Greens are such a byword of sound nutrition that it is sometimes hard to remember that vegetables come in other colors. It can seem as if anything green scores double goodness points regardless of vitamin merit.
Perhaps this is why vegetable courses are often easier to concoct than vegetable accompaniments to meat and fish. Summer’s star produce, from the first asparagus spear to the last full-blown artichoke, demands a plate of its own on which to show off.
Restaurants seldom offer inspiration to deviate from the rut of green beans, mange tout or garden peas and spinach; faced with vegetable exotica in the supermarket or seed catalogue, it may be easier to think of many varieties simply as ingredients. Well, aubergines are for moussaka, aren’t they?
Aubergines are also for ratatouille. This version is sweet and fresh tasting. Each of the vegetables contributes its flavor to the harmony of the whole, and tomato puree does not get so much as a look-in.
Served cold – it tastes better at room temperature than chilled – ratatouille is an easy-going first course or vegetable. It keeps well for several days in the fridge and freezes too.
Put the onions in a big saute pan with the oil and cook them gently so that they soften without browning.
Cut the unpeeled aubergines into 1cm (1/3in) dice, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave to drain in a colander.
Cut the red peppers into similar sized pieces, discarding the seeds, and add the aubergines and peppers to the pan. Simmer the mixture, covered, for about half an hour.
Skin the tomatoes if you like before chopping them coarsely, and add them to the mixture with the garlic. The coriander seeds can go in crushed or whole, toasted first in a dry pan to bring out the warmth of their flavor. Simmer the ratatouille for another 10 minutes or so, then leave it to cool. Sprinkle with finely chopped basil or parsley just before serving.
Some oil will usually accumulate on the surface of this dish and it can be skimmed off before serving, or stirred in. It is better to remove any surplus after cooking than to reduce the quantity specified.
Two additional flavors complement the sweetness of beetroot unexpectedly well. They are fresh thyme leaves and toasted coriander seeds – used separately, not together. If beetroot, with little or no vinegar but with either thyme or coriander, are salad variations you have not yet tried, I commend them to you.
Beetroot are sadly neglected as a hot vegetable, too. Serve small beetroot with roast beef or game.
Beetroot and coriander Serves 4 12 small fresh beetroot Salt 1 tablespoon olive oil or melted butter 1 teaspoon coriander seeds. Add freshly ground black pepper.
Wash the beetroot but do not peel them. Leave 1cm (1/3in) or so of root and stalk attached to each beet: trimming them too neatly allows their magnificent color to bleed into the cooking liquid. Steam or boil the beetroot until they are tender, then allow them to cool a little before slipping off their skins and trimming them top and tail.
Return the beetroot to the pan with a little salt and the oil or melted butter. Season liberally with ground coriander seeds which have been toasted in a dry pan until the aroma rises richly, and freshly ground black pepper. Heat gently until hot again and serve.
Braised onions are a richly flavored accompaniment to plainly roasted meat or poultry. They can also be used as a filling for blind baked pastry cases or as a topping for discs of pizza dough.
Peel the onions and slice them in quite thick rings. Heat the oil in a heavy pan and add the onions, raisins and wine. Add a little salt and cook the onions, covered, on a low heat for at least an hour, taking care that they do not brown. They are ready when they are meltingly tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. If they dry too much before they are tender, add more wine or water. Adjust the salt to your taste and finish with a generous sprinkling of fresh black pepper.