Roast vegetables are good in themselves, and a surprising number of vegetables respond pleasingly to the treatment. Broccoli, cauliflower, parsnips, peppers, sweet potatoes, fennel, asparagus, carrots, green beans, onions, summer or winter squash, mushrooms -- any and all are delicious hot out of the oven, dressed only in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roasted garlic scapes are outrageously good, and next spring you should be sure to make them in vast quantities. Roast eggplant is so delicious that I have pretty much given up on cooking it any other way; when I make dishes that call for fried or sauteed eggplant, I roast it instead (with plenty of oil - it's still usually less than it would soak up in a hot pan) and am never disappointed.
This last point raises the question: yes, what about roast vegetables as ingredients in more complicated dishes? When it is seven in the evening on a Wednesday, who wants to peel, cut, and roast several vegetables first, and then assemble them into something else? Not I. I do, however, very much like to reach into the refrigerator and mix and match from containers of several different vegetables that I thoughtfully roasted on the previous Sunday.
This gratin is good with nearly any combination of grains and vegetables that suit your fancy, though I would strongly urge you to include roast onions among them. What pleases your tastes and looks good to you at the market should be your guide otherwise. Add some greens, too, if you like, as I did in the batch shown in the photo. Cheese on top is good as well, though for some reason I seem to have skipped it in the photographed batch (foolish me), and it was still delicious.
Leftover grains work nicely here, and go with the theme of assembling pre-cooked elements into something else, though of course you can make something fresh for the occasion. I like using quinoa -- especially since I've started cooking it in the rice cooker -- or brown rice, or a mix of the two. Aside from the white sauce, which is the same one I use for baked pasta, quantities are very flexible.
Vegetable gratin is a good main course for a weekday dinner or casual gathering of friends, with the usual salad and crusty bread. Our guests last weekend stopped just short of licking their plates clean -- always gratifying! -- and painstakingly transcribed the recipe before going home.
The directions look forbiddingly long, but at its heart, this is something very simple: A layer of grains, a layer of vegetables, a flood of white sauce, and some cheese on top. One caution: Make sure you don't undersalt.
2-3 cups cooked grains (quinoa, brown rice...)
Roast vegetables (see below)
Chopped greens, optional
1/2 t salt
2 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
3 T flour
1 t mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced very fine
fat pinch of cayenne pepper
2 c. whole milk
Extra butter for the baking dish
2 oz. grated cheese, such as Gruyere
FOR THE VEGETABLES
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and prepare some combination of any subset of the following:
- peeled butternut squash, cut into 1" cubes
- peeled parsnips, cut into 1" cubes
- peeled celeriac (celery root), cut into 1" cubes
- peeled sweet potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
- peeled carrots, cut into thick slices, about 1/2"
- cauliflower, cut in thin slices, about 1/4", and allowed to crumble as it pleases
- red peppers, cut into 1" squares
- eggplant, cut into 1" cubes
- summer squash, preferably smallish ones, cut into 1/2" slices
- onions, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/2" wedges
...to make up about 2 pounds total. I don't recommend skipping the onions; otherwise it's really up to you.
Toss with a generous glug or two of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Spread on two baking sheets and roast, stirring/turning occasionally, for for 35-40 minutes, until they're tender and turning brown at the edges. When a fork enters easily, they're done.
Go on to make the rest of the dish, or let cool and put away in the fridge until you're ready.
FOR THE SAUCE
Heat butter and oil over medium-high heat until they begin to foam. Add the flour, mustard, and cayenne and combine with whisk. Go on whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and turns a toasty color, about one minute. Now add the milk in a slowish stream, whisking all the time. Gently bring the sauce to a boil, still whisking continually. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and add the minced garlic. Whisk occasionally and cook for about five minutes more, until the sauce is about the consistency of heavy cream. Remove from heat. Stir in the salt.
FOR THE WHOLE THING
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and butter a baking dish. Arrange the grains dish, then the vegetables on top of that, and then the sauce, pouring it over and around the vegetables as evenly as possible.
Scatter the cheese over top and put the dish in the oven for about 20-30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.