One of the questions we get asked most often at our book events for The Lazy Gourmet is, “Do you have any vegetarian dishes in the book?” The answer, fortunately, is “Yes! Lots!” Neither of us are vegetarian, but neither of us eat a whole lot of meat, either. Flexitarians, you might call us. So filling the book with vegetarian-friendly dishes wasn’t a huge stretch for us. Still, the age-old problem of finding vegetarian Thanksgiving entrees that really stand up to that starring role poses a challenge.
While searching for ideas for a vegetarian Thanksgiving main course, I came across this stunning Feta Cheese Phyllo Torte, from New York Times columnist Melissa Clark. When the photo popped up on my screen, I nearly gasped out loud with delight. But in the very next breath, I was filled with disappointment when I thought, “Oh god, that would probably take a full day to make. It looks so complicated!” Then I noticed that the original title of the recipe was “No-Fear Phyllo Torte,” and I decided to give it a chance.
Baking this torte in a Bundt pan gives it an especially spectacular presence. That it is a bundle of savory, cheesy, herby deliciousness wrapped in crunchy paper-thin layers of buttery phyllo dough makes it completely irresistible.
And as the title promises, there is nothing to fear; this dish is really easy to make. You don’t even have to stand around buttering layer after layer of phyllo one sheet at a time. Instead, melted butter is poured over the whole at the end and allowed to soak through during baking.
The original recipe was filled with a combination of feta, Romano, and cottage cheeses and flavored with dill. I wanted something a touch lighter, and with some veggies baked right in. Here I substitute sweet roasted squash for some of the cheese, and use a combo of fresh goat, ricotta, and Parmesan cheeses. Sage stands in for the dill, and a touch of cayenne adds a little kick. I also cut the butter down from Clark’s three sticks (!) to one and, although I’ve never tried the original version, I didn’t think it lacked for butter in the slightest.
Cast this dish in a starring role at your Thanksgiving dinner and it’s likely to earn a standing ovation from vegetarians, flexitarians, and meat-eaters alike.Print
Inspired by Melissa Clark, via The New York Times, this rich and savory torte is a perfect vegetarian Thanksgiving entree.
- 2.5 lb butternut squash, peeled and diced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 1 pound fresh goat cheese, crumbled
- 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼–1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1-pound box phyllo dough, thawed overnight in refrigerator, if necessary*
- 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
*I discovered, quite by accident, while testing this recipe that although most boxes of phyllo dough instruct you to defrost the dough overnight in the refrigerator, in can be defrosted by leaving it on the counter for a few hours.
- Preheat oven to 400º F.
- On a large baking sheet, toss the butternut squash with the olive oil and sprinkle with ¾ teaspoon of salt.
- Roast in preheated oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until soft. Set aside to cool. (this step can be done a day ahead. Store the roasted squash, covered, in the refrigerator, until ready to use).
- Reduce oven heat to 375ºF.
- In a large bowl, combine goat cheese, ricotta, eggs, sage, Parmesan, cayenne, pepper, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir in the roasted butternut squash.
- Drizzle a bit of the butter into the Bundt pan and tilt a few times to spread it around a little. Layer the sheets of phyllo into the Bundt pan, pushing it into the well and poking holes in the middle where the center tube comes up, and letting the dough hang over the sides. Line the pan in this fashion, layering the phyllo sheets in a criss-cross pattern, until you have used up all the sheets (it may seem like too much, but don’t worry about it, it’s not!)
- Spoon the goat cheese mixture into the phyllo-lined pan, using a rubber spatula to distribute it evenly.
- Fold the phyllo dough over the filling and then poke several holes, using a sharp knife, going all the way down to the bottom of the pan.
- Pour the melted butter over the top and drizzle it down into the sides if you can. If the butter pools on top, simply tilt the pan around a bit to encourage it to seep down into the torte.
- Bake the torte in the preheated oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until it is golden brown. Remove from oven and cool in the pan on a rack for about an hour.
- To serve, poke a knife around the edges of the torte inside the pan to make sure it is not stuck and then carefully invert it onto a platter. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.
• To make this easy, I use the pre-diced butternut squash from Trader Joe’s. You can also find this type of prepped squash in supermarkets like Safeway these days.
• If you are starting with a whole butternut squash, microwave it for several minutes before trying to cut into it–this will soften up the peel and make it much easier.