Perfect, portable: picnic pitas

Entertaining

Sunday Gourmet

August 08, 2004|By Betty Rosbottom

This year, good friends who live in the Berkshires suggested getting together for an evening of music and al fresco dining. I decided that an icy cold cucumber soup and pita pockets filled with a colorful melange of roasted vegetables would make a tempting main course to serve with minted iced tea. Butter-pecan cookies and fresh berries seemed ideal for dessert.

The vegetables can be roasted several hours ahead of time.

Picnic Pitas With Roasted Vegetables

Makes 8 pita halves or enough to serve 4

FOR THE VEGETABLES:

1 medium red bell pepper

1 medium yellow bell pepper

1 medium zucchini

1 medium (6- to 8-ounce) red onion

1 medium fennel bulb

1 small (8-ounce) eggplant or half of a medium (1-pound) eggplant

6 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE DRESSING AND GARNISH:

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more if needed

1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

5 to 6 ounces creamy goat cheese broken in small pieces

1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, slivered

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves torn into small pieces (12 to 14 large basil leaves)

4 (6-inch) pitas, cut in half

Line two baking sheets with foil and set aside.

Halve peppers lengthwise, then cut out and discard stems and seeds. Cut each half into 1/2 -inch-wide strips. Place in a large mixing bowl. Trim and discard ends from zucchini and cut into 1/2 -inch-thick rounds. Cut onion in half, lengthwise through the root ends, then slice each half into 1/2 -inch-wide wedges. Add vegetables to bowl.

Trim and discard long lacy stems from fennel, then halve bulb lengthwise. Cut out and discard tough center core. Cut fennel into 1/2 -inch-wide slices and add to bowl.

Halve eggplant lengthwise, then cut each half, crosswise, into 1/2 -inch-thick slices. (If using a medium eggplant, halve lengthwise, use only one half and cut it into 1-inch cubes.)

Toss vegetables with 6 tablespoons olive oil and 2 teaspoons each salt and black pepper. Spread vegetables evenly in a single layer on foil-lined baking sheets. Roast in preheated 400-degree oven, stirring every 10 minutes, until vegetables are tender and browned around the edges, about 40 minutes. While roasting, if vegetables seem to be drying out, drizzle with an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. (Vegetables can be roasted 6 hours ahead. Cover loosely with foil and leave at room temperature.)

To make dressing, whisk together vinegar, orange juice, olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper flakes in a small non-reactive bowl. (Dressing can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature and whisk before using.)

To serve, toss vegetables with dressing. Add goat cheese, olives and basil and toss again. Season with more salt if needed. Fill each pita half generously with vegetables. Serve immediately.

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