I do wonder. Is there some switch in our head that flicks sometime between adolescence and adulthood telling us to enjoy vegetables? As a kid, my hatred for greens was so fervent, it bordered on compulsive. Even the giant dollops of mayonnaise failed to make coleslaw enticing. Then, one day, my palate betrayed me. I began craving, of all things, broccoli florets. From there, it went downhill (or uphill, one might argue) — these days, a meal with beetroot, Brussels sprouts and spinach would not only be welcome, it’d be celebrated.
In spite of my cosy relationship with veggies, I readily admit I am often apprehensive about their appearance in desserts. I can’t explain it, especially considering some of the classics around. Rhubarb pie? Delicious. Carrot cake? ADORE, in caps lock, no less. And don’t get me started on zucchini (or courgette, if you prefer) bread, which might as well be breakfast, tea and pudding all rolled into a loaf of utter magic.
I suppose my trepidation stems from the delirious concoctions cropping up on menus lately: cauliflower cheesecake, black bean brownies, tapioca tart. Some sound wretched. Just because they alliterate, they don’t qualify as dessert. Doesn’t matter if you’ve added sugar, butter and cream. It’s still cauliflower pretending to be Red Riding’s Hood granny in a cheesecake nightgown.
The efforts, however, are noted and appreciated. It is, after all, difficult to veer off the path blazed by those great bakers of yore who discovered that mashed up pumpkin steeped with spices would morph into a comforting pie filling, or that pureed sweet potatoes give body to vegan cookies. In some instances, the tradition probably bore out of necessity. What to do when the garden patch yields barrels of zucchini? Perhaps grate some up and fold them into the next batch of bread. The result is nothing less than glorious, and that’s the dish we’re baking today.
This is one of those recipes that’s so handy and reliable for the home baker. The recipe also works terrifically with carrots. Some go easy on the spices to help the taste of the vegetable shine through. Others punch up the aroma using even more pungent spices such as cloves to make this a heartier cake. The main point here is that the base recipe can be adapted to your liking, even to the point of adding walnuts, raisins or chocolate chunks.
If you feel courageous and truly want to experiment with veggies with your baking, remember to ask yourself whether they will impart too bitter a flavour once cooked. Also think about texture; celery could be too fibrous, okra too gooey, or tomatoes too seedy. But my philosophy remains. Baking ought to be fun and liberating. So what if the asparagus parfait turns out a little peculiar? If you enjoy it, go right ahead.