Friday, December 19, 2014
Isn't it Romesco?
I'm trying to think back to whether there was specific instance that I can pinpoint as the start of it all. I'm sure it stemmed from some seminal restaurant experience, a sensory a-ha moment reserved for those of the food-oriented persuasion. There was likely a closed eye moment of revelation, followed by a cessation of vocal ability, and then, upon its return, audible groans of approval and something along the lines of….
"OMGsogood! Whysogood? O.M.G. sooooo gooood!"
Judging by the trajectory of the past few years, the specific a-ha moment likely occurred somewhere circa 2009 when suddenly everyone realized that vegetables are demonstrably better when tossed in olive oil and roasted at a high temperature until they caramelize and become more like candy then, well, vegetables.
As someone who grew up on steamed broccoli and green beans, my mind was completely blown by this seemingly progressive preparation. Think lightening bolts firing off all over the sky above my head as if I were starring in my own food-centric cartoon (named "Diana Takes a Bite," obviously). Cue the subsequent demise of my beloved Crate & Barrel steamer (unnamed), and dramatic incline of my gas bills to cover what would soon become near nightly oven escapades with every vegetable suitable for a roasting pan.
One would think that this fetish would have waned some in the years that have followed, particularly given the prominence of these same dishes on every restaurant menu everywhere, regardless of the style and type of cuisine. Italian concept? Roasted cauliflower with capers. Mexican cantina? Roasted cauliflower with salsa verde. New French bistro? Roasted cauliflower and… butter.
Shockingly, this constant exposure did nothing to desensitize my palate to their allure. My default answer when it comes to all matters of vegetable things is still to torch them under the aggressive heat of a 400 degree oven - something that has been very frequently catalogued here.
It shouldn't be surprising then that over the course of my brother and sister-in-law's wedding of the century in Santa Ynez, a wedding weekend where we feasted on Los Alamos' iconic Full of Life Flatbread; sipped on craft cocktails curated by Red Clay and LA master bartender Michael Nemcik; and gorged on crispy pork belly skewers and a multi-coursed dinner from the epicurean geniuses behind Whoa Nelly Catering; I must regretfully admit that the thing that stands out the most in my mind was a platter of roasted vegetables.
The platter in question was presented mid-way through the Full of Life-catered rehearsal dinner in the wine cave at Sunstone Winery, where this be-all, end-all wedding would take place the following afternoon. My heart nearly seized and collapsed with joy (joy!) when the servers paraded it down the linear space and deposited it directly in front of my place at the table. Heaped with cauliflower, sweet delicata squash, gooey strands of onions, still-in-season summer squash, and draped with a romesco sauce and a chiffonade of basil, it was a presentation that clearly indicated its purpose: This was a plate meant to be shared family-style. Perhaps even passed and moved up and down the table to the guests to my right and left.
Instead, it remained firmly planted in front of me for the duration of the evening. Spoonfuls were deposited on empty plates upon request, but by the end of the night, I'm confident that I consumed nearly a third of the beastly portion myself.
Naturally, a recreation was inevitable upon my return home. Which brings me to tonight, and brings us to the sauce that sealed the deal on this particular iteration of roasted vegetables that caused a closed eye moment of revelation, temporary cessation of vocal ability, and audible groans of approval.
Isn't it romantic?
Adapted from the NY Times
Yield: Approximately 1 cup
Notes: I'm tired now, so just know that I made a lot of changes, as per usual. The takeaway? If you want to see the original that doesn't have wheat germ, calls for more olive oil, features different proportions of ingredients, and has a completely alternative procedure of instructions, click the link up above. Gracias.
1 red bell pepper, cored, de-seeded and sliced into chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 plum tomato
3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, skins removed (see a handy method for that here)
2 tablespoons wheat germ (I'm weird sometimes)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/2 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
3/4 teaspoon hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss red bell pepper pieces with one tablespoon olive oil and place in an oven-safe baking dish. Roast for 30 minutes or until tender. Simultaneously roast tomato in a separate baking dish, while also roasting the garlic on a sheet of aluminum foil. Basically, you are going to do a lot of roasting until everything is tender and squishy enough to puree. So have fun with that.
Once red pepper, tomato, and garlic are all ready for action, remove the skin from the tomato and peel the garlic cloves.
In a food processor or blender (or using an immersion blender if that's your jam like it is mine), pulse skinless, toasted hazelnuts until finely ground (though not pureed to a paste). Add the tomato, red pepper chunks (some people might feel inclined to remove the skin - I did not), garlic, wheat germ, vinegar, pomegranate molasses, paprika, and salt. Puree until smooth.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready for use, or apply immediately to a pile of roasted vegetables. And then eat too many of them. Because OMGsoooogoood.