The conventional summertime cooking wisdom is to avoid heating the kitchen, instead creating salads and sandwiches that require little or no actual cooking, such as last week’s Salon Kitchen Challenge for light tomatoes. That approach leads to some fine eating, but every cook knows that the glorious tomatoes of summer sometimes need heat to turn them from nominal to nom nom phenomenal.
Enter briami, Greek roasted vegetables, a concoction of tomatoes, onions, zucchini and potatoes smothered in boo-koos of olive oil, garlic and herbs, then set in the oven to roast to umami-inducing perfection. With zukes and the sometimes addition of eggplant, this dish seems rather ratatouille-like. But that is a vegetable stew, best when the items are cooked separately then combined for a long oven braise. This dish is every bit as satisfying as ratatouille and easier to prepare; everything goes in the oven at the same time, heats up together and fills your abode with the intoxicating aroma of garlic and onion and herbs.
On the hottest day of the year, when it's 100+ degrees in the shade of the mimosa and the briami is in the oven, my house smells like heaven -- garlic, onion, tomato and basil heaven. The smell is divine, but the best part is (naturally) eating the roasty, toasty tomatoes and vegetables, Parmesan bits and herbs. The tomatoes roast and concentrate and mingle with the oil to create a kind of sauce for the other vegetables.
This dish has many fans and I think it’s because of the combination of potatoes and fresh tomatoes, taken interplanetary with melted cheese and herbs. I use basil, but you could also employ oregano and thyme, and other tomato-friendly herbs from the garden. I'm a fan of lovage, when I can find it, which some describe as having a celery kind of taste.
The recipe is adapted from my friend Evelyn who lives in Athens, Greece, and publishes her recipes at Recipezaar. She uses Greek cheeses like kefalograviera or myzithra, but recommends Parmesan as a substitute.
Briami (Greek roasted vegetables)
Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main
- 4 medium tomatoes, diced into 1-inch pieces
- 2 zucchini, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium onion, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
- ½ head garlic, cloves smashed
- 2-ounce Parmesan cheese, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup water
- Herbs such as basil, thyme, oregano and lovage, roughly chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 425º. Line an aluminum half-sheet pan with foil and spread out vegetables and chunks of cheese. Combine olive oil and water and herbs and then pour over all. Season with salt and pepper and toss until thoroughly coated. Place in oven and roast for at least an hour, stirring every so often, just to monitor that all is cooking evenly. Your house will smell unbelievably good at this point. If your windows are open, expect neighbors to drop by. Small children will ask what you're cooking and will probably beg a sample. Pets will be driven mad by the aroma of garlic.
- The oil soaks up the flavorings and the water steams the vegetables. I served this over bow-tie pasta; couscous would be nice as well. If you must have protein, a white-fleshed fish simply prepared would be delicious, or maybe some leftover cold roast chicken or perhaps sausages on the grill.
- Leftovers, should there be any, can be turned into breakfast (or lunch or supper) hash. Just chop the vegetables a bit, cook in some water in skillet (goodness knows, there should be enough oil left over). When it is warmed through, crack an egg or two into the bubbling mixture, cover and let fry until desired doneness. You will need to plow the lower 40 after such a meal, but it will be ever so worth it.