Can we talk about vegetables for a bit please? I know I like to bake cakes and other such sweet treats, but it’s important we talk about vegetables because we’re meant to be grown ups who know about these things and take care of ourselves. Disclaimer: feel free to take my opinions with a pinch of salt because I ate all but one of a packet of Oreos yesterday (and no, it’s not a strange show of restraint, my friend ate the other to save me from having eaten a whole pack).
I used to be suspicious of vegetables. Whilst my mum is perfectly capable of cooking veg, many others are not. I have eaten so many vegetables that have been boiled to within an inch of turning to green-brown mush that my appetite for them was somewhat tainted. But if something the size of an elephant can survive on the stuff, then I figured that maybe they weren’t so bad (plus it’s been a heavy few weeks – a vegetable top up is long overdue).
Perhaps I have suddenly become a lot more aware of it, but there seems to be a lot more good vegetarian food out there now, and the idea of cooking vegetables seems to have – mercifully – moved beyond peas boiled until they are grey. In that spirit, the idea of baking vegetables has been growing in popularity and over the last few months my Instagram feed has been full of them.
I decided to get on the bandwagon one day – after a particularly heavy few days – and see whether baking vegetables could be as flavoursome and delicious as social media proclaimed. I’m happy to report they can. I’ve started doing it as side dishes when people come round, and I think I’ve made more of these vegetable bakes in my pie dish than I have pies.
Whether served as a side dish, with some bread, or as lunch, this recipe can be adapted for any time of the year you happen to find yourself in (and you can always used tinned tomatoes for the base). Change the vegetables and the herbs to whatever is available to you and the dining table is your oyster.
There really isn’t a recipe that this comes from, yet it’s inspired by many. For me making it in Autumn there were carrots, parsnips, leeks and courgettes available, with rosemary to garnish the top, but it can be adapted for the seasons as they happen throughout the year. In the summer include tomatoes, and perhaps even slithers of cauliflower in April – really it is whatever comes to hand. Serves 2.
1 medium leek
4 tomatoes (or 1/2 a can)
1 glass of red wine
1 clove garlic
1/2 medium onion
1 1/2 tbsp rapeseed/olive oil
3-4 sprigs of rosemary
Start by making the tomato base. Dice your onion as small as you can and then put them on a medium heat with 1/2 tbsp of oil and allow to soften slowly. Crush the garlic and add it into the pot. One the colour starts to go from your onion, turn up the heat and pour in the wine. To burn off the bitter taste and reduce the liquid leave it on the high heat for 4-5 minutes, or it is about a quarter of its original volume – the larger your glass, the longer the boil. Whilst it’s bubbling away, dice up the tomatoes.
Once reduced, add in the tomatoes and stir through with a little salt, pepper and the rosemary leaves from one stock. Turn down to a medium heat and let this cook itself into a thick mixture.
Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Whilst the tomato base is cooking, slice your carrots, parsnip, leek and courgettes thinly. You can use a mandoline, if you want, but I prefer the rusticness of a very sharp knife.
When your tomato mixture is cooked transfer it to an oven-proof pie dish and spread across the bottom thickly. On top of this start layering your vegetables. For the best effect you need to pick one order (e.g. carrot, courgette, parsnip) and stick to it – you will likely have slightly less of one vegetable, so just insert it every second sequence. Start layering your vegetables around the dish – use the largest slices first, as this will leave the smaller slices to do the inner circle(s) and give it a more pleasing look.
When complete, drizzle with the remaining tablespoon (ish) of oil, sprinkle over salt and pepper, and push the rosemary sprigs into the top. Bake for about an hour until all the vegetables are cooked through and the top is slightly coloured.
Serve and feel good about all the vegetables you’re eating.