Lately I’ve been encouraging people to ready their freezer for summer-into-fall meals. Well, this week I thought I’d drill down a little deeper on the subject because the summer harvest is still going strong.
There’s a fun and free-wheeling aspect to preparing a batch of roasted vegetables for fresh eating and the freezer. Specific recipes aren’t nearly as useful as listening to your inner cook. For instance, one approach my friend Chris employs involves eggplant. One summer she had roasted a lot of it, but to her dismay, discovered it had left a horrid mess to scrape out of the pan.
But that mess quickly turned to rich flavor when she decided to roast a batch of tomatoes in the same pan. The juice from the tomatoes worked all that richly colored and flavorful stuff up into the tomato sauce, adding depth and texture to her basic mixture. Sheer genius. Now she’s contemplating a roasting of eggplant, tomatoes, carrots and onions.
Even though winging it is encouraged, I’m providing a recipe for one of my favorite roasting combinations so you can give it a try: Tomatoes, Peppers, Corn and Capers. With its silky texture and summery fragrance, it’s one of the most pleasurable dishes to make. The roasting melds everything together, transforms the flavors, and yields juices so delicious they invite dunking with chunks of grilled French bread — the perfect summer appetizer. It’s also great served cold as a little salad, as a tasty filling for a sandwich or frittata, or cozied up next to a grilled chicken. And it freezes beautifully.
Here are my additional thoughts on roasting vegetables for fresh eating and freezer maneuvers:
• To peel or not to peel ... tomatoes, that is. It’s up to you. If you plan to puree the mixture once it’s been roasted, then don’t bother peeling. Especially if you’re using cherry tomatoes. With some of my batches I like to leave the vegetables in large chunks so I have more options for use in the months ahead. If I don’t want pieces of peel in the mix, it’s easy to simply pluck them out of the sauce after thawing. When I do that, I run those skins through the blender and add them back to the sauce.
• For a Southwest style soup, roast corn kernels, chunks of red or green sweet bell pepper, chunks of yellow onion, cloves of garlic, a handful of chopped fresh cilantro, and a healthy sprinkling of cumin powder. Let the mixture cool and then pack into freezer bags and freeze.
• Got a huge sweet red pepper crop this year? Roast up a big batch of them to produce wonderful cream of red pepper soup later on. After roasting, the peels will slip of easily.
• Another wonderful combination is a roasting of whole garlic cloves (don’t be shy! I use at least 2 cups worth) and tomatoes with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. They both get tender and sweet in just about the same amount of time and can be used chunky as they come out of the oven, or pureed. Fresh herbs, such as basil, rosemary or oregano can also be included, but that will limit uses down the road.
• For an extra zip, glug in a bit of balsamic vinegar during the roasting of your vegetables. It adds depth and oomph.
• Beets are wonderful roasted. Roast them, unpeeled, in a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil (or in a baking dish and cover), in a 350-degree oven until tender (about 1 to 1½ hours. Let cool, then peel and pack into freezer bags and freeze. These are great to use in a classic borscht recipe.
• Simply Roasted Onion Slices: Slice 2 or 3 large, sweet onions into ¼-inch thick rings and arrange on a oiled roasting pan. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast in a 450-degree oven for about 15 minutes. Turn the slices over and continue roasting until very tender and browned. Let the onions cool and then pack into freezer bags and freeze.
• Roasted Vegetable Broth: In a very large roasting pan, slice and combine 8 ribs of celery, 1 leek (white and pale green parts), 1 onion, 1 carrot, and 6 cloves of garlic; drizzle with canola oil and roast in a 450-degree oven until the vegetables are very browned and tender, about 35 to 40 minutes; scrape the vegetables into a large pot, along with 7 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, one ¼-inch thick slice of fresh lemon, and a couple sprigs of thyme; pour an additional 1 cup of hot water into the roasting pan and stir-scrape up all of the cooked-on bits of vegetable and add this to the pot; cover and simmer about 30 minutes, let cool, and then strain through a sieve, pressing with a spoon to extract as much flavor as possible; adjust seasonings, adding additional soy sauce and perhaps some salt and pepper. Let the mixture cool and then pack into freezer bags and freeze; makes about 7 cups.
• Storage containers: I like to pack my roasted mixes into quart and gallon-sized recloseable freezer bags because they store nice and flat during freezing and thaw within an hour in a bowl of hot water.
Roasted Tomatoes, Peppers, Corn and Capers
About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
About 2 pounds of ripe summer tomatoes (any combination you’re growing would be fine), peeled
4 big sweet bell peppers, red, orange and yellow
1 Walla Walla Sweet onion, peeled, halved and cut into 1-inch chunks
Fresh-cut kernels from 2 ears of sweet corn
12 Nicoise olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
6 flat-leaf parsley sprigs
12 large basil leaves, minced
4 plump garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Prepare the tomatoes as desired. If using cherry tomatoes, remove the stems and halve each one. Halve or quarter others. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of the oil in the bottom of a large roasting pan, jelly-roll pan, or any baking sheet with sides. Add the tomatoes, peppers, onion, corn, olives, parsley, basil, garlic and capers. You can crowd the vegetables together, but don't go beyond a single layer. Drizzle on the rest of the olive oil, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Roast 375 to 450 degrees (the hotter the oven, the shorter the roasting time) until the tomatoes are turning golden on their skins. Depending on your oven temperature, this will take anywhere from 20 minutes to about 90 minutes. When done, the tomatoes and peppers will have collapsed and darkened beautifully.
Alternatively, consider roasting the vegetables over indirect heat on your grill, with the lid on. I have a wood-pellet-fed grill (it’s called a Traeger and is built in Mount Angel), which provides a wonderful smoke flavor to the vegetables.
Remove the roasting pan from the oven or grill and let the vegetables cool. With a metal spatula or wide, flat-sided wooden spatula, stir and scrape the cooled mixture to dissolve all of the cooked-on bits of food. Makes a scant 4 cups of roasted vegetable sauce.
To freeze, ladle the sauce into freezer containers, leaving about 1-inch head space. Let cool completely, then attach lids and freeze.
Basic Roasted Vegetable Bisque
Makes about 8 cups of soup.
4 cups chicken broth (or Roasted Vegetable Broth)
1 cup peeled and diced potato (I prefer medium-waxy potato, such as Yukon gold)
3 cups of roasted vegetable mixture, thawed
About 1½ cups of half-and-half
About ¼ teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine the chicken broth with the potato. Cover and simmer until the potato is almost tender but still slightly firm. Add the thawed roasted vegetables and continue cooking, covered, until the potato is very tender. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Puree in batches in a blender or food processor. Return the mixture to the pot and stir in enough half-and-half to reach the desired consistency. Add pepper and salt to taste.
NOTE: If the roasted vegetable mixture you’re using doesn’t contain onions or garlic, consider adding some to the potatoes and broth during the initial cooking phase; the flavor profile will be richer.
— Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.