Stephanie Alexander isn’t a vegetarian, but the Australian cookbook doyen enjoys the many possibilities of vegetables in the kitchen. While her new cookbook, Home, contains exacting veg-centric recipes – we see you summery tomato soup, eggplant parmigiana, and grilled asparagus with walnut-and-orange-zest sauce – one of her take-homes is that perhaps her most useful veg recipe isn’t much of a recipe at all.
“I particularly love braising a whole lot of vegetables together in the oven with olive oil, garlic, bay leaves and things,” says the author of kitchen bible The Cook’s Companion. “It doesn’t really seem to matter what you put in. This morning, on my way home from my exercise class, I dropped into my fruit and vegetable man and he told me about this dish he made on the weekend where he chopped asparagus, red onions and fennel and roasted it all together in the oven and ate it with grilled octopus. That attitude says everything to me.”
Although Alexander includes a how-to for melted sweet peppers and witlof in Home, she describes her technique for braising vegetables in the oven as a versatile, simple master recipe that works with whatever veg is on hand. Start by pre-heating your oven to 160 degrees, then chop your veg into even-sized pieces. Although Alexander recommends peeling red onions before chopping them into thick chunks, many vegetables – witlof, fennel, pumpkin, say – don’t need to be peeled before you chop them, saving harried home cooks even more time. All in all, chopping the veg should take about five minutes.
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Add the veg in a single layer to an ovenproof cooking vessel with a tight-fitting lid. (For small quantities, Alexander uses a Chinese claypot; when cooking larger quantities, she reaches for her Le Creuset cast-iron casserole). Add a couple of smashed garlic cloves and then cover everything with olive oil, put the lid on, and roast in the oven for an hour, or until everything is soft and cooked through. Although Alexander will often enjoy these oven-braised vegetables with a piece of grilled fish or a lamb cutlet, she’s also fond of having them as a standalone meal. Best of all, once she’s got the dish in the oven, she’s free to concentrate on other things in the kitchen or watch TV or read a book.
“It’s a beautiful combination; anyone could do it,” says Alexander. “It’s just a matter of getting that technique into your everyday repertoire. It’s the antidote to that oft-repeated bit of nonsense that people don’t have time to cook. I mean, this is fast food.”
Looking for more cooking hacks? Our Kitchen Hacks series is filled with simple ideas to instantly improve your cooking.