This is a great lunch menu your guests will rave about, I promise! At least mine do! The soup and the torta are both in the little cookbook I've given to friends, so for any friends reading this, sorry about the repetition. The dishes in this menu might look a bit time-consuming or complicated, but consider this: You could make the soup a day ahead and refrigerate it, then just reheat when you want to serve it. If you clean the lettuce ahead of time, the salad is a snap to put together. And even the torta doesn't have to be served hot, so you can have it ready before your lunch guests arrive.
And don't forget the wine and maybe a good bread.
The original recipe for this used chicken broth, and for a long time--even after I was a vegetarian--I was afraid to try this with vegetable broth. But the last time I made this, I used canned vegetable broth, and it was just as delicious. I also have successfully cut down on the amount of butter by 2 or 3 tablespoons. For the richest, silkiest soup, you may want to use the entire amount, but I no longer use that much. Don't, under any circumstances, try to use ground ginger in this soup; it is nothing at all like fresh ginger. One last note: the recipe calls for a pinch of curry powder (mild or sweet, not hot, curry), but I like to use about a quarter-teaspoon. It's up to you.
6 T. unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 minced fresh ginger root
3 cloves garlic, minced
7 C. vegetable broth
1 C. dry white wine
1 1/2 lbs. carrots, peeled and chopped
2 T. lemon juice
Pinch curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Snipped fresh chives or parsley for garnish
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, ginger, and garlic; saute for 15 to 20 minutes, lowering heat if necessary. Add broth, wine, and carrots. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered over medium heat until the carrots are very tender (about 45 minutes). Puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Season with lemon juice, curry, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chives or parsley and serve.
Romaine Salad with Oranges and Walnuts
I made this one up entirely, so you might have to fiddle with the dressing to get it to your taste. Don't leave out the orange juice, though!
Romaine lettuce torn into bite-sized pieces
1 small can oranges (not mandarin), drained well
1/2 cup walnut pieces
2 T. white wine vinegar
1 T. orange juice
4 T. vegetable oil
2 T. walnut oil
salt and pepper to taste
Toast walnut halves in a heavy, ungreased skillet over medium heat. Set aside. Toss lettuce with orange slices. Combine dressing ingredients and shake or whisk until emulsified. Add dressing to salad and toss; sprinkle with walnut pieces and serve.
Potato-Crust Spinach Torta
There's a lot to recommend this dish, but one of the nicest things about it is that you can make it a little bit ahead, because it tastes great at room temperature. You wouldn't want it to sit out for too long, since it's made with eggs, but an hour or so won't hurt. The potato crust makes this dish a bit more trouble than, say, a quiche in a pie crust, but it's well worth it, believe me. Not only does it taste wonderful, but it's looks like you're quite the gourmet cook when you present it. You'll need a springform pan for this if you want the presentation to count, but if you had to, you could use a quiche pan and lift wedges out.
If you or your guests don't care for cilantro, cut down on the amount or leave it out altogether. I have been known to be too lazy to put the lemon zest in.
3 large russet potatoes (about 1 1/4 lbs.)
2 T. or so olive oil
1 bunch scallions, including the firm greens, sliced
1 T. chopped fresh dill or 2 tsp. dried
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 bunches spinach, leaves only, chopped (or use a 10-oz. bag)
salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup small-curd cottage cheese
1/3 to 1/2 cup feta cheese
grated zest of one lemon
Peel the potatoes. Slice two of them crosswise about 1/8 inch thick. Slice the third potato the long way, same thickness. Brush a wide skillet with olive oil and set it over high heat. When the oil is hot, reduce heat to medium. Make a layer of potatoes and cook, turning them once, until tender and golden on both sides. Repeat until all the slices are done. Remove to a paper towel as they finish cooking. I have sometimes had to add a little oil to the pan before all the potatoes have been done.
Add 1 T. oil to the pan. Add the scallions and herbs; cook until the scallions are wilted and bright green, about 4 minutes. Remove to a bowl. Now add the spinach with only the water clinging to it (from washing it; if it's dry, add a couple of tablespoons, no more than 1/4 c., of water). Cook over high heat until the leaves are wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Transfer spinach to a sieve and press out all the water; add it to the scallions. Add eggs, cheeses, and lemon zest and stir well. Taste for salt and season with pepper.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan and set it on a sheet pan. Cover the bottom with potato rounds, overlapping where necessary so there are no gaps. Place the long potato slices around the sides of the pan. Pour in the spinach mixture and bake until firm and golden in places, 40 to 45 minutes. Ease a knife between the potatoes and the sides of the pan. Release the spring and lift off the side. Set on a serving plate and serve.