This one is for Antonio who rather cheekily texted me yesterday to ask, Do you ever eat at home???? He was clearly catching up on my latest posts. As it happened, at the time I was in Masaniello having lunch out with the family, so unfortunately I was closer to proving the validity of the comment rather than disproving it. But as he – and you dear readers – know, I am often in my kitchen, cooking up a storm. Most especially on a Sunday when family often come for a meal. Can there be anything more wonderful than cooking for those you love most?
It was a fairly last-minute arrangement which meant simplicity was the order of the day. A quick dash into Waitrose for one of their Duchy Original organic chickens and a mix of vegetables suitable for roasting.
Three of my quick five fixes in the kitchen were employed: No.4 of some bought olives, breadsticks and hummus as part of our starter; No.1 + No.2 in the shape of Grom gelato and some cakes from Paul Bakery for dessert.
But Travel Gourmet can’t resist a little twist on ‘simplicity’. Since buying the wonderful salted ricotta in Prezzemole & Vitale last week, I’ve made tostadas a couple of times for a snack lunch and finely grated the ricotta over the top. So, I wondered, what about making ‘mini tostadas’ as part of the starter? So I bought a baguette in Paul as well as the cakes.
It was Delia who got us into roasting vegetables other than just potatoes with her 1993 book, Delia Smith’s Summer Collection when she introduced the – at the time – dynamic and surprising idea of ‘roasted ratatouille’. Until then we’d all religiously followed the traditional French method of cooking ratatouille on top of the stove but once we’d tried Delia’s roasted version there was no turning back. Well, only very occasionally do I take a nostalgic journey into the old style.
Sometimes my roasted vegetables follow the traditional ratatouille ingredients route with aubergines, courgettes, peppers, onion and tomatoes. But sometimes they deviate; today quite a lot. I like to put potatoes in – a truly one-pot vegetable dish – though always parboil them first; today I had little new potatoes and sweet potatoes. I often leave the aubergines out, even though I love aubergines, but nearly always add courgettes, peppers and tomatoes. This isn’t really a recipe; it’s an idea. Choose what’s available, what you fancy, what’s in your fridge or vegetable rack. Today I had red onions, new potatoes, sweet potatoes, courgettes, celery, yellow peppers and tomatoes. Cut them into large chunks or smallish cubes but uniform size; I like chunks.
I put my large chunks of vegetables (except the tomatoes) into a large roasting pan. I poured over a good amount of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled over sea salt, grated over black pepper and added some dried oregano (my favourite dried herb). Then I turned it all over with my hands and put into a hot oven – along with the chicken.
I added the tomatoes after about half an hour (they wouldn’t take nearly as long as the others to cook). You can pretty much leave the veg to look after themselves, but turn them two or three times so the edges don’t burn. They’ll take about 45 minutes to an hour to cook in a 220C/180 fan/Gas 6 oven.
Depending on how ‘posh’ you want to be you can either put the cooking dish straight on to the table for serving or transfer to a warm serving dish.
The chicken was roasted in the simplest manner: smothered with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and then I always put a buttered cover of greaseproof paper over the top to stop the chicken from drying out too much, and remove it about half an hour before the end of cooking. Baste the chicken a few times during cooking for flavour and a lovely brown crispy top.
Then there were the mini tostadas to prepare. I guess these are a cross between Spanish tostadas and Italian bruschette. I cut the baguette into slices at a slight angle and put them into the warm oven to dry out and slightly brown. I did this quite a bit ahead of suppertime, but didn’t put on the topping until we were about to eat; I didn’t want the tostadas to become soggy but to retain their crunch.
I prepared the topping a bit ahead of time though. Making tostadas is so simple. They’re a standard and popular breakfast dish in Spain but I like them for a lunch snack too. In Spain, cafes and bakeries have large graters for the tomatoes but at home an ordinary coarse grater will do fine. All you do is stand the grater over a bowl, hold the tomatoes against the grater and push in and start grating. It works easily. The flesh puree will collect in the bowl and you can throw the skin away. I had 12 slices of toast and grated 2 medium tomatoes. Make sure you have really good, tasty tomatoes. I seasoned the puree lightly – aware that I was going to grate the salty salted ricotta on at the end.
I rubbed each slice of toast with a garlic clove. Then I brushed over some olive oil (I didn’t pour as that would have been too much). Then I spooned on the tomato puree, putting each one on a serving plate as I went. Finally I finely grated over the salted ricotta.
The mini tostadas were so simple but full of flavour and a real hit with the family. Even little 3-year-old Freddie commented that he liked them as he helped himself to a second one. They’re a fine addition to a collection of canapés to go with drinks or as part of a simple starter. I’m quite certain the family are going to request them again!