Vegetables often take a supporting role in the kitchen, losing in popularity to juicy meat, gooey cheese and rich starches. However, more often than not, the real reason behind your veg falling flat isn’t from an absence of flavor, but simply a lack of care and attention. Mushy broccoli and limp green beans do not belong on your plate, ever. Not only are you doing your taste buds a disservice by improperly cooking your veggies, but you’re also destroying a huge chunk of the nutritional benefits in the process.
The secret is that every vegetable has a specific equation of cooking to bring out its flavor while providing peak nourishment. By learning about the produce you’re buying, you can expand your culinary horizons into a realm of vegetable-heavy recipes that will excite instead of disappoint. Alana Chernila breaks it down from brassicas to chicories in her book Eating from the Ground Up, where she doesn’t omit meat or dairy but shows the proper way to care for your vegetables so they can stand their ground when matched with smokey bacon or sharp Parmesan.
In this recipe for Roasted Tomato Panzanella, Chernila leans into concentrating the sweetness of tomatoes by roasting them until caramelized to perfection. Tossed with pan-toasted sourdough, kale, and feta cheese, the tomatoes shine in this salad, adding sweetness to balance with the salty cheese and earthy kale. It’s a quick and easy meal that’s suited for any night of the week.
She even offers a project to jump on this summer to ensure your winter tomato dishes are even better. Instead of the lackluster tomatoes you may find during these frigid months, she suggests roasting and preserving tomatoes at peak ripeness in the summer to ensure you get the most flavor out of them all year round. By packing them into freezer bags, you can have a homemade source of canned-like tomatoes that are better than anything you’ll find in the store.
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Roasted Tomato Panzanella
I didn’t grow up in a family that did much preserving, so it wasn’t until I started working at the farmers’ market that I adjusted my idea of tomato quantity from singles to cases. The first time I had a kitchen full of tomatoes ripe to bursting, I canned the whole lot of them. The seeds! The mess! The skins! It was not a positive experience. And although I’ve grown more comfortable with tomato canning over the years, I’ll always choose roasting and freezing when I have the chance. Here’s how it works: Cut tomatoes in half or in quarters. Lay them on parchment-lined trays. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and herbs, and roast in a 250°F oven forever, that is, 1 to 2 hours for cherry or grape tomatoes and up to 4 or 5 hours for larger tomatoes. This method creates trays full of outrageously delicious tomato gold: sugary caramelized bits, tomato juice and herb-infused oil, and roasted tomato pulp that will improve the flavor of endless recipes in the kitchen. I tip the full contents of each tray into a freezer bag and stack them in the freezer. The bags get opened throughout the year to thaw and become tomato sauce, soup, and anything that calls for canned tomatoes. Tomatoes will roast almost as well at higher temps if you’re in a hurry, so I’ve upped the heat to speed this recipe along. Roasted cherry tomatoes really make this salad special, and the deep red against the kale is gorgeous. If you have different varieties and colors of small tomatoes, even better. All of the components in this salad can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
(about 1½ pounds)
5½ tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 medium garlic clove, crushed into a paste with the side of a knife or a garlic press
Freshly ground black pepper
½ loaf rustic sourdough or ciabatta bread (about 8 ounces), torn into large bites
1 large bunch kale (about 8 ounces), stems removed, leaves torn or chopped
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled or cubed
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cut each cherry tomato in half lengthwise and line them up on the prepared baking sheet, skin-side down. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Roast until they begin to collapse, about 50 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil with the balsamic vinegar and garlic paste in a small jar. Add ¼ teaspoon of salt and several grinds of pepper. Close the jar and shake to combine.
4. Prepare the bread. Heat 1½ tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the bread and fry, stirring often, until the edges crisp up and begin to color, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
5. Combine the kale, bread, and feta in a large bowl. Add half of the dressing and toss to combine. Taste and add more dressing, if desired. Gently fold in the tomatoes and any liquid on the tray. Top with salt and pepper.
Recipe from Eating from the Ground Up by Alana Chernila ©Alana Chernila, 2018. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Clarkson Potter, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.
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