It has been a million years since I’ve written a blog post! I would like to say I feel bad about this, but the truth is, I just haven’t had the motivation– or the energy– for doing much but the bare minimum lately. My pregnancy is going fantastically and I have nothing to complain about besides the fact that I’m just tired by the time I finish all the stuff that I have to get done in a day.
Blogging isn’t the only thing in my life that has suffered, though. I have done so little cooking in the last six months that its shameful! We’ve resorted to scrambled eggs for dinner more times than I can count, along with baked potatoes (yes, just baked potatoes by themselves), rotisserie chickens and a whole lot of take-out food. On the rare occasions when I’m home alone for dinner, I can’t even muster that level of cooking- tea and toast are good enough for just me!
So on Sunday, when Mike asked me to make his very favorite dinner, I didn’t have a whole lot of excuses for saying no. In addition to the fact that I’ve been phoning it in for months, Mike has filled the gap in innumerable ways every day, taking over chores that were previously mine and making sure I get plenty of rest. Since he had spent the weekend putting the finishing touches on the nursery (mudding and sanding the walls, painting, putting together furniture, hanging window treatments, building a bookcase, etc.) I figured dinner was the least I could do.
I feel a little bit guilty that I’m sharing this recipe with you all, because the results are delicious and it’s sure to become a favorite with the people you feed. Those people will want you to put this into your regular rotation of meals and the truth is, it’s a total pain in the ass to make. One hundred and ten percent worth all the effort, time in the kitchen and dirty dishes, but a PITA, nevertheless.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…Roasted Vegetables with Couscous and Goat Cheese! (This recipe actually originated with Erin, JMF’s very first employee and one of my dearest friends. I will never forgive her for introducing me to it.)
I know what you are thinking. It doesn’t sound like such a big deal to roast some veggies and throw them on top of couscous. But the key to making this amazing dish is in the details, y’all.
Much like my famous Terribly Inconvenient Granola recipe, the key to Roasted Vegetable with Couscous and Goat Cheese is cooking each individual ingredient separately to it’s individual peak of perfection, and then combining them all at the end.
Other than the fact that it takes a lot of time to chop and cook each individual vegetable, leaving your kitchen looking like it’s been pillaged by huns (huns with a deep appreciation of olive oil) it’s a cinch to pull off.
Start by deciding which vegetables you want to include. I like to do a minimum of eight and I switch some of them up depending on my mood and what’s in season. You can use pretty much anything but I highly recommend including parsnips, mushrooms of some sort, whole heads of garlic and grape tomatoes. Caramelized onions are a must. This particular day, I added carrots, tiny potatoes, shallots, sweet potatoes to the mix.
When you are grocery shopping for this dinner, you will need to keep telling yourself that you need more vegetables than you think. People tend to eat a lot more of vegetarian dishes than the do when their is a slab of meat involved. I once served enormous quantities of this dish to a big party at my farm house. I bought a minimum of five pounds of each vegetable, thinking it would be awesome to have leftover the next day to put in omelets. In reality, there wasn’t enough food and I ended up with nothing on my plate but couscous and an onion. For reals. Buy more than you think you need.
When you get home from the market, preheat your oven to 450 degrees immediately. All the veggies will be cooked at the same temperature but for different lengths of time. If you have two oven, thank your lucky stars for all the good fortune you have and preheat them both. I only have one oven but I use my toaster oven as a second.
You are going to need a large bowl, olive or avocado oil, kosher salt and just about every cookie sheet, roasting pan and pyrex dish you own.
Chop each individual vegetable type, keeping in mind that your goal is to create smallish pieces that will cook at the same rate.
With carrots, I cut them in half length-wise and them split the thicker top halves in half again. Same with parsnips. I cheated and bought the cubed sweet potatoes that my grocery stores has in the produce section, which saves a ton of time. I washed and halved crimini mushrooms, trimming just a tiny bit off the stems.
The tiny potatoes I leave whole. Same with the grape tomatoes. After you chop all the carrots, throw them in the large bowl, drizzle them with oil and sprinkle with salt and give them a good toss. (Tongs are great for this.)
When everything is evenly coated, throw them onto a pan and pop them into the oven. Try not to over crowd your pans, as that will lead to steaming which is not what you want here at all. Steamed vegetables are very hard to get a good brown roast on, so give your veggies some elbow room. Then tackle the parsnips the same way.
For the tiny potatoes, I boil them in salted water until tender before roasting them because otherwise they take forever. Actually, this is why I usually just leave them out.
Keep working through the vegetables, saving the sweet potatoes for last if you are using them. I cook everything for this dish with only oil and salt, with the exception of the sweet potatoes. They also get a half a teaspoon of so of cumin powder thrown in. (By saving them for last, you won’t have to wash your bowl in between the other veggies.) Also, if the sweet potatoes are nicely cubed, they will have one of the shortest cooking time.
With shallots and garlic, leave them whole and unpeeled. Throw them in the bowl with oil and then place them in a baking dish and cover with foil tightly. Into the oven they go.
One absolute essential to making this dish work is caramelized onions. If you are going to leave them out, you may as well skip the whole dish. To caramelize the onions, peel a couple of large onions and cut them in half along the hemisphere (not the equator!) keeping the stem intact. Slice the onion thinly and uniformly into half circles. Place the onions in a sauté pan over medium heat with a couple teaspoons of oil and cook them slowly until they are brown to dark brown in color. You can’t rush caramelizing onions, but it’s going to take you a while to roast all those veggies, so no worries.
As the vegetables cook on their individual pans, check them from time to time for doneness but try not to open the oven doors too much, as it will slow everything down. You will know they are done when they are nicely burnished and fork-tender. Stuff is going to be coming out of the oven at different times and your faster cooking veggies will have to wait on the slower ones. Don’t fret about that.
When it looks like most of the vegetables are nearing completion, and your caramelized onions are finished, it’s time to start the couscous. Like with the vegetables, make more couscous than you think you’ll need. I usually make two cups of dry couscous for a couple of people and count on having leftovers.
When the couscous is done, fluff it with a fork and then spoon it into the center of a platter. (After going to all this trouble, you really want the wow factor of a platter.) Surround the couscous with various veggies in discrete piles so that your diners can pick and chose what they want. On top of the steaming couscous, place an ample dollop of goat cheese (or Boursin cheese, which takes this dish into the sublime) and scatter everything with the caramelized onions. Encourage your guests to take a big spoonful of the cheese, along with their couscous and vegetables, and to squeeze to some of the roasted garlic onto their plates. (You should probably have more cheese on the table, as people always ask for more.
Voila! You have made an amazingly delicious dinner in only 150 simple steps! Sure it took you three hours to roast all those vegetable but it really is totally worth it.
Some other vegetables I like to use in this dish are:
-roasted asparagus (trim the ends only and roast briefly)
-cubed butternut squash
-pan-charred green beans
-zucchini, slice long and roasted or grilled
– red bell peppers, cut into small strips.
You can use just about anything that will hold up to a hot oven. I’d love to hear what your favorite combos are.
P.S. You deserve a medal for wading through that wall of text. Give yourself an extra piece of dessert tonight.