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Friday, January 8, 2010

winter vegetable gougere-- not exactly delicious, but maybe the beginning of something good?

on wednesday i encouraged rob to have a big lunch. it was a courtesy suggestion because i knew i was planning on doing some experimentin' in the kitchen for dinner that night. the selection is getting lean at the farmers market these days, and it takes some creativity to keep the deliciousness coming. i have no doubt there are countless cream-of-pureed-vegetable soups in my not-too-distant future, but this week i wanted to try something new. so i did. i made a winter vegetable gougere.

a gougere is, according to wikipedia, "a savory choux pastry with cheese." often made as smallish individual puffs (think doughnut hole or beignet), they can also be made larger and filled with meat or vegetables. i decided to try one using carrots, parsnip, yukon gold potato, onion, celeriac and tomato (still had a small handful from the garden, and got the rest from the freezer). i also left out the cheese, which possibly renders my calling of this dish a "gougere" inaccurate.

as a general rule, it takes me 4x longer to cook something than it should. my kitchen pace is just really slow for some reason. (probably because i enjoy it and want to extend the experience!) but, this came together remarkably fast, which makes me think anyone else would get it together at hummingbird speed. the dough in particular is super simple-- as a choux pastry , it rises from the steaming of the liquid in the dough rather than from a leavening agent, making it less tricky than other doughs. 

winter vegetable gougere


1 carrot
1 parsnip
1 yukon gold (or other waxy variety) potato
1/2 celeriac (celery root)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup tomato puree
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
fresh grated nutmeg
fresh ground black pepper


1 1/4 cup water
5 Tbsp butter
1 cup flour, sifted
3 eggs
pinch of salt
chop vegetables into chunks or coins a little less than 1/2" thick.

combine water and butter in a saucepan over med-high heat and stir until melted and combined. add to sifted flour with pinch of salt and mix well, until glossy and pulling away from sides of bowl. at this point it's a little thinner than the consistency of homemade playdough.) 

allow to cool slightly. add eggs, one at a time, and stir until each is well incorporated. (at this point, the dough was much thinner than i thought it would be, almost like a batter.) set aside in fridge until ready to use.

saute the onions in a little olive oil over medium heat until softened. add chopped vegetables and cook about 5 minutes, just to soften a bit. add tomato puree and stir well. add cinnamon, cumin, curry powder, salt and pepper, and grate in a small amount of nutmeg. mix well, cover, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to thicken slightly. taste and adjust seasonings.

at this point, the dough is allegedly spread around the sides of the baking dish, but mine ran straight into the middle. add the vegetable mixture to the center of the dish, leaving some dough between the veg mixture and the edges of the dish.

bake at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes until risen and golden, and vegetables are cooked through.

here's the thing: this was not delicious. my experiment worked, and it was good, but it was, well, weird. first off, the eggy dough plus the cinnamon in the filling had the house smelling like i was making snickerdoodles. (by the way, M and T, the snickerdoodles that you made at christmas were soooo good! i'll totally come back to georgia for more of that action.) second, the filling lacked a certain depth, a certain pizazz, a certain je ne sais quoi. was it the texture? did it need more liquid, perhaps from more tomatoes, or the addition of mushrooms? was it the seasoning? for the dough, i was hoping for something closer to a flaky pastry. did it need more butter? less water? was leaving out the cheese a critical misstep? overall, does this dough just not work with these flavors?

all in all, i liked it fine that night, and had some leftovers for lunch the next day, when i actually liked it a little better. i keep saying, "i liked it," so i guess it's true, though i still can't quite articulate, even in my own head, exactly what i thought of it. i've never been so confused about something i've cooked in my life! 

i know this-- i'm going to keep working on it. the pastry, the filling-- i feel like there's real potential here, but it ain't there yet. if any of you have suggestions for improvements (technique, ingredients, anything!), please chime in. winter is just getting started, after all!

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