No need to apologize for vegetarian fondue

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

CONCORD, N.H. -- A sad but true fact of being a vegetarian is listening to all the apologies.

For some reason, people serving vegetarian food -- even many vegetarians (including this one) -- often feel the need to apologize to meat eaters, as though meatless meals somehow are deficient.

When entertaining I try to select foods that are naturally vegetarian, by which I mean they require no appreciable substitutions or funky manipulations of ingredients (tofu turkey is right out).

The goal is that no one realizes there was no meat until the meal is over.

For inspiration, look to Joe Famularo's "A Cook's Tour of Italy," (HP Books, 2003, $25.95), which offers a collection of meat and veg recipes grouped according to the many regions of Italy.

Start guests off with Famularo's lush fontina cheese fondue, into which chunks of lightly steamed broccoli and cauliflower (and what have you) are dunked.

Fontina Fondue With Steamed Vegetables

(Preparation 30 minutes)

2 cups 1 1/2-inch broccoli florets

2 cups 1 1/2-inch cauliflower florets

8 baby carrots (2 to 3 inches)

1 1/4 cups milk, warmed

3/4 pound fontina cheese, thinly sliced

Salt and white pepper, to taste

Freshly grated nutmeg

4 egg yolks

4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

8 small white mushrooms, trimmed and sliced in half

One vegetable at a time, steam the broccoli, cauliflower and carrots until just tender, 5 to 10 minutes each. Set aside.

Pour 1 cup of the milk into a double boiler set over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the cheese, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Stir constantly until the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining milk with the egg yolks.

Stir until combined, then add to the cheese mixture. Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Remove from the heat.

To serve, transfer the cheese sauce into a small bowl and center it on a large platter. Arrange the mushrooms and steamed vegetables around the cheese. Or serve the cheese in individual bowls.

Makes 4 servings.

(Recipe from Joe Famularo's "A Cook's Tour of Italy," HP Books, 2003, $25.95.)

Pasta with Cabbage, Cheese and Potatoes

(Preparation 30 minutes)

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2-inch dice

1 head Savoy cabbage (about 1 pound), trimmed, cored and thinly sliced

1 pound fresh fettucine

1 1/2 sticks butter, cut into thin pats

4 large garlic cloves, halved

8 fresh sage leaves

1 1/2 cups freshly grated pecorino cheese

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bring 4 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil in a large stockpot. Add the potatoes and cabbage and cook for 12 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large serving platter. Add a third of the butter and toss to evenly distribute.

Melt the remaining butter in a skillet. Add the garlic and sage and saute until the garlic is lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic. Spoon the butter and sage over the pasta.

To serve, top with cheese and pepper.

To delay serving, transfer the completed dish to a baking dish and keep warm in a 250 F oven. Or prepare ahead of time and refrigerate. To warm refrigerated dish place it in a 350 F oven for 15 minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

(Recipe from Joe Famularo's "A Cook's Tour of Italy," HP Books, 2003, $25.95.)


EDITOR'S NOTE: J.M. Hirsch can be e-mailed at jhirsch(at)ap.org.

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