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How to Make Catalan-Style Ash-Roasted Vegetables (Escalivada)
I'm the kind of guy who when he grills, he grills. You know how when your dad gets a new electric sander for Christmas and he just can't find enough things to sand? When I light up a chimney of coals, there is no safe spot in the kitchen for the vegetables to hide. They will make their way to a delicious, smoky end, and I'm going to get as much use out of those coals as possible.
Eggplant, red peppers, onions, and tomatoes all slow-roasted in the ashes of a dying fire not only sounds romantic, but it's also a practical (and delicious) way to cook something even as the fire is on its way out. As the story goes, Catalan shepherds would build fires in their fields to stay warm during the cool morning hours. As the day wore on, the fires would die out, but not before the shepherds placed a medley of vegetables into its hot ashes. By the time suppertime rolled around, the vegetables would be completely tender. The shepherds would then take the vegetables, slice them into strips, mix them with plenty of excellent Spanish olive oil, and much feasting would be had.
The easiest way to do this at home is to individually wrap eggplant, bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes in foil along with some olive oil, then to place those foil parcels on the remains of a fire after a grilling session. Within a couple of hours, the vegetables should be meltingly tender, ready to be chopped, mixed, and eaten for lunch the next day. If you aren't overly concerned with food safety issues, you can even let them rest on the ashes all night and collect them in the morning.
The flavors are almost ratatouille-esque, though the texture is far creamier and more luxurious than any ratatouille I've ever had. Somewhere between a grilled vegetable and a sauce, it's best eaten scooped up with good crusty bread or pita. I like to finish mine off with a sprinkle of parsley, more olive oil (never enough!), and a drizzle of sherry vinegar, which brightens up the whole, smoky affair.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.