A week or two ago, my friend Crunchy Metro Mom posed a question on her blog: what one-off meals (that is, meals destined for one night only, with no leftovers) do you rely upon in your weekly meal planning and what tips do you have for quick & easy one-off meals that don’t rely heavily on prepared or processed foods? Now, there is no question that we can eat very differently here at Local Kitchen than they do at Crunchy Metro Mom’s house: I’m self-employed, work from home, and am lucky to have a flexible schedule that allows me to simmer something on the stove all day, or take a noontime break to brown some sausage or soak dried beans. Crunchy Metro Mom and her husband both work full-time jobs away from home and are raising two lively kids under the age of 5, with all that that entails: a fixed dinnertime, a narrow window between home-from-work/school/daycare and time-for-bed, and a limited pool of energy and resources from which to produce three squares a day of nutritious, delicious, budget-friendly food.
This question is key: how to make weeknight dinnertime easy on working parents, without buying into the Big Food myth that you must rely on their overly-processed crap in order to do so? I’m not sure I know. One thing I do know: developing a complicated and multi-step recipe and calling it a “30-minute meal” isn’t helpful. Neither are holier-than-thou admonitions of ”You just have a make it a priority!” (says the work-from-home, childless locavore, who last night had [non-local] popcorn & [non-local] red wine for dinner). But I do know one thing: if this blog has any mission at all, it is to get people to cook: to take real, grown-in-the-dirt ingredients and turn them into dinner. And to love that dinner: love the farmers who provided the ingredients, love the process of turning it into a meal, and love eating every delicious, delicious bite.
Enter roasted summer vegetables. This, I think, can help. An ambitious, perhaps lofty, goal for such a simple dish, no? But hear me out: I’ve been busy the last few weeks. Really busy. 14-hour days busy. But I tossed these frozen summer vegetables together in 5 minutes last weekend, slow-roasted them until they were fragrant and caramelized, then popped ‘em in the fridge. And I’ve been making meals with them all week long: black bean & roasted veg quesadillas for dinner; vegetable & fresh herb omelet for breakfast; bean, cheese & roasted veg burrito for lunch. Use them to top a baked potato, sprinkle over pizza, stir into brown rice & pesto for a quick side dish. Layer into lasagna, toss with pasta or couscous, top a seared steak or chicken breast. Kid-friendly? These vegetables are sweet: with corn, red pepper, and caramelized onion, they add a nice sweet note to spicy or savory items. The corn helps to maintain some crisp & crunch, without that sometimes-slimy mouthfeel that kids (and I) disdain. They’re colorful: it’s like funfetti for pizza or pasta. Call it that and your kids will be hooked.
Modular, versatile, real-food basics that can be prepared over the weekend and easily turned into varied and delicious meals all week: we may be onto something here.
- 1 lb corn kernels, frozen
- 1/2 lb (about 2 cups) green bell pepper, diced, frozen
- 1/2 lb (about 2 cups) red bell pepper, diced, frozen
- 1/2 lb grated zucchini (or diced, julienned, etc), frozen
- 1/2 lb (about 2 medium) red onions, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 – 3 tbsp olive oil
- salt & freshly ground black pepper
- Rinse frozen vegetables under warm water, allowing individual pieces to separate and giving a boost to the thawing process. Transfer to a large colander and allow to drain and thaw for about 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours (the more water you allow to drain, the shorter your roasting time will be).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine thawed vegetables, onion and garlic in a 9″ X 13″ baking dish or other casserole. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Toss to mix. Roast in the preheated oven, stirring occasionally, until softened, fragrant, and browning at the edges, about 2 hours.
- I have mounds of frozen vegetables tucked away from last summer’s CSA, but of course, you can do this with fresh vegetables, or a mix. Fresh vegetables will roast faster, as there will be a lot less water released.
- To spice it up, toss a few chopped jalapeno or other chile peppers into the mix.
- You can certainly add spices or herbs at this point: cumin, chile powder, dried basil or oregano. I tend to keep it quite basic to allow to adaptation to several recipes, but feel free to experiment.
- You can speed up the roasting by spreading the vegetables out on a rimmed baking sheet: however, smaller/thinner veg may tend to get a bit over-browned.
Refrigerated, for up to 1 week.
Winter into Spring.