Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but fall is fast approaching and root vegetables are already playing a major roll in meals that will continue well into the cooler months ahead.
Root vegetables need not follow the tired old bland “they are good for you” cooking methods of the past. This root vegetable gratin changes the rules, playing with a medley of colors, flavors, and aromas that transform the humdrum into an enticing centerpiece for flavorsome cooler weather meals. Use the recipe s a guide and make your own variations choosing other seasonal root vegetable combinations that strike your fancy like parsnips, rutabagas, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac, yams, and so on.
Seasoning with some restraint is the way to go when cooking with subtly flavored root vegetables. For this recipe I have used fresh green peppercorns and summer savory that compliment the flavor of the vegetables without overpower them. Fresh green peppercorns, native to South Asia, are widely available year around here in Thailand but often found in Asian markets worldwide. They impart a lovely earthy flavor and a fresh moderate heat and well worth seeking out. Summer savory likewise brings a light aromatic peppery tang to the dish.
Root Vegetable Gratin serves 6 to 8
- 1 ¼ pounds turnips
- 1¼ pounds small gold potatoes
- 1 pound beets
- ½ cup minced shallots
- 3 ¼ cups whole milk
- 1½ teaspoons sea salt plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter + more for greasing the baking dish
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh summer savory leaves (or dried)
- ¼ cup fresh green peppercorns (or in brine, well rinsed)
- 2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- ½ cup heavy cream
For this recipe each vegetable is precooked separately as each has a slightly different cooking time. This insures an even texture for the finished dish. Arranging and layering the vegetables in the baking dish may seem a little tedious but the results are well worth the effort.
Needed: oven proof baking dish
Rub the bottom and sides of the baking dish with the garlic clove. Then lightly butter the baking dish and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375f/ 190c
Peel the turnips and slice into 1/8th inch thin rounds and set aside.
Peel the potatoes and slice into 1/8th inch thin slices and set aside.
Place the beets in a saucepan and cover with water. Place on the stove and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook the beets until semi-soft. Set the beets aside to cool and when cool enough to handle slip off the skin and slice the beets into 1/8th inch thin slices and set aside.
Using two large skillets, add half the milk and 1 tablespoon butter to each skillet. Bring both skillets of milk to a simmer. When the butter is melted add ¾ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon summer savory to each skillet and stir to combine. Then add the turnips to one skillet and the potatoes to the other, spreading the contents out evenly. Simmer the turnips for about 10 minutes and the potatoes for about 15 minutes, or until the turnips and potatoes are soft but still holding their shape. Then set aside to cool.
When the turnips and potatoes are cool enough to handle begin placing the slices of turnips, potatoes, and beets alternately, one slice overlapping the next, into the baking dish until the dish is covered with a single layer of vegetables. Scatter a quarter of the shallots and a quarter of the green peppercorns over the vegetables and salt lightly. Then drizzle a quarter of the cream over all and scatter a quarter of the Parmigiano over the top.
Repeat this process until there are four layers filling the baking dish.
Combine the milk mixtures into one skillet and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until the milk reduces and thickens a bit. Then pour the hot milk over the top and around the sides of the baking dish.
Transfer the baking dish to the preheated oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the gratin is nicely browned and the milk has been absorbed. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack to rest for a few minutes before serving.
If you are not serving the gratin cool to room temperature before covering with cling film and refrigerating.
For a classic potato gratin (see recipe here)
Cherry season has arrived in the northern hemisphere and fortunately some of those gorgeous cherries have even made their way to our supermarkets here in Chiang Mai. Cherry trees require exposure to cold weather to germinate so commercial cherry growing is not possible here in the tropics. There are mountain cherries, a small Himalayan variety, that do grow wild in the mountains in the very north of Thailand and occasionally appear in local markets during the cold season. However they small and sour and nothing like the cherries from further north. So I decided an indulgence was duly justified and came home with a kilo of plump dark red Bing cherries. Delicious just as they are, but I also really had a hankering to make an old favorite French clafouti. A classic clafouti is traditionally always made with cherries when they are in season. However the recipe works beautifully with other seasonal fruits and berries as well. Clafouti is remarkably simple to make and very much in keeping with the idea of easy no fuss good wholesome food. The plump cherries are the star here and sure to please!
Fresh Cherry Clafouti serves 6 to 8
This recipe follows Julia Child’s no-nonsense classic Clafouti recipe with a few minor adaptations. I like really loading up the baking dish with cherries and adding a dash of almond extract to the batter that nicely compliments the flavor of the cherries. In fact the French do not pit the cherries, believing the pits add a slight almond flavor to the baked clafouti. I am not convinced and, with practicality in mind, much prefer the cherries pitted.
- 4 cups fresh dark red pitted cherries/ about 24 ounces
- 1 ¼ cups whole milk
- 2/3 cup sugar, divided
3 large organic eggs
- 2 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- pinch of sea salt
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350f/180c
Lightly butter a baking dish that is about 1 ½ inches deep and set aside.
Pit most of the cherries and set aside, reserving some whole cherries on the stem for garnishing.
Note: Cherry/ olive pitters are available in cooking shops and online and well worth the small investment. If you don’t have one I have read using a sturdy plastic straw works, although I’ve not tried it.
Using a blender, combine the milk, 1/3 cup of sugar, the eggs, vanilla extract, almond extract, salt, and flour and blend on medium speed until very smooth, about 1 minute.
Pour about a ¼ inch layer of batter into the buttered baking dish and set the remaining batter aside. Place the baking dish into the preheated oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until the layer of batter is just set. Remove from the oven and place on a work surface.
Arrange the pitted cherries on their sides onto the layer of set batter, following the shape of the baking dish, working from the edge to the center until the cherries fill the baking dish.
Evenly sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar over the cherries. Then pour the remaining batter over the cherries until they are nearly covered, but leaving the tops exposed. Return the baking dish to the oven and bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Keep an eye on the clafouti as you want it to be lightly browned and puffed up slightly, but not over baked. The clafouti is done when a thin skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack until the clafouti reaches room temperature.
Ideally clafouti should be just slightly warm from the oven. Dust with powdered sugar, slice, and serve along with a few whole reserved cherries.
You might also like Clafouti withFresh Figs ,Blueberries, and chevre ( see recipe here)
Voila…. Bon Appetite.!
Here is a sure fire recipe for a quick summer meal with all the irresistible exotic flavors of North Africa. The complex aromas of a roasting ras el hanout spiced chicken coming out of your kitchen belies the simple preparation of this no fuss meal.
Ras el hanout, meaning top of the shop in Arabic, is a North African spice mix usually associated with Moroccan cooking. Recipes for the mix vary widely as do the quantities of the spices and herbs used in the mix. What I would call essential ingredients include cumin, coriander seeds, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, ginger, ground chile, paprika, turmeric, pepper, and fenugreek. Fortunately ras el hanout is readily available online from various vendors as are recipes if you want to try making your own mix. That said, a friend of mine gave me a tin of Tesco’s Ras el Hanout which I used for this recipe with, I must say, awesome results. So don’t be shy about buying ras el hanout as home cooks do the same in local markets across North Africa.
Preparation is minimal. Marinate the chicken in a mixture of lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt and chopped coriander leaves for several hours. Massage the chicken with a generous amount of ras el hanout spice mix. Roast in the oven for an hour and that’s all there is to it.
I like serving ras el hanout chicken, as pictured, with grilled and fire roasted seasonal vegetables (see recipe here) drizzled with hummus sauce (see recipe here), Greek yogurt, and pomegranate syrup.
A simple warm bulgur pilaf, or couscous, as a side nicely soaks up the spice laced pan juices from the roasted ras el hanout chicken.
Roasted Ras el Hanout Chicken serves 4
- 4 plump chicken legs with thigh attached (skin on)
- 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and sliced
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
- 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4-6 tablespoons ras el hanout spice mix
Trim the chicken of excess fat and set aside.
Place the sliced onions in a non-reactive shallow baking dish just large enough to hold the chicken.
Add the lemon juice, garlic, salt, and coriander leaves and whisk together until the salt is dissolved. Then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the chicken to the pan and massage the marinade into the chicken and then turn the chicken skin side up. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for several hours.
Remove from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before roasting.
Preheat the oven to 400f/200c
Remove the chicken from the marinade and place in a bowl. Add the ras el hanout mix and massage the mix all over the chicken until the chicken is completely encrusted with the spice mix.
Spread out the onions evenly in the baking pan and place the chicken on top of the onions skin side up.
Transfer the chicken in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and baste the chicken with the pan juices. Add a little water to the pan to keep the chicken moist if needed for another 30 minutes of roasting. Return the pan to the oven and roast for another 30 to 40 minutes. Keep an eye on the chicken and cover loosely with foil if the skin is looking overly dark. Add water as needed. This may seem like a long roasting time, but you want the flesh to be very tender while the skin is dark and crispy.
Remove the chicken from the oven and set aside to rest while you assemble plates for serving.
Serving: Arrange the chicken, grilled and roasted vegetables, and the bulgur pilaf as pictured. Serve with additional hummus sauce on the table along with a small bowl of spiced mixed olives.
Grilling and flame roasting summer vegetables is a gorgeous way to intensify their flavors by caramelizing their natural sugars and adding a smoky accent to the vegetables that transforms them into a center piece for summer suppers. Dress them with an Eastern Mediterranean hummus sauce and a drizzle of pomegranate syrup and you have a dazzling platter of summer’s bounty to bring to the table.
A recipe is hardly called for here other than to highlight the importance of using fresh locally grown vegetables, applying various grilling and flame roasting techniques, and utilizing some bright zesty Eastern Mediterranean saucing suggestions.
It’s really all about the flavors of grilling and roasting so fire up that grill and get smokin!
Eastern Mediterranean Grilled and Roasted Vegetables serves 4 to 6
- 1 small pumpkin or squash
- 4 ears fresh sweet corn
- 4 small eggplants
- 4 medium size green and/ or yellow zucchini
- 2 red bell peppers
- 4 fresh green chilies ( New Mexico or jalapeno)
- 12 garlic cloves, skin on
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon; zest and juice
- flaked sea salt (Maldon Smoked sea salt is ideal if available)
- freshly ground pepper
- fresh thyme leaves
- hummus sauce For hummus recipe (click here)
- Greek yogurt
- pomegranate syrup (available in Eastern Mediterranean shops).
If pomegranate syrup is not available simply reduce pomegranate juice to a syrup consistency.
Pumpkin or Squash: Quarter the pumpkin or squash and remove all the seeds and membrane. There is no need to remove the skin at this point. Brush the pumpkin with olive oil, place on a baking tray skin side down, and put in the oven. Roast until the pumpkin (or squash) is soft but still has a bit of bite, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. When cool cut into bite size pieces. Remove the skin if you have used a thick skinned pumpkin and set the pumpkin aside to use later. For more on roasting pumpkin (click here)
Sweet Corn on the Cob: For the corn, remove the husk and silk and brush the ears with olive oil. Grill the ears over high heat until evenly colored and then set aside to cool. Once cool slice the corn into bite size rounds, divide each round in half. Add the corn half rounds to the tray of roasting pumpkin for at least 20 minutes of roasting time. Then set aside to cool.
Eggplant: The eggplant can be grilled whole or sliced into thick rounds. I prefer grilling the eggplant whole until the skin is completely charred. This method gives the eggplant flesh a beautiful smoked flavor. Simply remove the charred skin once the eggplant is cool and pull the flesh into strips and set aside. The pulled eggplant strips are not particularly attractive but their flavor more than makes up for their haphazard appearance. If you prefer grilling rounds of eggplant, brush with olive oil and grill over high heat until nicely marked, well colored, and soft. For more on roasting eggplant (click here)
Zucchini: For the zucchini, remove the stem and slice into thick strips lengthwise. Brush with olive oil and grill until nicely marked, well colored, and soft but still holding their shape. Slice the strips into bite size pieces and set aside.
Red Bell Peppers and Green Chiles: Roast the red bell peppers and green chiles over high heat or flame until evenly charred. Place in a bowl, seal with cling film, and sweat until cool enough to handle. Then peel off the skin, open lengthwise, remove the seeds and membrane, slice into strips, and divide strips in half and set aside. For more on flame roasting chilies and peppers (click here)
Garlic: Roast the unpeeled garlic in a dry pan until evenly colored. Set aside to cool. Then remove the skin and slice the cloves thinly lengthwise and set aside.
Assembling and Serving the grilled and roasted vegetable platter.
Place all the prepared vegetables in a large bowl. Pour the lemon juice over all and toss with your hands. Then drizzle with the olive oil while continuing to toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the thyme leaves and lemon zest and toss until well combined. Cover and refrigerate if not using immediately.
When ready to serve transfer the tossed vegetables to a serving platter and drizzle them generously with hummus sauce. Lightly drizzle Greek yogurt, and finally sparingly spoon pomegranate syrup over all and serve.
Serve with a small bowl of hummus sauce on the table as well as a bowl of spiced mixed olives.