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Once you have slow-cooked a big batch of summer vegetables you can use them as a salad the next day, too
The best bit about the laziness that has dogged me throughout the month of August has been the slow vegetable roasts – the cooked jumbles of ripe peppers, garlic and tomatoes, sometimes with onions or aubergines or courgettes – that I use both hot as a main dish or cool as an accompaniment.
Opening the fridge and finding a china bowl of those soft, sweet harlequin vegetables has been useful to say the least: as a caponata-style salad; an accompaniment for grilled lamb chops splattered, Jackson Pollock-style, with a mint-laden sauce verte; and, this week, as a bed on which to bake whole fish (the fishy, tomato juices that collect in the roasting tin were as good as any fish soup).
Red mullet or bream seemed appropriate – what with the vegetables leaning towards the Mediterranean – and both fish have enough flavour to cope with the garlic in the roast vegetables. These were far from the only possibility: I could have used anything other than salmon (which seems out of kilter with peppers). Mackerel, especially if the skin catches in the oven’s extreme heat, would also be fine.
My high-summer lethargy didn’t prevent me from trimming the spiky leaves and the thistle-like choke from a bagful of small artichokes, then stewing their tender hearts with tomatoes and stock, and a fistful of warmly aromatic ras el hanout and mint.
The juices alone got us grabbing at the nearest loaf for something to sponge up the mint- and cinnamon-flecked liquid from our plates.
A little stew of artichokes and tomatoes
Every time I prepare globe artichokes, afterwards finding the work surface strewn with the inevitable leafy, thistle-like debris, I ask myself if they are really worth the trouble. But once my fork delves into the delicate, pale green hearts, fried in butter, stewed with tomatoes and spices or simmered in olive oil and lemon, I find myself smitten all over again.
olive oil 2 tbsp
onion 1, medium-sized
artichokes 4, young
chilli 1 red, medium-hot
ras el hanout 2 tsp
orange 1, medium-sized
coriander a small bunch
mint a small bunch
parmesan a handful, grated
Warm the olive oil in a casserole dish over a medium heat. Halve and peel the onion then cut each half into 5 or 6 segments. Let the onion cook in the olive oil for 10 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally, and letting it colour lightly.
Meanwhile, trim the artichokes, removing a good third of each one, then cut them in half and tug out the whiskery “choke”. Cut the lemon in half then rub each artichoke half with the cut side of half of the lemon as you go, to prevent them from discolouring. Chop the chilli, then stir it into the onion with the ras el hanout. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them, with the artichokes, then leave it to simmer.
Remove a couple of sections of peel from the orange using a small, sharp knife or peeler, then add them to the pan together with the stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat immediately, season then leave to simmer for 35 minutes or until the artichokes are completely tender.
Chop the coriander and mint and add them to the pan together with the juice of the remaining half of the lemon. Check the seasoning, adding more salt or pepper as you wish, then serve, passing bowls of grated parmesan around the table.
Baked bream, peppers and tomatoes
I like to make certain the vegetables are fully soft and roasted before adding the fish. When the fish is placed on top of the vegetables, spooning over some of the juices from the bottom of the roasting tin is a thoroughly good idea. At the table, you will need some bread, or a spoon, to make the most of them.
onion 1, large
olive oil 2 tbsp
butter 1 thin slice
orange or red peppers 4
garlic a clove
basil a small bunch (about 8g)
red wine vinegar 1 tbsp
bream or red mullet fillets 4 (2 fish)
thyme sprigs 8
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Peel, halve and thinly slice the onion. Warm the olive oil in a heavy-based, deep-sided roasting tin or baking dish over a moderate heat, then add the butter. Cook the onion until it is soft and pale gold, then remove it from the heat.
Slice the peppers in half, discard the seeds and core, then slice them thinly and add them to the softened onions. Chop the tomatoes and stir them in, seasoning as you go. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and add it to the vegetables.
Place the dish in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes until all is tender.
Tear the basil leaves and fold them into the mixture with the red wine vinegar. Place the fillets of bream on top of the vegetables, skin side down, season with salt and black pepper then add the thyme sprigs. Trickle a little olive oil over the surface and return the roasting tin to the oven. Continue cooking for 15 minutes till the fish is tender and turning golden.