Spring doesn’t really exist in Boston, except perhaps in our collective imaginations. It’s a very odd thing. Instead of the mercury slowly inching its way up the thermometer over the course of several months, it swings wildly back and forth from frigid to sweltering. One moment it can seems like we are back in winter, and the next we are all in danger of suffering heat stroke. There appear to be very few of what I consider true “spring” days, those blessed days of bright sunshine and warm, gentle breezes. Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I remember a more gradual transition from winter to summer from my Ontario childhood, with each day just a little bit warmer and the promise of summer just a hint on the breeze. This year, however, it really felt like we jumped straight out of winter and into summer, no stops in between, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.
Don’t get me wrong, I like summer. I love summer. There is so much to love about summer, not least of which is the amazing bounty of fresh produce. In our own garden we have planted lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and various herbs. We also appear to have a few volunteer pumpkin plants, probably from seeds that were in our compost. Our homegrown veggies won’t be ready for quite some time, but local Farmer’s Markets start as early as next week and I can hardly wait. I am a bit of Farmer’s Market whore, keeping my eye on the schedule of the towns around mine, hopping from one to the other. In the summer, I try to get as much of our fresh produce from the little markets as possible.
This recipe is one that caught my eye as the perfect vehicle for fresh summer veggies. It’s in a funny little cookbook, given to us by my parents-in-law, called The Gourmet Potluck. I almost forgot I had it until my mother was here, and we both began browsing my cookbook library. Given that the original contained three cups of cubed bread, it needed a little overhaul to be suitable for this low carber’s consumption. In the end, I modified it quite a bit. I had no fresh peppers, having used them all up earlier in the week. Thank goodness for a jar of Trader Joe’s Fire Roasted Peppers in the pantry. The summer squash at the grocery store didn’t look so hot, so I skipped that altogether. I added some minced garlic, because what’s an egg dish without garlic? And since I was forgoing the bread cubes, I decided to use the cream cheese, which was supposed to simply be cubed, as a way to thicken the egg mixture. I beat it in, almost like I would with a cheesecake.
The Results: The lack of bread obviously really changed things, because I found I had to bake the torta much longer, almost double the time, to make it set. But it really turned out beautifully. A high-sided, vegetable-filled cake, almost, dense and filling and flavourful. It has so many veggies in it, you don’t need a side salad or any such thing. I found one large slice enough for my whole dinner, but you could pair it with bread for a bigger meal.
It really would be a great potluck dish, as you can make it ahead of time and either warm it just prior to eating or eat it cold. We ate ours room temperature and I think it was perfect that way. I can imagine any number of variations, with different vegetables and cheese. Perhaps a spring vegetable torta with asparagus and gruyere? It’s a keeper of a recipe, for certain.
Summer Vegetable Torta
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
3 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 red peppers, sliced into 1/4 inch strips
1 12 oz jar marinated red peppers,
dreained and cut into 1/4 inch wide strips
8 oz cream cheese, softened
6 large eggs
1/4 cup half and half or heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cups shredded swiss cheese
Preheat oven to 350F and brush bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with oil. Line bottom with parchment and brush parchment with oil. Wrap outside of pan with aluminum foil.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, mushrooms, zucchini, and fresh peppers, if using. Saute until vegetables are just tender, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in eggs until combined (it’s okay if it’s a little lumpy). Beat in cream or half and half. Stir in garlic, basil, salt and pepper. Using a slotted spoon to drain off liquid, add sauteed vegetables to egg mixture, then add drained marinated peppers, if using. Add shredded cheese. Stir with a rubber spatula to combine.
Spread mixture in prepared pan and set pan on baking sheet. Bake for 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 hours or until top is puffy and golden brown and the center no longer jiggles when shaken. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes in pan, then run a sharp knife around edges of torta to loosen. Gently remove pan sides. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold.
Serves 8 (large slices). Each serving has 8.25g of carbs and 1.5g of fiber.