I may have a prodigious memory, but when it comes to cooking for friends with various dietary restrictions I keep a database of likes, dislikes, and food allergies so I don’t make a potentially dangerous mistake when planning menus. I occasionally have to solve logic problems when I invite certain groups (“The vegan doesn’t eat broccoli. The person who keeps kosher is also a vegetarian. Of the two people who don’t eat shellfish, only one has a dairy allergy.”), but for the most part I manage to find meals to cook that aren’t salads, vegetarian lasagna, or the dreaded “enchanted broccoli forest.” (I still break out in hives when I see that cookbook.)
When the vegetarian variables align I get to make my go-to dish, the gâteau of crêpes from Julia Child & More Company. It’s two casseroles and mushroom duxelles separated and wrapped in savory crepes. The recipe is simple – with good time management you can make the gâteau in three hours.
Much chopping, blanching, grating, and sautéeing ensued, but I had my fillings: broccoli, mushrooms, and carrots with dill.
I re-learned my crêpe-making skills quickly enough to bash out a dozen, complete with pan-flipping.
After making a custard from cream, eggs, and cream cheese (mixed in a blender to keep it smooth), it was time to start layering. Julia assumes everyone has a charlotte mold, but she’s the only cook I’ve ever seen use one. I substituted a large soufflé dish, sacrificing height for additional width. After buttering the dish (crucial step), I lined it with crêpes.
I layered in the vegetables, starting with the carrots and some of the cheese.
I ladled in some of the custard, then covered the carrots with a crêpe. I added the mushrooms and another crêpe before adding the final layer of broccoli, cheese, and custard.
After adding the last of the custard I folded over the top edges of the crêpes, then topped the stack with a final crêpe. Note the drip pan under the soufflé dish, which will catch any custard that bubbles over.
After an hour at 350 °F I increased the heat to 400 °F for another hour. After about 15 minutes of cooling I ran a thin spatula around the perimeter of the dish and inverted the contents onto a platter.
You can see a cross-section of the gâteau at the top of the post, it’s a very firm assembly. I served individual slices with some quick tomato sauce.
The method for this dish is more important than the contents, because you can generate endless variations of fillings, cheese, and crêpes. Add herbs to the crêpes, season the custard, change the sauce – you can create almost any flavor profile. You could even adapt the technique to make desserts with fruit fillings. I plan on trying some of the variations.
I just hope I don’t have to cook for gluten-free vegans any time soon. Salad, anyone?