Friday May 06, 2011

Rustic Vegetable Platter

I had some veggie loving guests over for dinner last week and I wanted to showcase some fresh farmer’s market vegetables. I love making a big platter full of assorted vegetables prepared in different but complimentary techniques and flavors. My Mom inspired this style of serving, she often grills assorted vegetables, adds fresh slices of tomato and avocado, and drizzles the whole platter with a high quality extra virgin olive oil. Add a roasted chicken and greens tossed in vinaigrette. That is all you need to make a knock out meal. This cauliflower inspired me; it was so dainty looking, almost like Queen Ann’s Lace. I decided to prepare it simple. Steam until tender, a drizzle of olive oil, and sprinkle of sea salt. For the beets I turned to my Zuni Café Cookbook because their cooking method is flawless. I added my own touch of crushed cumin to finish them. Grilled asparagus and carrots, the asparagus paired with thyme and Meyer lemon and the carrots sprinkled with an herb mixture I pick up on my last trip to Tuscany. Lovely!

eat your veggies image 1

This is the herb mixture I bought from a nice elderly man in Tuscany’s hillside town, Castellina in Chianti, Siena. We stopped at their farmer’s market and it was so beautiful. He told me to never use my fingers to pinch out the mixture, as the oil from my fingers would spoil the aroma. Every time I use this I am transported back to that day.

eat your veggies image 2

Rustic Vegetable Platter
I like to serve these vegetables at room temperature, I find that the sweetness of the vegetable comes through better. The leftovers can be kept covered in the refrigerator for 3 days. It makes for a great lunch.
For the Cauliflower:

You can keep the cauliflower whole as I did or break it down into florets. If you don’t have a steaming basket you can just take a large pot, fill it with water 2 inches deep, add a teaspoon of salt and the cauliflower. Bring to a boil over medium heat and then cover and let cook until done. It will take about 15 minutes for the whole cauliflower and 5-8 minutes for the florets. Arrange on a platter and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt to taste. Reserve on the platter.

For the Beets:

Courtesy of The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

12 golf ball sized beets, stems and leaves removed (about 1-1/2 lbs.)
Salt
1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or black currant vinegar
About 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375° F. Scrub the beets, trim the stem ends flat, and cut off the tails. Place in a wide baking dish, about as deep as the beets are tall, and add 1/4-inch water. Cover tightly and bake until they feel barely tender, about 25 minutes. Don’t cover, and to test for doneness use a cake tester and stab to the center of a beet. Remove from the oven and leave covered for 5 minutes to finish cooking. Uncover beets, rub off the skins, and trim the ends again. Cut into slices or wedges and taste. They should be nutty tender with a subtle, mineraly sweetness. Place in a bowl, season lightly with salt and about a tablespoon of vinegar, and fold to distribute. Fold in olive oil to coat well. Taste again. The seasonings should flatter, not overwhelm the subtle beet flavor you first tasted.

Stir and taste again just before serving. Flavor seems to become stronger as the beets cool, and they seem sweeter. If not serving the same day, cover, then refrigerate. They will keep for a week.

Serves 4–6 as a side dish or a salad

To this recipe I added 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds. I used my coffee grinder I only use for spices and ground them half way so the seeds were crushed rather than ground. I don not recommend toasting the cumin seeds, as it would overwhelm the dish.

The beet greens were so vibrant and fresh that I decided to use them as well.

Here is the Method:

Beet greens from 2 bundles of beets
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon oil
Salt to taste

Wash the greens very well. They tend to have a fine grit that is naked to the eye. Next slice the greens across into half inch strips going about 2 inches into the stems, before they start to get tough as you get lower down. Keep the stems and greens in separate mounds on your cutting board. Now take the oil and heat over medium heat in a sauté pan. Add the garlic and let it just start to sizzle then add your beet steams and cook, sprinkling a bit of salt over top for about 2 minutes. Once the stems start to look slightly wilted add the greens and continue cooking the mixture until it is fully wilted. I like to taste a stem and piece of leave for the right texture, look for it to be tender but not soft, you want the greens to retain their structure and have a little bite. Finish with salt to taste. Let them cool and then add to your beets or serve the green as a bed for the beet roots on the platter.

For the Carrots and Asparagus:

Carrots
Asparagus
Oil
Lemon
Fresh thyme
Herb mixture of your choice, mine was red chili pepper, lemon and rosemary
Salt to taste

Heat your BBQ grill to medium heat. Oil the grates of the BBQ lightly.

Carrots:

I found these carrots with beautiful greens attached so I wanted to keep them intact for the presentation. This is not necessary.
Wash the carrots, dry and then drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and the herb mixture of your choice. Now lay the carrots in a row on the grill and cook turning often until you reach a tender crunch and they are lightly charred. Reserve on the platter.

Asparagus:

Wash the asparagus, dry and then drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Now lay the asparagus in a row on the grill, place the thyme on the asparagus and cook turning often. Right before they are finished and they are lightly charred, squeeze half of the lemon over the top to finish the cooking. Reserve on the platter.

Serves 8