PITTSFIELD — The days are getting longer, the sun seems a bit warmer, spring is on its way and Easter is right around the corner.
Today, Christians observe Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, an observance lasting 40 days, not counting Sundays, and ending just before Easter Sunday.
"Lent is spiritual; it's an intense time of preparation and observing the Passion of Christ. Easter is celebrating His resurrection," said the Rev. Matthew Guidi of Assumption Parish, which includes St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Cheshire and North American Martyrs Chapel in Lanesborough.
Among the Lenten rituals are "giving up" certain things as an act of penitence and not eating meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays in Lent.
The practice of going meatless dates back to the early Christians, who made Friday a special day because Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday.
"The church instituted the practice of not eating meat on Fridays," Guidi said.
According to the Roman Catholic church's 1983 Code of Canon Law, which is still current, Guidi said, no meat should be consumed on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the other Fridays in Lent. In addition, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are fasting days, allowing for one full meatless meal, and two smaller meatless meals, if they are needed for a person to sustain strength.
"Fish is allowed because it does not have the same status as consuming the flesh of mammals, to honor Christ who sacrificed his flesh," Guidi said. "Meat was more of a celebratory dish than fish in the early days of the church. It was also a rich man's dish, fish was for the poor."
So, what does he eat during Lent? When it comes to his favorite Lenten meals, Guidi was quick to respond his all-time favorite was mac and cheese, adding "I do like to eat!" He also said he likes baked scrod, cheese pizza, tuna noodle casserole and eggplant Parmesan; all which he makes for himself.
Owner/chef Shari Peltier of Thrive diner on Wahconah Street, which specializes in plant-based cuisine, suggested one way to go meatless during Lent was to create a loaded baked potato bar.
"I like to use russet potatoes, but sweet potatoes are fun, too," she said. "You could top them with vegan burger or sausage and the other usual toppings — cheese, sour cream ... You might like it and never go back to using meat."
Peltier also suggested creating a Buddha bowl. "Take a big bowl, I use a 32-ounce one, and on one side put quinoa or rice, on the other greens and veggies. Top it with beans, soup, a meatless chili or a vegan coconut curry soup," she said.
Peltier said that most of your favorite casseroles and dishes can be turned into meatless versions by using plant-based proteins like tofu, a soy milk bean curd, or tempeh, fermented soy beans. She added that tempeh should be marinated before using it to impart some flavor into it.
"When substituting plant-based proteins, remember there is no fat or grease in them like there is in meat, so you don't need as much in a recipe as you do with meat," she said, recommending using 3/4 of a pound of plant-based protein in place of a pound of meat in a recipe.
Members of the features department at the Berkshire Eagle dug through their recipe boxes for some of their favorite tried-and-true meatless recipes. And let's not forget Father Guidi's recipe for stovetop mac and cheese ...
VEGGIE TUNA BURGERS
These burgers are a great way to get some veggies and protein in your dinner, without any meat. You can prepare the chopped vegetables ahead of time and make the "burger patties" right before frying them up for dinner. Unlike other tuna burgers I've tried, these are super moist and flavorful. You won't even miss the meat!
(Lindsey Hollenbaugh, managing editor of features)
Yield: Six tuna burgers
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup each of shredded zucchini, yellow squash and carrots
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups of whole wheat bread crumbs
1 can water-packed tuna, drained and flaked
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon butter
In a large, non-stick skillet, sauté onion and garlic for 1 minute. Add shredded zucchini, squash and carrots. Sauté until tender. Drain and cool mixture to room temperature. In a large bowl, combine egg, bread crumbs, tuna, salt and pepper. Add vegetable mixture. Shape mixture by hand into six patties. The mixture should be wet, but still hold together. Coat a skillet with cooking spray and cook the patties in butter for 3 to 5 minutes on each side on medium heat until lightly brown. Serve on buns with a slice of cheese, tomatoes and lettuce. A tarter sauce, or homemade garlic aioli also goes great with these.
This has been my go-to quiche recipe for literally decades. The original recipe calls for 6 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled, but for Lent, I add meaty shiitake mushrooms in their place, although you could add any cooked veggie you have on hand. It claims to serve 8, but with my family it feed three — with no leftovers!
(Margaret Button, associate features editor)
Yield: 8 servings
For the crust:
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup margarine
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
For the quiche filling:
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon margarine
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
1/4 pound Swiss cheese, diced
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups light cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Combine flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cut in margarine until mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually stir in ice water until mixture forms a ball. Roll dough out on a floured board to fit a 9-inch pie plate. Transfer to pie plate and flute edge.
Sauté onion in 1 tablespoon margarine until tender. Set aside to cool. Line bottom of crust with sautéed mushrooms and diced Swiss cheese. Combine eggs, cream, remaining salt, spices and cooled cooked onion and pour into crust.
Bake at 375 F for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle of the quiche comes out clean. Serve hot.
STOVETOP MAC & CHEESE
(Courtesy the Rev. Matthew Guidi, from Yummies4Dummies.com. Guidi said he adds a 16-ounce box of Velvetta 2 percent Milk Cheese to the recipe.)
Estimated Servings: 4
2 cups dry elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 1/2 cups cold whole milk
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Cook the macaroni according to the instructions on the package, then drain; set aside.
In a pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine, then cook for 1 to 2 minutes, whisking constantly, until the mixture is a light golden color.
Reduce the heat to low and slowly whisk in the milk until smooth. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes, whisking occasionally.
Add the cheese, a handful at a time, whisking well after each addition and not adding more until the previous handful is fully melted and incorporated. Season to taste with garlic powder, dry mustard, salt and pepper.
Add the drained pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to combine, breaking up any clumps of macaroni. Serve immediately. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.