Vegetables. They're something I try to eat often, and I always feel better for it. When the mercury falls, vegetables take their place in hearty soups, rich roasts, and cheesy casseroles. For certain vegetables, there's another option to consider, something that can replace the common staple of mashed potatoes in really interesting ways. It might even get you to eat those vegetables you haven't ventured yet, for whatever reason, and finally fulfill that request your mom or dad may have made while you were growing up. You know the one I mean, that request to eat your vegetables. Maybe if I'd had this option I could have avoided the time I got spanked for not telling the truth when I was growing up, all because I didn't want to eat my vegetables. I bet you would have hidden those lima beans in your napkin, too.
Roasted Vegetable Purée
(adapted from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman)
1 lb. cauliflower, about 5 cups, cored and cut into small bite-size pieces
1/2 medium onion, thickly sliced
2 cloves garlic, skins removed and stem end trimmed, left whole
1/2 lb. asparagus, about 2 cups, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 lb. spinach, about 6 cups, tightly packed
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chicken stock
2 ounces creamy goat cheese
(Note: The proportions of the vegetables can be changed if you prefer more of one flavor over another. Just be sure to keep the total amount of vegetables at about 2 pounds, give or take a few ounces, not including the onions and garlic, to keep the consistency of the purée the same. Check out Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian for additional suggestions on other vegetables, seasonings, and cooking approaches to use for vegetable purées).
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Put the prepared cauliflower, onion and garlic in a large bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt, several grindings of fresh black pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon), and the crushed red pepper flakes. Toss to coat evenly, then spread vegetables out on a large baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Place on the middle rack in the oven and roast for 10 minutes.
While the cauliflower, onions, and garlic are roasting, cut the asparagus into bite-size pieces and toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper in the large bowl. Measure out the spinach, chop or tear into smaller pieces into another large separate bowl, and set aside. After the cauliflower, onions and garlic have been roasting for ten minutes, remove them from the oven and add the asparagus to the same baking sheet, spreading it out evenly, and place all the vegetables back in the oven. Roast all the vegetables for an additional 20 minutes until tender and slightly caramelized.
Remove the vegetables from the oven when they are done roasting. Drizzle the spinach in the large bowl with the last tablespoon of the olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and dump the roasted vegetables on top of the spinach. Toss everything together until the spinach has wilted a little from the heat of the roasted vegetables.
Put the roasted vegetables and spinach, chicken stock, and goat cheese into a high-powered blender or food processor. Process until mixture becomes a smooth purée. Scoop from blender or processor, taste and add any salt or pepper as desired, and serve.
Makes about 4 cups