Roasted vegetables are nothing new, but this particular arrangement makes for a truly spectacular dish which can be served as a main course, accompanied with fresh and aged cheese, as well as a side dish.
When I lived with my parents, this preparation was a common Sunday meal feature. However, it didn’t start in my childhood. For some reason, one day my mother started roasting vegetables this way and ever since it has been pretty much her only way. Since the cooked casserole is incredibly beautiful, she would bring it to the table straight from the oven and ask people if they wanted a bit of all the vegetables or if they had their favorites. Since everyone likes potatoes, her casserole would always be generous with the popular tubers.
The striped arrangement, however, is not merely beautiful to see. By keeping the vegetables separate as they cook, each flavor remains distinct and intense. In fact, this dish works best when using vegetables of different flavor profiles and textures, as well as of differing colors. For instance, I decided to pair sweet bell peppers with bitter radicchio, and starchy potatoes with aromatic fennel. But yam, zucchini, eggplants, cabbage, mushrooms, endive, onion, green beans, and shallots can all be used as well.
Why radicchio and fennel?
I chose radicchio and fennel because they also happen to be quite obscure to many of my Canadian friends. They are often even obscure to the superstore cashiers who sometimes ask me what they’re weighing! If you have yet to try them, they’re both a bit of an acquired taste – but I guarantee they’ll quickly grow on you. Radicchio is quite bitter and astringent, but its flavor becomes milder with cooking, especially in the presence of salt. Fennel has a sweet anise-like flavor, though the roasting (and the resulting caramelization) brings out more of a well-rounded umami flavor.
As you will see, each vegetable is pre-roasted in the pan before going into the oven. This is to equalize cooking times. In the case of starchy vegetables like potatoes, pre-roasting also provides the necessary searing which will keep them separate and crunchy on the outside. The subtle layer of garlic flavoring and the oregano finish, along with the olive oil, all combine to bring the dish together.
Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables Stripes
- 3 medium yellow potatoes, diced uniformly (1/2 inch edge)
- 1 large fennel (or two small ones), sliced
- 2 bell peppers (yellow and red), sliced
- 1 head of radicchio di Chioggia (or 3 of radicchio Trevisano), sliced
- 1 garlic clove, whole - just for rubbing the pan
- 1/4 cup of vegetable broth, kept warm
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 teaspoon oregano (dried or fresh)
- Gather the ingredients.
- Rub a garlic clove, which you have previously cut to expose the pulp, vigorously on a dry, oven-proof casserole. This will give a very subtle garlic flavor to the whole dish.
- Pat dry the diced potato with paper towel. Preheat a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pan, roast the potatoes for 5-10 minutes at a high temperature, turning them from time to time to sear them on all sides. Note: don't add any salt at this time to avoid osmosis which would extract water from the potatoes, preventing proper searing. When the potatoes begin to brown, add a bit of salt, then put them in the casserole on one of the long sides (as in the finished dish above).
- In the same non-stick pan, roast the fennel for 5 minutes at medium heat. If necessary, add a little more olive oil. While it cooks, add a bit of salt. When the fennel begins to brown, remove it from the pan and lay it in the casserole on the side opposite to the potatoes.
- In the same pan, now roast the bell peppers (separating the colors, or together) at medium heat for 5 minutes. If necessary, add a bit more olive oil. Start preheating the oven at 180 °C (350 °F). As the bell peppers cook, add a bit of salt. When the bell peppers begin to soften, add them to the casserole, as a stripe next to the potatoes.
- In the same pan, finally, roast the radicchio for a minute or two at medium heat until it starts to soften. Add a bit of salt.
- Lay the radicchio as the final stripe, next to the fennel. Place the casserole in the oven at 180 °C (350 °F) for 45 minutes.
- After 30 minutes of cooking, pour in the vegetable broth and sprinkle generously with oregano.
© Paolo Rigiroli