the flour without melting are what will create a flaky pastry in the oven. The addition of vodka will help create a dough that is supple and flexible enough to be rolled out easily, yet will not toughen as it would from the addition of too much water (note that alcohol evaporates during baking). You should also endeavor to work quickly and avoid handling the dough too much; I recommend using a food processor to that effect.

Fall being upon us, I chose to make a crostata that would feature seasonal vegetables. Sweet potatoes and kale are plentiful and delicious at this time of year, as are red onions. The result, dare I say it, was stunning. It was accompanied with a simple salad of escarole and avocado dressed with minced garlic and capers, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil, along with some toast spread with garlic confit. Just thinking about it makes me feel famished. It was so satisfying and comforting. Here’s to vegan meals, which I’m ready to make again any time.

And here’s to my friend Jason, without whom I would not have found this great new recipe!


Vegan Fall Crostata

For the crust (makes one):

1 1/4 cup white flour
1 stick vegan butter (or regular butter)
pinch salt
2 Tbsp ice water
1 to 2 Tbsp iced vodka

Make sure all ingredients are very cold – freeze the vegan butter a couple of hours before using. Place flour, salt and vegan butter in food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. With the machine on, add water and vodka until the dough gathers into a ball. Use a little more or less liquid, as needed. Remove dough from machine, knead briefly, form into a flattened ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until ready to use, at least 30 min.

For the filling:

1 large sweet potato
1 large red onion
1/2 bunch kale
1 tsp crushed rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Peel, wash, dry and cut the sweet potato in 1″ cubes. Peel and quarter the onion. Place vegetables in a large bowl with salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil and toss. Place vegetables on a backing sheet and roast in preheated 375 oven until sweet potatoes are golden, about 35 min.

A perfect color combination

Remove tough stems from kale, wash (do not dry) and cut into thin strips (this is called a chiffonade). Put 1/4 cup water in a large saute pan along with the kale. Cover. Over medium heat, steam the kale in the pan until wilted, about 10 min. Uncover and let the water evaporate. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Let the mixture sauté for another 7-8 min. until fragrant and soft.

Mix cooked kale and roasted vegetables in a bowl and set aside.

I love this blend of flavors and textures.

Roll out dough to about 1/4″ thickness on a floured, clean surface. Place dough on baking sheet. Put vegetables in the center and bring sides over.

Can you keep a secret? I made two crostatas, and put some goat cheese on the second...

See? It's like freestyle jazz, but easier to digest.

Do not worry if your crostata is not perfectly round; it is supposed to look rustic and “imperfect”. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the top if you like,and bake in a 350 oven for about 40 min, until done.

Oooooh! Aaaaaah!

Serve with a mixed salad and enjoy!


2 responses so far

2 Responses to “It Happened Last Night”

  1. Emilyon 18 Dec 2011 at 10:12 am

    This recipe comes at the perfect time! I’ve been contemplating “going vegan” for a while now and decided the New Year is the perfect time to start. I can’t wait to try this recipe!


  2. Christineon 18 Dec 2011 at 4:15 pm

    I’m glad to hear it! I would not want to go vegan all the time, but it’s actually much easier to do than I thought.

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