Cape Town - On the rare occasion when the family supper I make is an all-vegetable affair – this happens perhaps twice a year, as my more astute readers will have observed – I remind myself, again, that it is not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that I might one day go mad and become a raging vegetarian.
At this point you are either rolling on the floor, slapping your sides and battling for breath, or raising a cynic’s eyebrow and muttering, “yeah, riiiight”. It may be true that the likelihood of this happening is much in the same category as “might parachute out of a plane one day”, “will win an Oscar for best screenplay” or “is believed to have taken up bungee-jumping”, but it is also true that I love my vegetables, with no exceptions that I can think of, and have always “eaten my veg”, even as a boy.
I cringe when I see parents of young children allowing them to get away with hardly ever, or never, touching the vegetables on their plate. You might as well let them get away with not drinking water, or never having a bath. It’s a basic requirement, yet many parents seem to think it’s a matter of personal taste.
If your idea of cooking them is to do what even a shocking number of professional chefs do, and treat vegetables as an afterthought, it’s no wonder your kids won’t like them. They need to be given as much thought and attention in the kitchen as the prime piece of meat you’re preparing.
Certain vegetables need to be blanched and refreshed in icy water to retain their colour and their crispness. Some are best steamed and then quickly tossed in olive oil or butter with seasoning.
If you’re mashing potatoes, they have to be utterly soft and then thoroughly blended, salted well and finished with milk (cream if you insist) and butter, the seasoning adjusted again if necessary. Parsnips make a lovely mash too – fantastically creamy – but you need a chef’s blender to get the right result – that’s the kind with a long stem and round head containing the small rotor blades.
Brinjals need to be sliced and salted before use. Courgettes and cabbage must never be boiled. Carrots, turnips and parsnips can be boiled, but for most veg, rather invest in a steamer. But once steamed, that’s not the end of it – they need to be finished in a pan with fat and seasoning, or reduced in a sticky stock to make them lusciously caramelised.
Anyway, Monday was the night I decided to eschew all meats and make two vegetable dishes for supper – a bake of brinjals, butternut and red peppers, topped with tomato and Pecorino Romano, and an old-fashioned layered potato bake with a Parmesan crust.
Brinjal and butternut bake
1 medium to large butternut
2 large or 3 or 4 smaller brinjals
2 fat ripe tomatoes
1 large onion, sliced
1 large red pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Fresh oregano and thyme
1 glass white wine
1 70g tin or pouch of tomato paste
Grated Pecorino Romano
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Cut the ends off the butternut by placing it on a board, holding a chef’s knife firmly down on one end, then moving not the knife but the butternut this way and that to create an inverse sawing motion. (It comes with practice, Daisy.) In other words, rather than saw through it with the knife, it’s the butternut that you’re moving while holding the knife still and firmly down. (The chef’s knife is the big flat one, Daisy. If you don’t have one, get one.) Peel it and then slice it into 1cm thick rounds using the same cutting motion.
Oil a roasting pan big enough to hold the entire vegetable bake. Cover this with the butternut slices, turning them over to coat well. Chop 2 cloves garlic and sprinkle this over. Season with salt and pepper and bake in the oven for about 70 to 90 minutes until tender and a little caramelised.
Chop the leaf end off the brinjal and slice lengthways. Layer them in a colander, sprinkling each layer with a little salt. Leave for half an hour, then rinse under cold water, drain and pat dry. Put the flour into a clean bag (a shopping bag should be fine) with salt and pepper and pop the brinjal slices in. Holding the open end tightly closed, shake it about like a madwoman (or man). Fry these in batches in hot olive oil until golden brown on the outsides and soft in the middle.
Slice the tomatoes thinly in big rounds. Cut the onion in half, then slice thinly. Remove the pips and pith from the red pepper, and slice into long strips. Chop the two garlic cloves.
Fry off the onions and garlic in olive oil, adding the red peppers when soft. Cook stirring, for five minutes or so, then add a glass of white wine and the tomato paste, season, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add chopped fresh herbs.
When the butternut is soft, spoon over the onion and pepper mix, then add the layer of fried brinjal slices. On top of this, make a layer of the tomato rounds, drizzle olive oil over, and sprinkle generously with the grated pecorino Romano or similar cheese.
Bake until golden on top, about 20 to 30 minutes.
The potato bake: Peel and slice them, butter an oven dish, layer the potato slices, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper. Sprinkle layers with garlic if you like, or a herb. Pour over 150ml fresh cream and 200ml chicken stock. Bake about 90 minutes. - Sunday Argus