Here’s a delicious roasted vegetable recipe from the original A Cook and Her Books on blogspot (revived in the Salon Kitchen Challenge, as well). Make it in high summer, when the farmer’s market and friends’ gardens overflow with zucchini, tomatoes and herbs.
Briami: Food of the (Greek) Gods
The conventional summertime cooking wisdom is to avoid heating the kitchen, instead creating salads and sandwiches that require little or no actual cooking. That approach leads to some fine eating, but this cook knows that the glorious tomatoes of summer sometimes need heat to turn them from nominal to nom nom phenomenal.
Enter briami, Greek roasted vegetables, a concoction of tomatoes, onions, zucchini and potatoes smothered in boo-koos of olive oil, garlic and herbs, then set in the oven to roast to umami-inducing perfection. With zukes and the sometimes addition of eggplant, this dish seems rather ratatouille-like. But that is a vegetable stew, best when the items are cooked separately then combined for a long oven braise. This dish is every bit as satisfying as ratatouille and easier to prepare – everything goes in the oven at the same time, heats up together and fills your abode with the intoxicating aroma of garlic and onion and herbs. Unlike ratatouille, briami (sometimes called briam) includes chunks of salty cheese that roast in the herby olive oil to melty perfection.
Your Kitchen Will Smell Fantastic
On the hottest days in summer, when it’s 100+ degrees in the shade of the mimosa and the briami is in the oven, my house smells like heaven – garlic, onion, tomato and basil heaven. The smell is divine, but the best part is (naturally) eating the roasty, toasty tomatoes and vegetables, cheesy bits and herbs. The tomatoes roast and concentrate and mingle with the oil to create a kind of sauce for the other vegetables.
This dish has many fans and I think it’s because of the combination of potatoes and fresh tomatoes, taken interplanetary with melted cheese and herbs. I use basil, but you could also employ oregano and thyme, and other tomato-friendly herbs from the garden. I’m a fan of lovage when I can find it, which some describe as having a celery kind of taste.
The recipe is adapted from my friend Evelyn who lives in Athens, Greece, and publishes her recipes at food.com (her profile is evelynathens). Evelyn uses Greek cheeses like kefalograviera or myzithra in briami, but recommends Parmesan as a substitute. I’ve made it with Parmesan, feta and a dry Mexican cheese and it’s delicious every time.
Briami (Greek Roasted Vegetables)
serves 4 as a side dish, two as a main
4 medium tomatoes, sliced into chunks
4 zucchini, peeled and sliced into 1-inch chunks
2 medium onions, peeled and diced into 1-inch chunks
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch chunks
½ head garlic, cloves smashed
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (see other cheese recommendations in story)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup water
Herbs such as basil, thyme, oregano, parsley and lovage, roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 425º Fahrenheit. Line an aluminum half-sheet pan with foil and spread out vegetables and chunks of cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Combine olive oil, water and herbs and pour over vegetable mixture. With your hands, toss the vegetables and cheese until they’re thoroughly coated with oil and herbs. Place tray in oven and roast for at least an hour, stirring every so often, just to monitor that all is cooking evenly. Your house will smell unbelievably good at this point. If your windows are open, expect neighbors to drop by. Small children will ask what you’re cooking and will probably beg a sample. Pets will be driven mad by the aroma of garlic.
The oil soaks up the flavorings and the water steams the vegetables. I served this over bow-tie pasta; couscous would be nice as well. If you must have protein, a white-fleshed fish simply prepared would be delicious, or maybe some leftover cold roast chicken or perhaps sausages on the grill.
Leftovers, should there be any, can be turned into breakfast (or lunch or supper) hash. Just chop the vegetables a bit, cook in some water in skillet (goodness knows, there should be enough oil left over). When it warms through, crack an egg or two into the bubbling mixture, cover and let fry until desired doneness. You will need to plow the lower 40 after such a meal, but it will be ever so worth it.
A Perfectly Imperfect Recipe
Author’s note: this is a perfectly imperfect recipe, my way of saying this recipe has not been tested outside of my kitchen.
Use Your Garden
This recipe uses plenty of tomatoes and fresh herbs. Read my gardening stories for tips on growing your own fresh produce.