JONATHAN JUSTUS | Justus Drugstore in Smithville
Ratatouille, a traditional French Provencal vegetable stew, provided the inspiration for Justus’ take on roasted vegetables.
“I’ve always loved ratatouille, and when it is done all in one pot it is fine,” Justus says, “but it is not the same as if you cooked all the vegetables individually and added them together at the end.”
Justus chose to blanch some of the vegetables individually, then coat them with their own seasonings, a process that can be done well in advance of the big feast. Later, all the vegetables except the Brussels sprouts are roasted together. He pulls the Brussels sprouts out of the mix, choosing instead to brown them on the stovetop, because if they are not cooked quickly, they can taste sulfurous.
If his version sounds like a lot of work, rest assured the end result is worth it: a more interesting mouthful, with notes of sweet and spicy and the rich caramelization providing separate taste sensations in every bite. (I’ve tried Ruth Reichl’s ratatouille in the “Gourmet Cookbook,” which also calls for cooking the vegetables separately, and if you can find the time, separate is better.)
Justus encourages the home cook to customize the finished dish with cranberries, Missouri pecans or bacon.
“I think they are all definitely crutches and overused and somewhat trite,” he says. “That being said, all or any of these added in are definitely crowd-pleasers and, frankly, if it tastes good, I don’t really care if it’s fashionable or not. As long as it fits within the context of the whole meal, bacon seems mandatory to me.”
Ratatouille-Inspired Roasted Vegetables
Makes 12 generous servings
For the vegetables:
1 1/2 cups kosher salt, for blanching
3/4 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
1 pound fresh pearl onions
1 (1-pound) pie pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, outer leaves peeled and uniformly halved or quartered depending on size
For the seasonings:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon 5-spice powder
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon shichimi togarashi (see note)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 heaping teaspoon black pepper
1/4 heaping teaspoon cumin
Optional garnishes: 2/3 cup creme fraiche, 3/4 cup toasted Missouri pecans, 3/4 cup dried cranberries or other similar berry, 3/4 cup crumbled crispy bacon
To prepare the vegetables: The parsnips, carrots and onion should be blanched, shocked and cooled separately.
In a large stockpot, bring 2 gallons of water plus kosher salt to a boil. Prepare an ice bath by filling a mixing bowl with ice and water and placing it in the kitchen sink.
When water on the stove is boiling, add the parsnips and cook for 4 minutes; use a scoop or ladle to remove the parsnips from the pot and immediately plunge them into the ice bath to stop the cooking process. Remove parsnips from the ice water and allow to cool. Repeat with carrots and pearl onions, blanching each for 4 minutes then shocking in ice water. (To peel onions after the ice bath, cut both ends to pinch the center out, leaving the paper behind.)
To season the vegetables: Combine each vegetable with its individual flavoring mixture, working in the same mixing bowl in the order given so you save on dishwashing but also you’re working from mild to stronger flavors. Place each finished vegetable mixture in its own storage container or ziptop bag as you go:
Mix onions with: 2 tablespoons melted butter.
Mix parsnips with: 4 teaspoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons honey and 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley.
Mix pumpkin with: 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/4 cup maple syrup and 1 teaspoon 5-spice powder.
Mix carrots with: 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon cilantro and 1/2 teaspoon togarashi.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add Brussels sprouts and 1/4 cup water. Place lid on top of skillet and steam until barely tender. Drain any remaining water and add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 heaping teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 heaping teaspoon cumin; saute until edges of sprouts are charred, turning with tongs as you go; set aside to cool.
(Make-ahead tip: Everything to this point can be done 2 to 3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.)
To roast the vegetables: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Arrange all vegetables except the Brussels sprouts on baking sheets, making sure there is space between so they will roast, not steam. Place vegetables in the oven and roast for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through the degree of doneness (from tender to caramelized) you prefer.
To serve: A few minutes before the vegetables are to be removed from the oven, warm the creme fraiche, if using, gently over low heat in a small saucepan, or warm in 10-second increments in the microwave. Toss cold Brussels sprouts with roasted vegetables and top with warm creme fraiche. Sprinkle with optional garnishes, as desired.
Note: Togarashi is a Japanese red pepper spice blend available at Asian markets and specialty supermarkets such as Whole Foods.
Per serving: 206 calories (55 percent from fat), 13 grams total fat (5 grams saturated), 17 milligrams cholesterol, 22 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 676 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.