Dinner parties hosted by my family are a curious thing. I grew up with a Mom who prepared for them with the same enthusiasm that sportsmen would train for the Olympics. She would spend weeks planning and revising elaborate menus with no less than six or seven courses to be served. Because we had a restaurant, it was easy for her to borrow some of the cooks to help out. She would set up “stations” at different areas of the house. One time there could be a grilling section where steaks were cooked to order for the guests. Another station could be the carving station where she would serve maybe a suckling pig, or a turkey and a ham. Inevitably, the night would also end with a post-dinner commentary among ourselves about how the dinner went. The assessment would go at length about whether the guests enjoyed the food, who went back for seconds (or thirds), who wore what, and god forbid, who didn’t show up when they said they would. Then the wrap-up would end with a critique on what could be improved on for the next party.
Then there’s my Dad whose entertaining battery had a much, much shorter life. While I am sure he does enjoy the company, by 9 pm he is knackered and ready to call it a night. It’s rumoured that he once stood up from the dinner table and turned off all the lights in a not so subtle hint at saying “it’s time to go”.
I’m somewhere in the middle. I’ll usually prepare two dishes, and a dessert at most. I find that the times I have tried to over-extend myself, I enjoy less, and have been almost disastrous and I’ve made a mental note to steer clear from them. I’m a big fan of preparing as many dishes as I can ahead of time.
This Vegetable Cake was inspired by one of the greatest hosts of all time, Julia Child. I had made her original Vegetable Gateau on another occasion, and came up with a variation of it another time. The original Vegetable Gateau from Julia Child was a vegetable cake of carrots, broccoli, and mushrooms layered with crepes and baked with a cheese custard sauce. It was delicious, but truly a labour of love considering all the preparation required. It’s a crowd pleaser than my Mom would make time and time again during one of her elaborate dinner parties… go figure.
This version of the Vegetable Cake is much simpler and, like the original version, can be made ahead of time. I do away with the layers of the crepes and have tried to lighten up the custard by excluding the two cups of swiss cheese included in the original recipe. I have kept the carrots, mushrooms and broccoli but feel free to substitute with other vegetables – I think zucchini would be fantastic! I think my version is just as good as the original one and you know what? I think Julia Child would be proud.
Vegetable Cake inspired by Julia Child
- 8 eggs
- 300 grams ricotta cheese
- 250 grams cream cheese, softened
- pinch nutmeg
- Olive oil for cooking (around 60 ml)
- 475 grams carrots, peeled, cut into matchsticks
- 550 grams button mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 500 grams broccoli,
- salt and pepper to taste
- Start by making the custard, combine the eggs, ricotta and cream cheese in a food processor or blender. Add a pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Blitz until smooth and set aside.
- In a large pan, saute the carrots in some olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and cover the pan and allow to cook for around 5 minutes until the carrots are soft enough to pierce with a fork. Set aside.
- Using the same pan, add some more olive oil and saute the onion and button mushrooms. Cook for around 10 minutes until the mushrooms are soft and the liquid released from the mushrooms has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Trim and wash the broccoli. Cut bud ends off stalks to make them about 4 cm long. Starting at the cut ends, peel as much skin off as you easily can; peel skin of stalks cutting down to expose the tender whitish flesh, then cut into pieces half the length of your little finger to ensure quick and even cooking. Drop the peeled stalks and florets into rapidly boiling salter water and boil uncovered for 3 to 5 minutes. Drain immediately and chop into piece about 2 cm in size.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180c (fan forced). In a large cake pan (measuring 23cm wide and 6 cm high), layer the broccoli followed by a third of the custard. Next, layer the mushrooms and then half of the custard, finally layer with the carrots and the remaining custard. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when you insert this in the middle of the cake. Remove from oven, allow to cool before serving.