As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been thinking a lot more lately about cooking interesting vegetable-based meals. When I cook, my default is usually to start with meat, because most meats are full of flavour and provide a good base around which to build a satisfying dish. But with the right amount of attention and care, vegetables can also star in some amazing meals.
Recently, Jenny and I had the chance to eat at Ursa, a new restaurant in Toronto that’s being talked about because of the kitchen’s focus on using innovative techniques – dehydration, compression, sous vide – to create big flavours while still retaining as much of the nutrients as possible in each ingredient. We split a selection of appetizers and mains in order to taste as much as possible. It was an amazing meal, but my favorite dish – and one of the best restaurant mains I’ve ever eaten – turned out to be little more than a plate of seasonal vegetables. In fact, the dish was simply called “Seasonal Vegetables” on the menu. But what that description didn’t convey was that the textures and tastes of the vegetables on the plate were surprisingly, mind-blowingly bold. The ingredients in the dish still tasted like the vegetables that they were, but each was treated with so much care that the finished product had as much flavour as any great meat dish. Here’s an iPhone shot of the dish, which doesn’t do it proper justice, as it was as beautiful to look at as it was amazing to eat:
If my meat-free experience in January was an awakening, my vegetarian main at Ursa was a revelation. I’m never going to fully give up meat, but I’m determined to experiment more in my kitchen with the potential to build great recipes around vegetables – and that determination is where the idea for this recipe came from. By preparing different vegetables – in this case, butternut squash, zucchini, kale and tomatoes – using different cooking methods and flavourings, I hoped to create a composed vegetarian dish that was healthy and satisfying, with different tastes and textures on the same plate.
In the end, I think I achieved what I set out to do. Jenny – who loves all things vegetarian – talked about how much she liked the meal, and I really didn’t miss the lack of meat at all. I’m sure I’ll be making this again, and will continue to experiment with vegetables in my cooking.
Poached Egg on Butternut Squash Puree with Braised Zucchini
For the braised zucchini:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Cut two zucchinis lengthwise into spears
In a bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of honey, half a teaspoon of cumin, the juice of 1/4 of an orange, and a grind each of pepper and salt
Place the zucchini spears in a small oven-proof dish and toss with the honey marinade
Bake for about 30 minutes, turning spears halfway through cooking time (the goal is to cook the zucchini until it’s slightly limp but not too soft)
For the butternut squash puree:
Empty 1 can of butternut squash puree into a saucepan over medium-low heat
Stir in half a teaspoon of fennel pollen, a grind of pepper and a pinch of salt
Stir in 2 tablespoons of ponzu soy sauce
Poach one egg per person. Place some of the butternut squash puree in the centre of a plate, top with a poached egg and four or five of the braised zucchini spears. Serve alongside a dark, leafy green salad – I made a simple salad of kale and cherry tomatoes tossed with a tahini dressing.