This vegetarian timbale is inspired to a traditional Ligurian dish, polpettone di fagiolini, something I heard of the first time I went to Liguria – oh my, that was 20 years ago! Enclosed between the Mediterranean sea, the Alps and the Apennines mountains, Liguria is a narrow strip of land which is breath taking to look at and also a true culinary minestone. Due to the region’s geography, in fact, Ligurians developed a diet based mostly on vegetables, fruit, herbs, the best olive oil ever (apologizing to Tuscans and Apulians), the little fish that the agitated Ligurian ocean allowed to fish and small animals like chickens and rabbits. Eggs of course, and cheese from the milk of goats and sheep kept on the nearby mountains, were also used to complement the mostly plant-based regimen. Grains were integrated and often substituted by legumes. Sometimes game from the nearby woods was also caught but that was a rare treat for common people.
La cucina povera ligure, the “poor” cuisine of old-time Ligurian folks, sounds indeed like the perfect Mediterranean diet. Which is not having pasta and pizza all day long, like some of us may think It is instead a sustainable and healthy way of eating which we may want to consider before turning to more fashionable diets. After all, as many as we are, we may well think as we were old time Ligurians and had only a tiny strip of land to support ourselves.
Oh, and just so you know, from this post onward I will try to make this blog tri-lingual, adding Swedish to the potpourri of languages. To ease the reading, the Italian and Swedish versions will be placed in separate pages (hoping my Swedish is not too offensive to Swedish
ears eyes). And now, enjoy this yummy vegetable meatloaf recipe, in which root vegetables and green beans are enriched by Parmesan and eggs to make a wonderful meat-free and low-carb main course (SCROLL DOWN FOR THE RECIPE IN ENGLISH – CLIKKA QUI per il post in italiano - KLICKA HÄR för svenska versionen).
TRI-LAYERED VEGETABLE “MEATLOAF”
700 g (1 and 1/2 pounds) green beans
700 g (1 and 1/2 pounds) carrots
700 g (1 and 1/2 pounds) celery root
80 g (3/4 cup) pecorino cheese, grated
80 g (3/4 cup) parmesan cheese, grated
1 garlic clove
1 table-spoon majoram leaves (or 1 tea-spoon dried)
pinch of nutmeg
butter and almond meal for the pan
1 big loaf pan or two smaller ones
1) Wash, clean and separately steam or boil the green beans, the carrots and the celery root (roughly chopped goes faster) in salted water. Drain the vegetables.
2) Stir-fry for a few minutes the celery root with the garlic and 1 table-spoon of olive oil, until the vegetable looks drier. Remove the celery root from the pan.
3) In the same pan stir-fry the finely chopped shallots in a little olive oil until softened. Let cool.
4) Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks, and whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until fluffy. Add the parmesan and pecorino to the egg yolks.
5) Mix each of the vegetables separately and distribute the egg yolks-cheese mixture between the 3 mashes. Combine well and season the green beans mash with the majoram and half of the sauteed shallots, and the carrot mash with nutmeg and the other half of the shallots.
6) At the end, distribute and gently incorporate the egg whites among the 3 mashes.
7) Butter one large bread mold (or two small ones) and coat with almond meal.
8) Spread the green beans mash on the bottom, continue with the celery root mash and finish with a carrot layer.
9) Bake at 180 degrees (Celsius, 356 Fahrenheit) until the timbale is set (about 1 h).
10) Let cool and invert on a long serving plate.
Cooking Tip: the best way to cook the vegetables in this dish is to steam them. This type of cooking will make them drier and perfect to mash. If you boil them, don’t forget to squeeze out as much water as possible.
Serving Tip: serve with a lose pesto sauce (you can simply add more olive oil to a store bought one, or make your own using less cheese and more olive oil and basil than usual).
CONSIDERATIONS: When I thought about making a vegetable meatloaf inspired to Ligurian tradition, I was a little uncertain about what recipe to use. There are so many versions and all so incredibly yummy sounding. The most common recipe uses dried mushrooms and potatoes with the green beans. This time I wanted a little scenographic effect, so I created layers using veggies with different colors. Also, I wanted to have a low-carb dish so I preferred celery root over potatoes, and almond meal over breadcrumbs for the coating. This is a relatively simple dish to assemble but requires a little extra time for the cooking. I suggest boiling (or steaming) the vegetables one day ahead, so everything will be ready to put together. I hope you will feel motivated to try this delicious main course which is not only good and pretty looking but also incredibly nourishing. It is indeed rich in fibers but also in B12 and proteins, due to the addition of eggs and first quality cheese. Did you know that hard cheeses like Parmesan and Pecorino are more rich in vitamin B12 than meat? So, please, get the real stuff and buon appetito!
ps: we had this polpettone for our Sunday evening with family, served with freshly made pesto. The dish was such a success that my bonus-kid’s (cute Swedish way to say stepson) girlfriend came back after having said goodbye just to get some polpettone to take home. Kid, you’ve got good taste.