At the end of October, I cooked at five course dinner for 12 women who attended the Garden of Alchemy event created by The Muses. Each course of the dinner evoked an element (water, air, fire, earth). I will be sharing the entire menu and photos from the event soon! For the fire course, I wanted to make charred seasonal vegetables served with a spicier and smokier version of a classic Romesco sauce. This is the sort of food I really love to prepare and eat. The challenge with this course was finding a theatrical way to present the food.
Inspiration came when I went over to a colleagues house to work! To be clear, my day to day work has nothing to do with food. I work for an arts education organization creating early childhood puppetry curriculum and doing research in classrooms about how working as artists impacts children. My colleague is an anthropologist who helps to frame and articulate our research. This colleague is also a friend and we share a commitment to healthy delicious homemade food. So, I had brought some of the roasted broccoli and Romesco sauce from my recipe testing to share for lunch. When we stopped for lunch, she brought out a leftover roasted pumpkin to share and apologized that she had left it in the oven too long. The blackened pumpkin reminded me of a tiny cauldron and my plating problems were solved! The charred pumpkin was delicious and made a striking container for my Romesco sauce. Our lunch looked like this…
That weekend, I tested out different kinds of squashes and pumpkins to see which ones would make the most beautiful and delicious charred cauldron (Carnival squash won). I decided to char broccolini instead of broccoli so that they would look more like firewood under the cauldron. I auditioned different colors of cauliflower for the role of the fire and decided to add additional “flames” out of leaves of radicchio and roasted lunchbox peppers. Really it was the most beautiful and delicious week of recipe testing I’ve ever engaged in.
For the actual dinner I went to the Union Square Greenmarket hoping that the precise kinds of pumpkins and colors of cauliflower I wanted to use would be on offer. Nothing is sadder than planning a seasonal menu only to be forced to buy the vegetables from California or Chile because climate change has made it impossible to predict what will be harvested when. To my delight, the vegetables that I needed were perfectly georgous for the event. Behold the bounty of lcoally grown, organic carnival squashes and turmeric colored cauliflower!
Obviously, if you were just looking for a delicious and beautiful vegan meal to make (and were not trying to evoke a caudron on a fire) you could go ahead and char any vegetable and serve it with a spicy Romesco and be quite contended. I am just so proud of this plating though that I will share one more photo before giving you a recipe for a Spicy Romesco and some guidelines for charring vegetables.
Please note, that I have listed these components in the order that you should make them in, so that the things that can be made in advance are done first and things that need to be done last minute, don’t sit too long before being eaten
SPICY SMOKEY ROMESCO SAUCE
This recipe makes more than enough for 4 people
- 2 large roasted red bell peppers (directions for roasting peppers can be found here)
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 1/4 cup (1 oz) slivered or sliced almonds, toasted
- 1/4 cup ( 1 or 2 oz) hazelnuts, toasted
- 1 small ripe tomato
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 Tablespoon hot paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine everything in a blender and process it until it has a consistency that you like. I like mine with a bit of texture. Taste and adjust the salt, vinegar and hot paprika until it tastes good to you. It can be made days in advance and stored in the fridge. Bring it to room temperature before serving.
- 1 c (6 oz) raw shelled pepitas (Pumpkin seeds)
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground sumac
- 1 teaspoon oil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt (I used smoked salt)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss the pepitas with the oil, spices and salt. Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until golden and fragrant. This should take 6-8 minutes. If hear them popping they are done (but sometimes they don’t pop, so set a timer). Cool completely on the baking sheet. You can make these in advance and store them in an airtight container at room temperature. Leftovers are amazing on salads.
CHARRED LUNCH BOX PEPPERS
optional for flame garnish
- Broil the whole peppers until their skins are beginning to char. In my broiler this takes 8 minutes on one side and 4 on the next, but everyones broiler is unique!
- Let the peppers cool until you can handle them.
- Use a pair of kitchen scissors to snip the stem off of one of the peppers and discard. Shake the juice and seeds from inside the pepper into a bowl. Slip the skin off and discard. Repeat this with the remaining peppers. (I did not remove the skins in these photos. That is not good. Do as I say not as I did for the photoshoot)
- Strain the pepper juice from the seeds through a sieve into the Romesco sauce.
- Store the peppers in a bit of oil and salt in a sealed container int he fridge for up to a day. Bring to room temperature before using them for garnish.
CHARRING CARNIVAL SQUASH
One 20 oz carnival squash for each person
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
- Half the squashes across the thickest part of their belly and scoop out the seeds (I like to add the seeds to economical experimental soup stock) Remove any stems and make sure that each half will sit like a cup without tipping over. Cut the bottoms as needed to make them stable.
- Brush the inside and cut edges with oil (I used a mild oil that I had fried shallots in, but olive oil or sunflower oil will work just fine). Sprinkle them with salt (I used a smoked salt. Maldon salt would be nice ).
- Place them cut side up on a baking sheet and roast for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until they are soft and the cut edges are beginning to char and caramelize.
- The squash can be kept in a low warming oven or on top of the stove tented covered with foil while you roast the other veg. They should be warm when you serve them.
CHARRING CAULIFLOWER AND BROCCOLINI
1 large head is enough for 4 people. Yellow cauliflower is nice visually. Serve 3-4 stocks of broccolini per person
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Break the cauliflower into small florets and save the core for another purpose. I like to make this cauliflower soup. or these kofta.
- Wash and thoroughly dry your cauliflower florets and your broccolini. If they are wet they will steam rather than char.
- If your broccolini are large, halve them lengthwise to create a flat surface.
- Toss the cauliflower florets in 1-2 Tablespoons of oil and brush the broccolini with 2-4 Tablespoons of oil(I used a mild oil that I had fried shallots in, but olive oil or sunflower oil will work just fine).
- Sprinkle the veg with salt (I used a smoked salt. Maldon salt would be nice ).
- Spread the cauliflower florets on one baking sheet in a single layer. Lay the broccolini, cut side down in a single layer on another baking sheet.
- Roast for 20 minutes, giving them a shake or a flip after 10 minutes. You will know they are done when the cauliflower florets have a dark golden char to black on them. Sometimes the cauliflower will need an additional 10 minutes to achieve this. The Broccolini florets should have a bit of black char on them, The larger stems should have some golden blisters and the smaller stems may be shriveled and black.
- Serve them hot for maximum crispiness with the Romesco Sauce served in the charred carnival squashes. Garnish with roasted lunch box pepper and raddichio “flames” and spicy pepitas (optional).
Here is the spell card that the guests at the dinner were given for this course, in case you want to set some intentions and focus your energies through the process of making and eating this food. Food preparation is always an alchemical act so why not use it’s magic to full effect?