Roasted produce: Opening oven door to sweeter rewards

October 27, 1993|By Susan Herr | Susan Herr,Contributing Writer

There was a time when the word "roasted" on a menu was invariably followed by "loin of pork" or "leg of lamb," or a similarly substantial cut of meat. But in the early 1970s roasted red peppers appeared on the culinary scene, and once the oven door had opened to one vegetable there was no stopping the others. Now all manner of produce -- beets, green beans, onions and even fruit -- shows up on menus and tables with the "roasted" description.

Roasting implies a higher heat than baking, and it sounds decidedly more appetizing. This fast-cooking method seals in the vegetables' juices and caramelizes the sugars on the outside, deepening flavors. Select fresh, tender produce; roasting intensifies flavors, so they must be good at the outset. Spread trimmed and sliced vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast them in the lower half of the oven to maximize caramelization of the natural sugars. Roasted vegetables can look slightly shriveled, but their concentrated flavor will more than compensate for their appearance.

Ratatouille of roasted vegetables

Makes about 5 cups, serves 6

1 large head garlic

12 ripe plum tomatoes, cored, halved and seeded

1 eggplant (1 to 1 1/4 pounds), cut lengthwise into 1/2 -inch-thick slices

2 small zucchini, cut in half lengthwise

2 small summer squash, cut in half lengthwise

1 Spanish onion, cut into 1/2 -inch-thick slices

1 red bell pepper, cut in half lengthwise and seeded

1 large yellow bell pepper, cut in half lengthwise and seeded

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Set oven racks at the two lowest levels; heat oven to 450 degrees. Peel away as much of the papery skin from the garlic as possible and wrap the head loosely in aluminum foil. Bake 30 minutes, or until the garlic is very soft. Let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, lightly coat two baking sheets with vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray. Arrange tomatoes, eggplant slices, zucchini, squash, onions, red bell peppers and yellow bell peppers on baking sheets. Roast 20 minutes, turning once, until just tender and browned. Let cool slightly. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Separate garlic cloves and squeeze the soft pulp into a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Slip skins from the tomatoes and peppers. Slice vegetables into pieces and add to garlic. Stir in basil, olive oil, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Cover and bake, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until heated through and thickened.

Roasted onion soup

Makes about 5 cups, serves 4

3 Spanish onions, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced

3 large shallots, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 large head garlic, cloves separated, peeled and cut in half

2 teaspoons olive oil

4 cups defatted reduced-sodium chicken stock

1/4 cup brandy

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme salt to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Reggiano

Set oven rack at the lowest level; heat to 450 degrees. Combine onions, shallots, garlic and oil in a large shallow roasting pan. Roast 20 to 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, or until the onions are golden. Remove from oven and pour in 1 cup of the chicken stock. Stir liquid in the pan, scraping the bottom to loosen and dissolve any caramelized bits. Transfer the onion mixture to a soup pot and add brandy, thyme and the remaining 3 cups chicken stock. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, simmer covered for 30 minutes. Season with salt, pepper. Use Parmesan at table.

Roasted eggplant dip

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

1 large head garlic

1 eggplant (1-1 1/4 pounds), cut in half lengthwise

1 small onion, cut into 1/2 -inch-thick slices

1 ripe tomato, cored, sliced in half and seeded

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Set oven racks at the two lowest levels; heat to 450 degrees. Peel as much of the papery skin from the garlic as possible and wrap loosely in aluminum foil. Bake 30 minutes, or until garlic is soft. Cool slightly.

Place eggplant on the prepared baking sheet, cut-side down. Roast for 10 minutes. Add onion slices and tomato halves to the baking sheet and roast for 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until all the vegetables are soft. Let cool slightly.

Separate the garlic cloves and squeeze the soft pulp into a medium-sized bowl. Mash with the back of a spoon. Slip skins from the eggplant and tomatoes; coarsely chop. Finely chop the onion. Add the chopped vegetables to the garlic pulp and stir in the lemon juice, mint, olive oil, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until cool, 1 to 2 hours. United Feature Syndicate

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