by Kay Baumhefner
With a Pre-Departure Sauté and Roastathon —
“When it’s hot, fill it up!” If you’re a regular reader or student of mine, then I’m sure you’ve heard me give that advice before. And even though we’ve recently been moving, however slowly, through an intense heat wave here in Sonoma County, right now I’m once again referring to the indoor kitchen oven, that we actually have some control over.
The other night it all started with the need to roast a chicken for dinner and cook up all the fresh vegetables I had on hand, while they were still in their prime. I also wanted to “make some for now and some for later too”— another one of my guiding practices.
So I butterflied the chicken, rubbed it well with salt and pepper, laid it on a generous bed of sliced red onions, and doused the lot with a carefree mixture of balsamic vinegar, a little mustard and fresh thyme.
After cutting up the squash and eggplant into cubes, I tossed them each with salt, pepper, and enough good olive oil to evenly coat. They went on their own sheet pans, and the whole peppers only needed a little drizzle of oil to keep them from sticking before all four pans went into the oven, which had preheated to 450 degrees while I got everything ready to roast.
Meanwhile, back on the front burner in a large heavy pan with a pinch of chili flakes infusing the hot olive oil, I quickly sautéed the Juliet tomatoes from our garden, just to show off their ripe sweetness. Then to spice things up a bit, I stirred in several shakes of smoked bittersweet Spanish paprika, a pinch of allspice, a handful of currants and some garlic pounded with salt, and finally turned off the heat. They were now ready and waiting for the roasting vegetables, which I periodically stirred and rotated to evenly brown and grow tender inside. Time to refresh myself with an iced aperitif!
All the roasting was done in about 45 minutes (yes, it’s easy to remember 45 minutes at 450 degrees). So I transferred the crispy chicken to a resting platter, and stirred it’s bed of onions and pan juices into the tomatoes so they could simmer together…
… while I peeled and seeded and sliced up the roasted peppers. Be careful they’re still not too hot to handle!
The peppers only needed a brief communal simmer with the tomatoes and onions to marry their flavors and reduce the combined juices until syrupy.
And then in went the roasted eggplant and squash.
Fold together, taste for salt (okay, better taste again), turn off the heat, and sprinkle with fresh basil.
Eat hot, cold or anywhere in between. Serve straight up, or alongside the chicken with a crusty loaf of bread (roasted potatoes, quinoa, pasta or…), and a crisp green salad. Cherish the planned-overs in a salad, sandwich, side dish, omelet or frittata in the days to come. And/or save some in the freezer for much later.
I turned a bunch of our batch into the inspiration for a hearty soup with black beans, chicken broth and a ham hock, all of which has come to our rescue several times in this pre-departure week, when we need to get so many other things taken care of before we can leave. But trust me, whether you’re on page one or four of your own critical to-do list, it’s absolute gooey comfort-food heaven when topped with a handful of grated pepper-jack cheese that melts your heart as well. And now a quart of that big soup is also stashed in the freezer.
Whenever we’re lucky enough to get to take a big trip, on the flight coming home I often write notes about even silly details to later remind myself before the next hoped-for adventures abroad. While reviewing the inky loose cursive in my last installment from over four years ago, after wading through lists of essential kitchen equipment, versatile picnic gear, and most comfortable footwear, I came to this last line before I’d closed that notebook with yet more blank pages filled with future possibilities:
“…and I’m so looking forward to that bottle of chilled bubbly I stuck in the fridge; the nourishing soup, coffee beans and flaky croissants I made sure were in the freezer; the clean sheets and pillows fluffed with dark chocolate bites I left on the bed for our weary heads.”
Got that covered now, and this time it’s once again all waiting for us to also celebrate our arrival back on the very day of Come Home to Cooking’s eighth anniversary. Lucky us—no matter which time zone we’re in, it’s another new day.
Salut et Bon Appetit! — Kay
Originally published September 12, 2011 on Come Home to Cooking.