There once was a chain of groundbreaking vegetarian restaurants called Crank’s. I remember visiting one on London’s Tottenham Court Road in the 1980s, and then we had the cookbook at home while I was growing up and first getting into food. The food was, from memory, pretty heavy. Homity Pie was a big slab of potato, onion and cheese. ‘Vegetable Bake’ sounds like the kind of vegetarian dish from that era – distinctly unappetising to call something a ‘bake’ in the face of sexier cooking terms like seared, grilled and pan-fried. The French word ‘tian’ is a slightly more attractive way of describing a dish of baked vegetables, but the bit that makes this dish of four contrasting vegetables really delicious is the cheese on top, so I’m going to name it for that.
Start a few hours ahead by roasting some tomatoes and separately roasting some onions until soft. When they’re done, and have cooled enough to handle, you can get going on the dish proper. Bring a pan of water to the boil, and wash a bunch of swiss chard, cutting off the thick stalks from the leafy part. Briefly cook the chard, giving the stalks a few minutes more than the leaves. Remove from the water and drain well. Divide a whole cauliflower into smallish florets and cook for about two minutes in the same boiling water.
Crush four cloves of garlic with four anchovies to a smooth paste, and add two tablespoons of olive oil.
Start to build the dish with a layer of roast onions, cut into quarters, and dressed with a couple of tablespoons of grated parmesan. Add a layer of tomatoes on top, cut side down, so the tomato flesh will ooze into the onions as it cooks. Top the tomatoes with a layer of chard, drizzling the anchovy and garlic paste through the chard layer as you go. Then finish with the cauliflower, in as even a layer as possible. Tightly cover with foil, and bake at 200ºC for about 45 minutes. Remove the foil, top with about 200g of sliced raclette cheese, and put under a hot grill (broiler). When the cheese is nice and brown, throw on a handful of breadcrumbs to give the topping a good crunch, and put it back under the grill for one more minute.
It’s a lovely, deep, savoury combination of flavours from four very different vegetables. You can omit the anchovies for a vegetarian version.
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