The goat’s cheese pesto alone is worth trying out this veggie recipe…
A firm favourite that actually goes back a very long time as we bought Amy Weldon’s Taste cookbook almost 20 years ago. This dish is the “Vegetable Napoleon“: a grilled vegetable stack with marinated portobello mushroom, red bell pepper, aubergine, green and yellow courgette and spinach with a delicious goat’s cheese pesto slathered between the layers of vegetables.
Amy Weldon is an American chef who mainly worked as a private chef for a host of A-list stars like Warren Beatty, Annette Bening and Madonna in the mid and late 1990s. She also did catering jobs for Hollywood celebs, movies and events and worked for an organization of volunteers cooking for AIDS patients who had very special dietary requirements (just like the Hollywood stars I can imagine…)
Love brought here to the Netherlands, she started a tiny Taste restaurant in Den Bosch in 2000. In the wake of the rise of celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver, Weldon’s interesting background was the reason to get picked up by Het Spectrum to publish the namesake Taste cookbook in 2001. It was a success and even won the prestigious 2001 Gourmand World Cookbook Award in the “entertainment” category. The cookbook contains 70 recipes, many of Weldon’s hit dishes in the US and it gives a quirky personal insight on (culinary) life in Hollywood and – of course – plenty of low-fat and healthy recipes, many featuring raw tuna.
The restaurant closed down in 2004 and Weldon returned to her previous role of globetrotting private chef and well as culinary consultant and a freelance food writer. Taste was followed up by the 2006 cookbook A Taste of Friendship, based on regular retreats with friends to a French Burgundy countryside house, which also seems to be out of print.
As Amy rightfully commented in Taste, you can pretty much use all the vegetables you have at hand for this dish. This time it was a combination of portobello, aubergine, orange and yellow bell peppers, topped with sauteed spinach and some leftover toasted pine nuts from the pesto. Over the many years, I have only tweaked the pesto quantities a bit based on personal preferences and increased the basil and parmesan and decreased the goat’s cheese, pine nuts and olive oil.
The recipe (serves 4)
- 4 portobello mushrooms, stalk removed as much as possible
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- salt and black pepper
- 150g / 5oz soft goat’s cheese, roughly crumbled
- 60g / 2oz basil leaves
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and quartered
- 90g / 3oz pine nuts, toasted
- 90g / 3oz Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 120ml / ½ cup olive oil
- black pepper
- olive oil
- 1 bell pepper, each side cut in 2 long strips
- 2 courgettes, cut in ½ cm / ¼” slices
- 1 aubergine, cut in 1 cm / ½” slices
- about 400g / 12oz spinach leaves
- For the portobello mushrooms, first combine the olive oil, garlic and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl and brush it on the bottom of the portobellos mushrooms, Then season well with salt and pepper and let the portobellos marinate covered with clingfilm for at least 2 hours.
- For the pesto, first put the goat’s cheese, basil leaves, garlic, Parmesan cheese and pine nuts in a food processor and blitz until combined, scraping down the sides when necessary. Then trickle in the olive oil in a small stream whilst the food processor is running to see the pesto come together. Season to taste, likely only a good grating of black pepper is needed. Transfer to a container and set aside in the fridge.
- Brush the vegetables with olive oil and season them with some salt and pepper. In batches, grill the vegetables in a griddle pan or a heavy-based frying pan on medium-high heat until they still have some bite. Use the heavy-based frying pan to saute the spinach in 1 tbsp of olive oil. (I used my sandwich grill for the aubergine, portobellos and bell peppers to speed things up).
- In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to 85℃ / 185℉ and arrange the cooked vegetables on a tin foil lined baking sheet to keep them warm until all the veggies are done and you are ready to plate up.
- Start the vegetable stacks with the portobello mushroom (bottom side up) and then alternate (thin) layers of the pesto and the other vegetables.
These vegetable stacks are very versatile. On a toasted slice of sourdough bread, these vegetable napoleons (even cold) are delightful for brunch or lunch. If the portobello mushrooms are big enough, you can have them as a kick-ass veggie burger. Just bung a stack between a burger bun liberally schmeared with goat’s cheese pesto and you’re good to go.