Brunch With A Twist

September 13, 1992|By Marlene Sorosky | Marlene Sorosky,Contributing Writer

Ever wonder how many times a new recipe is tested before it appears in the newspaper or a cookbook? Luckily, most of them do not need as many trials as the eggplant, tomato and pesto torte in this menu. Creating it took almost as long as building a Roman aqueduct.

It began innocently enough. All I wanted was to develop a brunch that fit in with today's lifestyle: Out with bacon, eggs and home fries -- in with fresh vegetables and fruits; out with lengthy, involved preparations -- in with short, simple assembly; out with last-minute frenzy -- in with organized calm; out with fancy table settings -- in with help-yourself buffets.

Because this brunch would serve a crowd, I wanted an entree with all the advantages of a casserole -- one that could be assembled, refrigerated or frozen, reheated and served from the same pan.

I sliced, salted, drained and brushed eggplant with oil, simmered tomato sauce, processed pesto, layered it all in a springform pan and baked it. The results were great. Even my husband, who doesn't eat eggplant, gave it a half-smile. But in an effort to reduce the fat and to cut back the prep time, I made it again -- and again, and again. Once I tried spraying the eggplant with non-stick vegetable spray -- the result was about as tender as shoe leather. Then I used less oil, eliminated salting and draining, microwaved the sauce, substituted water in the pesto, and finally, when I was close to what I started with, froze it. Eighteen tries and two months later, I finally have a recipe that sounds like many other eggplant tortes served in Spain or Italy over the past century. But, believe me, it isn't.

Sausage-Mushroom Strudel (low fat, of course) is the perfect companion for this vegetarian entree. The strudel was tested two ways: by spraying the phyllo leaves with no-stick olive oil cooking spray and brushing them with olive oil. In a comparison test, it was impossible to differentiate between the two. After freezing and defrosting, however, the sprayed strudel became so crisp and brittle that the leaves shattered. If you plan to serve the strudel the same day, or refrigerate it overnight, either method is fine; but when freezing, brush the sheets with oil.

The Corn Custard Strata, one of those magical puddings that separate into layers while baking, also took some perseverance. The original recipe called for a stick of butter (8 tablespoons) and 1 1/2 cups whipping cream. My updated version uses 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine, low or nonfat milk and buttermilk. I guarantee when you taste it, you will never miss the fat. The blue cheese topping is optional, but when you feel like splurging, its tang has a real affinity for sweet corn.

For a celebratory beginning, Frosty Ginger-Melon Soup with a Splash of Champagne, (which came out perfectly the first try), will transport you to a seaport under a striped awning, with warm, gentle breezes and the sounds of mustachioed accordion players.

Garnish your table with wicker baskets brimming with an earthy array of Provencal vegetables -- eggplants, tomatoes, garlic, onions and fresh herbs. Then after the party, show me some gratitude and assemble the vegetables into another eggplant torte for your freezer.

Frosty ginger-melon soup with champagne

Makes 8 ( 3/4 cup) servings.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Advance prep: May be refrigerated overnight

1 ripe honeydew, Persian or casaba melon or 2 cantaloupes, (5 to 6 pounds total)

2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger

1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)

1 cup vanilla yogurt (low-fat preferred because it's thicker)

about 1/4 bottle champagne

fresh small berries such as raspberries, black or boysenberries or strawberries, for garnish

freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Quarter melons, remove seeds and peel. Chop fruit into small pieces; you should have about 8 cups. Puree in batches in blender for the smoothest texture or food processor with the metal blade with ginger, lime juice and yogurt for about 1 minute or until smooth. Refrigerate until chilled or overnight, if desired.

Serve in soup bowls, small cantaloupe halves, or goblets, garnished with fresh berries and nutmeg. At each guest's place, pour a splash of champagne into soup.

Eggplant, tomato and pesto torte

Makes 10 servings.

Prep time: 60 minutes

Bake time: 50 minutes

Advance prep: Refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze. Best baked a day before serving and reheated.

3 medium eggplants (about 3 to 3 1/2 pounds)

about 1/4 cup olive oil

L 6 ounces sliced regular or low-fat jack or mozzarella cheese

1 cup dry bread crumbs (packaged or fresh)

3 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

fresh basil leaves for garnish, optional

TOMATO SAUCE:

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), cut with scissors into small pieces

1 large onion, chopped

2 small zucchini, ends trimmed (about 1/2 pound)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 can (28 ounces) Italian-style plum tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano

1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

PESTO SAUCE:

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