It sometimes seems as though Thanksgiving has become a celebration of having too much. It’s funny that it’s a uniquely American holiday, because it seems like such a singularly American characteristic to want more than we need. It’s a part of consumer culture, I suppose. We’re inundated with the message that we need things or deserve things or will prove ourselves better than others if we have things. We’ll know our worth by how much we consume. Too much is never enough. We don’t just eat lots of good food, we eat till we feel ill, and then we set out that very night to buy lots of things we don’t need just because they’re cheaper than they were the day before.
Everything feels very off-kilter sometimes, and it seems important to find the grace and peace and balance that comes with an understanding of “enough.” And this understanding could spread from person to person to all things, all people, society as a whole.
I like the word “enough,” I like the concept. It’s not as voluptuous and joyful as “plenty,” which spills over from adequate to extravagant. Plenty is a festive version of enough. Plenty is enough to share, which is, after all, what we are giving thanks for. But enough seems honest and practical, “it is right or needful.” If we have enough food to eat we can live and be content, and through contentment enough becomes plenty. Enough is just what we need, and all that we can ask. Enough money to live, enough food to eat, enough strength to carry on from day to day, and enough humor to enjoy it all. If nobody had too much, then everybody would have enough. And there’s no reason the world can’t work that way, except that to greedy and deluded people too much is never enough.
So on Thanksgiving we should celebrate because we have enough, we should celebrate balance and sharing. Plenty for everyone. We should remember what it feels like to be hungry, which when you have enough is a keen feeling of anticipation, and when you don’t is a despairing pain. And we should be thankful for being full of hope and love and affection and kindness, because these things we truly can’t have too much of.
This eggplant wellington is plenty. Sometimes I like the idea of making a meal that takes a bit of time. Not every day, obviously, but for a holiday or a lazy winter day. This eggplant wellington is just such a meal. It’s substantial and fancy enough to be a vegetarian (or vegan with minor adjustments) holiday main course. It’s very versatile, you can leave out the mushrooms or the greens or the cheese. Or even the eggplant, but then you’d have to add more mushrooms and change the name! You can eat it with any kind of sauce or no sauce at all. We’ve had it with a rich tomato and port wine sauce, but I’ve included here a recipe for walnut herb “gravy.” This wellington goes well with all of the traditional holiday treats, mashed potatoes in particular! This could all be the work of one pleasant day spent baking, on and off (maybe with a glass of wine!) or you could make the elements in advance, and assemble the day you eat it.
This is a nice crispy tender flaky pastry. You could also make (or buy!) puff pastry and it would be delicious as well. Freezing and grating the butter helps to make it extra flaky.
Mix the flour and salt and pepper in a bowl.
2 cups flour
1/2 t. salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 stick butter frozen, (or margarine or any other vegetable fat)
ice water (up to one cup)
Grate the butter into it, stopping every now and again to mix in what you’ve just added. If you wait to the end it will all clump up again. I stir with a big fork. When it resembles bread crumbs, and all the butter seems to have coated itself with some flour, add about 1/2 cup of ice water. Stir again with the fork. At this point you’ll have to use your fingers, but use the tips, and keep them cool. (and clean!) Pull it together into a ball, kneading a tiny bit to incorporate all of the ingredients. (you might need to add more water). Wrap the ball in foil or plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
1 largish eggplant
2 – 3 T balsamic vinegar
3 – 4 T olive oil (+/-) you want enough to lightly coat each piece
1-2 eggs or egg substitute
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
A handful of hazelnuts or pine nuts (optional)
1 cup flour
Olive oil or any neutral oil for the sheets.
Peel four long slices of skin, lengthwise, and then cut the eggplant in 1/4 inch slices. Cut lengthwise to make long slices, depending on your intentions for the finished eggplant.
Put the slices in a shallow dish or baking sheet and shake some salt over them. Leave them for at least 1/2 hour, and then try to blot up the eggplant juices that the salt has brought out.
Combine olive oil, balsamic, and rosemary and thyme in a small bowl or pitcher and whisk together. Transfer the eggplant slices to a covered container and pour the marinade over. (Use more or less oil & vinegar depending on the size of your eggplant) Turn the container from time to time, to be sure that every surface gets a chance to soak up the marinade. Leave for at least 1/2 hour. (I use a tupperware container, but you could always just let them marinate in a shallow bowl and turn from time to time with a fork or your hands.
Preheat the oven to 425. Put a thin layer of oil on a baking sheet.
Beat an egg and put it into a shallow bowl. When I process the stale bread for breadcrumbs, I like to throw in a handful of toasted pine nuts or hazelnuts, but it’s not necessary. Combine flour, breadcrumbs, herbs, and pepper in another bowl. Dip each piece of eggplant in the egg, to coat both sides, and then in the breadcrumbs, to coat both sides. Spread on the oiled baking sheet in a single layer.
Bake for about 1/2 hour, turning the slices every once in a while, until they are browned and crispy.
10 oz mushrooms (Portobello, baby portobello, shitake, or any mix of mushrooms you like)
a few T olive oil
one medium shallot
one clove garlic
preheat oven to 425.
Thinly slice the mushrooms. It doesn’t need to be completely even – variation will just give the mushrooms nice texture. Arrange in a single layer on a baking tray. Add finely diced shallot and finely chopped herbs. Drizzle olive oil over and mix well. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. Stir or flip the mushrooms frequently. After about 10 minutes add finely diced garlic.
The mushrooms go through a few stages while they cook. They’ll release their juices, and then they’ll dry up again, and eventually get crispy and caramelized. This is what we’re going for! You don’t want them to be black and charred, but don’t be afraid to let them get quite dark brown. They’ll reduce a lot, too.
1 bunch swiss chard, or about 8 oz spinach, or some combination, washed and chopped very finely
1 garlic clove
1 T. olive oil
red pepper flakes
1 egg (optional)
In a large frying pan, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic, basil and red pepper flakes. Then add the chard or spinach. Cook until the chard is wilted and the pan is quite dry. In a bowl combine the chard and one egg, if using. Season with salt and black pepper.
1 egg or egg substitute (optional)
6 oz mozzarella or vegan mozzarella, thinly sliced (also optional)
Preheat the oven to 425 and lightly grease a baking sheet
Roll out your pastry to be about 1/8th inch thick. You want to have a square that’s about 1 foot by 1 1/2 feet.
Beat the egg in a small cup. Brush some beaten egg over the pastry.
Spread your mushrooms evenly over the pastry, leaving a two inch border.
Layer your eggplant lengthwise in the middle of the pastry rectangle, leaving a border of about 2 inches of mushrooms (4 inches total) all around. Do two layers of eggplant, then a thin layer of sliced mozzarella.
Spread the chard mixture over the eggplant
Put another layer of cheese and two more layers of eggplant. Pull the edges of the dough up over the filling, and press the seam gently to close. Then turn the whole thing over onto its seam, right onto the baking sheet. Crimp the two ends with a fork. Brush everything with the remaining beaten egg, and prick in a few places with a fork to let the steam escape. Try not to think of your uncooked wellington as a giant slug.
Cook for about 20 minutes to half an hour, till it’s puffy and golden brown. Let it sit for a few minutes before you try to cut into it.
Herbed Walnut Sauce
1 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 shallot – finely diced
2 cloves garlic – finely diced
2 T butter or margerine
1 1/2 T flour
2 bay leaves
1 t. sage, 1/2 t. thyme, 1/2 t. rosemary
salt and plenty of pepper
4 cups (give or take) vegetable broth
Splash of white wine
In a large Frying pan, melt the butter. When it starts to get foamy add the shallot and garlic and the herbs. Let them cook for a few minutes.
Add the flour and whisk it in till it’s thoroughly mixed. Let it cook for a couple minutes.
Add the walnuts and bay leaves, and keep whisking or stirring until everything is coated. Add a splash of white wine and cook for a few minutes. Add a dash of tamari and 2 cups of vegetable broth, whisking everything together so that there are absolutely no lumps.
Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and cook for about half an hour – you need to cook it this long, even if it seems done sooner. Stir frequently, but not constantly. Have extra broth nearby, and add more as the sauce thickens. You want it to be the consistency of heavy cream at the end.
Add a dash of balsamic and salt, and blend for a long time till it’s perfectly smooth. Well, it won’t become perfectly smooth, but it will become nice and creamy. Taste for salt and add plenty of pepper.