Sometimes you have to think outside the box or risk being nothing more than a cook. I found myself in this position when working for a customer that was on a very special diet. Little did I know that one of my creations would become a repeat favorite that is often requested and constantly praised: Fire Roasted Tomatoes and Squash Primavera over red quinoa (pronounced: KEEN-Wah).
What started out as a recipe that may have resembled Pasta alla Norma became something much more because I needed to make the sauce into something so engaging, flavorful and significant that it would please the senses, the palate and the appetite, all on its own. This dish is vegetarian and extremely healthy but if you let that deter you, or convince yourself that “healthy” may equal “boring”, then you will be missing out.
Fire Roasted Tomato and Squash Primavera is a sauce loaded with vegetables in a sweet and spicy tomato reduction. The vegetables remain slightly firm, and each of them holds their own characteristic flavors. As you work your way through this dish you first find the sauce at center stage, which is smooth yet bursting with tomato flavor. It is slightly sweet but with a spicy kick that is only felt at the tail end. The ricotta cheese adds a creamy contrast and helps to cleanse your palate and prepare you for the next bite. Now comes the squash with an intensity that only roasting can obtain. Yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant are all identifiable through their colors but also through their unique flavors. When you add a little quinoa to your fork, you realize how it all comes together, with a slightly crisp mouth feel and nutty flavor. It takes the sauce to the next level and creates a medley of flavors and sensations on your palate that causes eyes to roll as the satisfying sound of “umm” echoes around the table.
When it came time to pick the wine, Sangiovese was the first thing that came to mind. I decided to go with Chianti Classico from one of my favorite producers, Castello di Monsanto. I’ve always found Chianti to be a great compliment to tomato sauces with a spicy kick.
2006 Castello di Monsanto, Chianti Classico Riserva - This bottle is a great example of how time, exposed to air, can affect a wine. When first opened it showed sour berries, leather, fall leaves and a hint of confectioners sugar on the nose. However, after two hours, you find fig and ripe berries with cedar and undergrowth. Black cherries and wild berries fill your palate. Then comes rosemary and a hint of cedar, which adds further complexities to your next bite. The medium-long finish is juicy and fresh as it flaunts its brisk acidity, cleanses your palate, and keeps you coming back to the glass for more. (91 Points)
Fire Roasted Tomato and Squash Primavera over red quinoa
This recipe takes a good amount of prep time but I think you’ll find the actual cooking process to be quite easy. Since the presentation depends on the vegetables, make sure to take your time and make them as uniform as possible. You can make the sauce hours, or even a day, ahead of time and then warm at the time of service. I advise using a large roasting pan for the fire roasting and to sweat the mire poix. You will also need a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil and a medium size saucepot.
(Optional) A note on the preparation of the yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant: Wash them thoroughly because you will be using the skins. Do not peel them. You should aim to have a piece of skin on each piece of squash. Slice the squash into thirds (length-wise) with the centerpiece about two times the size of the other two. Reserve the two side slices and turn the center slice on its side. Now slice again into thirds. The result should be that the center of the squash (containing the majority of the seeds) would be left over without any skin. You can leave the center of the squash out of the recipe. The slices you made with the skin intact are what you want to use for your small dice. This is not necessary, but it adds a significant amount of visual appeal to the final product.
(Optional) A note on the San Marzano tomatoes: It’s beneficial to remove the seeds because they add bitterness to the final product, but it is not absolutely necessary to do so. This is not as difficult as it may sound, nor do you need to remove every seed. Set up two bowls with a wire mesh strainer in each and one bowl without. Open a can and pour the contents into the first strainer. Take a tomato in hand and, with your thumb, open the side of the tomato over the second bowl and strainer. Juice and the seeds will flow out of the tomato. Place that tomato into the third bowl and continue to do this until you have deseeded all tomatoes. Once this is complete, collect all of the juice into one bowl and, with a spoon (or your hand), massage the remaining contents from each strainer into the juice until the only thing left are seeds. In the end you should have one bowl of dry, deseeded tomatoes and one bowl of strained tomato juice.
2 28oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes (drained with seeds removed and juice reserved)
2 cups sweet onion (small dice)
1 cup carrot (small dice)
6 cloves garlic (fine dice)
1 cup yellow squash (small dice)
1 cup zucchini (small dice)
1 cup Italian eggplant (small dice)
2 Tbls. capers (rinsed and drained)
¼ cup sherry vinegar
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup white wine
¾ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. oregano (dry)
1 tsp. basil (dry)
1 Tbls. butter
1 ½ cups red quinoa
1 ½ cup vegetable stock
1 ½ cup water
1 Tbls. butter
1 cup ricotta cheese
salt & pepper (for seasoning)
olive oil (as needed)
1 bunch fresh basil
Pour the strained tomato juice into a medium pot and place over a medium flame. Stir in the sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano and basil. This mixture will cook like this through most of your cooking process, but it is important to stir from time to time. The goal is to reduce the liquid by half.
Turn your broiler on low and place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Put the yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant into a bowl and pour in enough olive oil to coat the vegetables. Toss to coat and season with salt. Check to make sure you have added enough oil; each piece should be lightly coated. Add more if necessary and pour the yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant onto a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Spread the vegetables out and place in the oven on the center rack.
Place a large roasting pan over low heat (it will likely span across two burners) and pour enough olive oil to just barely cover the bottom of the pan. Add the carrots, onions and garlic, and stir to coat with oil. Season them well with salt and allow them to sweat over low heat for about five minutes.
Check on the squash in the oven and stir if it appears to be browning.
Using your hands, break up the tomatoes into small chunks and place them into the roasting pan with the onions, carrots and garlic. If there is any juice at the bottom of the bowl, pour it into the saucepot, which should still be reducing. Also add the capers to the roasting pan and stir to combine. Continue to cook for about three minutes.
Now pull the squash from the oven. If it doesn’t look done, it’s okay, because it will continue to roast with the rest of the mixture. Pour the contents into the roasting pan and stir again to combine.
Place the roasting pan into the oven under the boiler on low. Roast, under the broiler, for six minutes and then stir. Repeat this process three more times (24 minutes total) but make sure that nothing begins to burn. While these items are roasting, check to make sure that the sauce is not reducing too much. Your goal is to reduce by half.
Now pull the vegetables from the oven and place the roasting pan back onto the stovetop over a medium flame. Pour in the white wine and stir. Continue cooking for another five minutes to allow the wine to cook off.
The sauce should be properly reduced at this time. Pour the contents of the saucepot into the roasting pan and stir to combine.
Remove from heat, add the butter and stir until combined. Lastly, season with salt and pepper to taste. It can be served now or cooled and set aside for later.
Cooking time can vary depending on the brand you buy, but the ratio of quinoa to liquid should be about 1 to 2.
Place vegetable stock and water in a medium saucepan, over high heat, and bring to a boil.
Add red quinoa and stir. Reduce heat to low medium and cover. Cook for about 15 - 20 minutes but make sure to check packaging for cooking times.
While the quinoa cooks, take the basil and remove the ‘blooms’ for garnish. Take a small bunch of leaves and chop fine.
When the quinoa is done, add the butter and stir to combine. Season the quinoa with salt and pepper. Lastly, add the chopped basil and stir. The quinoa should have a fresh, vegetal and nutty flavor.
Take a two-inch, round dough cutter and place in the center of the plate. Spoon the quinoa evenly around the dough cutter. Ladle the primavera sauce into the center of the dough cutter. Top with a dollop of ricotta cheese and a basil bloom. Pull the dough cutter straight up and off of the plate. Clean the rim of your plates with a warm, moist towel and serve.