Every year, when pumpkin time rolls around and we head to the country for the colorful bounty of autumn, my mouth waters for one of the world's great vegetable me'langes. Rivaling China's "Buddhist Delight," France's ratatouille and the memorable moussaka of Greece, Romania's ghivetch is a riotous cornucopia of the delicious vegetables that autumn offers us.
A very old Romanian lady who lived down the road from my summer cottage in northern Wisconsin first acquainted me with the recipe.
In autumn I often took her for "drive outs" to look at the stunning autumn color of the north woods, and on one of these trips we happened upon an old Swedish gentleman's farm cart parked at the roadside in a stand of golden birches. I chose a few tomatoes and a fat turban squash.
My elderly neighbor, however, lovingly fingering the colorful vegetables, began relating to me memories of ghivetch as her grandmother had made it, more than a half-century before in the Balkans. She spoke almost reverently of the sweet red and green peppers, the long fiery yellow ones, the squashes and turnips, the rutabagas and potatoes, the yams and parsnips, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, leeks and beans, all these and more in one dish, spiked with garlic and perfumed with sprigs of fresh herbs.
Unable to resist her description I bought a little of everything the farmer had to offer and, armed with my friend's vivid memory and her grandmother's recipe, went home to prepare my first ghivetch. It can be made with whatever vegetables you like or that look best at the farm stand. It is a me'lange of 10 or 15 colorful vegetables, trimmed, cut to uniform size, and cooked in a garlic- and herb-studded stock until tender. It is traditionally baked slowly in a covered casserole.
Since my first exposure, I have come across recipes for ghivetch that include meat, yogurt and even eggs, but these versions seem to rather gild the lily, making it little more than a stew. The bright flavors of the vegetables in concert with one another is quintessential.
Though all by itself ghivetch is substantial, I usually boil a few Polish sausages or bratwurst in some beer to go with it. Some crusty rye bread and a roaring fire are the only other things you will need to tranport yourself into an imaginary harvest time of old. GHIVETCH (10 to 12 servings) 1/2 cup good quality olive oil 4 leeks, thinly sliced 1/2 pound mushrooms, washed and sliced 2 cups carrots, peeled and sliced 4 or 5 small, new potatoes, scrubbed and sliced 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced 2 cups winter squash, such as butternut, peeled and sliced 1 cup lima beans 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced 1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced 1 long yellow hot pepper, seeded and sliced (optional) 2 medium rutabagas, peeled and sliced 2 turnips, peeled and sliced 2 parsnips, peeled and sliced 4 or 5 ripe tomatoes, peeled and sliced 1 small cabbage, cored and sliced 1 small cauliflower, broken in flowerets and sliced 2 whole heads garlic, peeled and trimmed 3/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
A few sprigs of fresh herbs such as savory, thyme or rosemary 3 bay leaves Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Well seasoned veal or beef stock, boiling
Heat the oil in a large, heavy, shallow casserole and saute' the leeks and mushrooms over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, or until limp. Add all the remaining vegetables and herbs, the salt and pepper and enough boiling stock to come to half the depth of the vegetables. Stir, cover and bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove the cover and bake another 45 minutes to an hour depending on the depth of the casserole.
The ghivetch is done when the vegetables are all tender, but before they cook down to a mush. Correct seasonings and serve in shallow soup plates. The juices are great to sop your bread in, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if old Balkan peasants originated bread sopping in just such a ghivetch.