Sunday, January 23, 2011
Roasted/Grilled Veggies, Bacon-Braised Brussels Sprouts, and Tomato-Balsamic Salsa – Dim Sum Sunday
Today is the first Dim Sum Sunday of 2011 over at The Karmic Kitchen, and the theme of this DSS is vegetables, at the request of MS, who is trying to get her Little Sweeties to eat more veg. Big Shamu has a two-part entry this week, here and here, so stop by to see what she's up to and check the comments for links to posts by the other participants.
I make no assumptions when it comes to kids’ palates, but I’m offering up a dish that has always been a hit when I’ve made it for adults. In fact, I made it for Christmas dinner. It’s neither fancy nor difficult, although it can take a bit of time to cut and cook all the veg, depending on how large a batch you’re making . . . and whether your plans are unexpectedly derailed.
Intending to make a platter of oven-roasted veggies, I lovingly peeled and sliced my carefully collected veg bounty. But after the first two sheet trays were in the oven for just 6 minutes, I heard a loud pop and saw an uncharacteristic glow from the back left corner of the oven heating element. My mom has a kick-ass stove I’ve always lusted after (with gas burners and an electric oven). But after 11 years of serious use, even kick-ass stoves can falter. There was no choice but to shut the oven down, and since it was the afternoon of December 24th, we knew getting hold of a repairman (or a part) was out of the question.
I took a deep breath . . . and was glad I’d started early. If this had happened the following afternoon, when we were expecting dinner guests at 4:00, I would have been far less composed. My mind immediately went to Plan B options. Some veggies I could sauté on the stovetop. I could caramelize the onions (although I would have cut them thinner if I’d known that was how I was going to prepare them). I could . . . I could . . .
Then my dad offered a very sensible suggestion: I could grill them! Although snow was on the way the next night, that afternoon was a great window of opportunity for grilling. I hustled back and forth between the kitchen and grill on the patio without needing a coat.
The only hiccup was when Dad came outside offering to take a photo of me grilling. I lost hold of the cookie sheet I was transferring veggies to and from, and the whole thing tipped over and fell. I invoked the 30-second rule, unwilling to forgo my grilled butternut squash and soon-to-be grilled zucchini. We avoided another near-disaster when Dad almost tripped on the garden hose as he backed up trying to frame me in a photo.
So here is my technique for making roasted veg, which for the most part translates to the grill too. Roasting and grilling are great preparations for veggies from all seasons (from asparagus to rutabagas). For seven people, and this being the only hot side dish for our Christmas dinner, here’s what I used on this occasion.
1 small butternut squash
3 large onions
1 medium yellow squash
2 red bell peppers
2 yellow bell peppers
2 portabello mushrooms
I also had some tomatoes and Brussels sprouts, which I'll get to in a minute.
Whether you’re grilling or roasting, you’ll need some fat or oil to keep the veggies from sticking to the cooking surface. I like to steep garlic and/or shallots in some olive oil, along with some herbs. This time I used fresh rosemary and thyme, although other herbs, fresh or dried, work too. You’ll want to do this a bit ahead – the longer you steep the goodies in the oil, the more the oil will absorb their flavors.
To promote even cooking, cut each of your veggies into slices of fairly uniform thickness. You’ll be better able to keep from crispy-crittering them if you opt for fairly thick (say, ½ inch) slices. Brush them with the infused oil and apply heat of your choice. For oven roasting, I usually aim for at least 400 degrees (and you’ll simplify clean-up if you line your sheet trays/cookie sheets with foil.) Different vegetables cook at different speeds, so I place them on separate sheet trays (or do them in separate batches on the grill).
Barbara Kafka’s cookbook Roasting is my go-to cookbook guide for estimated roasting times (and it covers the roasting of a broad range of ingredients, from meats to veg to fruit). But I’ve learned that, depending on the ripeness of your veg and the peculiarities of your heat source, there is simply no substitute for keeping an eye on how quickly (or slowly) they’re cooking. You’re looking for browning and caramelization, but you’ll want to avoid heavy char.
Except in the case of peppers: blistering and blackening the skin is actually a good thing when it comes to them. After you remove them from the heat, place them in a brown paper bag or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, allowing them to steam a bit further. When they’re cool enough to handle, if the skin is sufficiently charred, you’ll find a bit of char helps separate the skin from the flesh of the pepper, making it easier to peel away the skin and leaving silky roasted peppers free from stringy skin. (I recommend cutting peppers in halves or quarters for cooking; wait to cut them into thinner slices until after they’re cooked.)
With onions, which are especially delectable grilled or roasted, finding the right balance between cooked and charred can be particularly tricky, especially since the rings tend to separate from each other. If you have any tips, please let me know. The best solutions I’ve come up with are to cut the slices thick, do my best to keep them intact, keep a careful eye on them (especially on the grill), and be prepared to discard any thin outer rings or small inner bits (or even whole slices) that get downright burnt. When I pulled mine off the grill this time – at various stages of doneness, I put them on a plate and covered them with plastic wrap, holding in the residual heat and allowing the less-done amongst them to continue “cooking.” If you struggle a bit with the onions, don’t beat yourself up about it – you’re in good company. However, your efforts will be rewarded, as they are usually the element of any roasted/grilled veg platter I’ve ever made that people are most likely to want extra helpings of.
I also had some Brussels sprouts I’d intended to roast. But I was nervous I’d burn their outer leaves on the grill. So I did them on top of the stove, inspired by this recipe for Bacon-Braised Brussels Sprouts, and doing my own streamlined riff on it.
Basically, I had a bit of bacon renderings left from another dish, to which I added halved Brussels sprouts. Once they began to brown, I added a bit of chicken broth and some chopped fresh thyme and rosemary, letting them braise until cooked through. Then I finished them with a splash of Balsamic. I’ve learned to love Brussels sprouts, but I know many people are hesitant about them. These were both mild and flavorful, and they seemed to appeal to even the non-Brussels sprouts fans at our table.
The last bit of my “veggies without an oven” conundrum was the tomatoes I’d planned to oven-dry. I know, I know, tomatoes aren’t in season, but I had a hankering for their color and taste to perk up my platter, and oven drying them seemed like a good idea at the time. (In contrast to roasting, oven-drying is done at a low temp, but it similarly concentrates flavors.) I ended up doing them on the grill, where they most definitely did not dry out. But the grill’s heat did help the skins pull away from the flesh (the same way parboiling them does).
I peeled and chopped the grilled tomatoes, then threw them in the sauté pan in which I’d braised the Brussels sprouts, added some chopped grilled onion, another splash of Balsamic, and ended up with this saucy little condiment I served on the side.
I piled my veg in rows atop some purple ornamental kale, tossed a sprig of rosemary in for good measure, and turned out a platter of abundance that everyone enjoyed.
Happy Dim Sum Sunday!