I was pretty excited to write my first recipe review, and what better than to choose a recipe from my newest cookbook? I bought Rukmini Iyer’s book, The Roasting Tin, on a whim a few weeks ago, seduced by the concept of easy but flavourful “pop it in the oven” midweek meals. So far, I’ve tried a handful of Iyer’s recipes and have generally been quite impressed. The instructions have been clear, none of the recipes I’ve used have required complicated technical skills and the end results have been consistently tasty (although H and I have both thought we would tweak things slightly if making any of them again).
Today’s meal is “Summery Roasted Courgettes, Aubergines & Tomatoes with Feta & Pine Nuts” – a mouth-watering melange of veggies flavoured with herbs and pepped up with crumbled feta and toasted pine nuts. The recipe is written to serve four, so I made a half quantity for me and H.
The instructions on this one are brilliantly simple. In a nutshell, you stick sliced veggies in a roasting tin with olive oil, salt, black pepper, and herbs, roast for 30 minutes, then add tomatoes, feta and pine nuts and roast for a further 15 minutes. Add more salt and pepper and some lemon juice just before serving.
Of course, I don’t do it quite like that. For starters, while most of the ingredients are easy to come by, I can’t find any fresh oregano. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever come across it in the supermarket. I intend to substitute dried oregano, but stupidly forget to put any in.
The next change is that I salt my aubergine before I cook it. This process, known as “degorging”, removes some of the liquid from the aubergine and makes it less bitter. Some say it isn’t really necessary nowadays as aubergines have been bred to be less bitter than in the past, but I still like to do it. The process is simple enough, but it adds significantly to a recipe’s prep time. I slice the aubergine thinly as directed by the recipe, then place my slices in a colander and douse them liberally with salt. I place a bowl on top of the aubergine slices, then weigh it down with a heavy based pan and let it sit for 30 minutes. I get on with chopping the other veg and putting them into the roasting tin in the meantime, of course, but that only takes about 5 minutes so I have a while to twiddle my thumbs.
After the aubergine has sat for half an hour, I rinse it thoroughly with cold water then pat dry and add to the roasting tin with the other ingredients. I give everything a bit of a mix, place the bay leaf on top and put the tin in the oven for its first 30 minutes of cooking.
Soon enough, an enticing aroma of rosemary and bay begins to waft from the kitchen and I feel my mouth begin to water as I wait for the 30 minute timer to beep. As soon as it does, I rush in to add my tomatoes, feta and pine nuts to the tin for the final 15 minutes of cooking time.
During the final few minutes, I squeeze some lemon juice ready to pour over the dish before serving. I also prepare some couscous to accompany the dish. This isn’t something Iyer suggests – her book presents this dish as a meal in itself – but H and I are feeling pretty hungry after a long day at work so I decide that some starch is required. I get 150ml of water to a gentle boil in a heavy based pan, and stir in a teaspoon of harissa paste for flavour. Then I add the couscous (I allow 60g of dried couscous per person) put the lid on the pan and turn off the heat. The couscous cooks as it absorbs the water and is done in about 5 minutes.
When the timer beeps again, signalling that our veggie bake is ready, I take the roasting tin from the oven, fish out the bay leaf, add a bit more salt and pepper and pour over the lemon juice (about 1/4 of a lemon’s worth). Finally, I spoon couscous into bowls and top with the veggie bake.
It looks rustic but appetising, and smells delightful, but how does it taste?
On my first mouthful, I get the delicious contrast of sweet yellow pepper and salty feta, delicately fragranced with rosemary. I don’t actually miss the missing oregano. So far, so yummy. Next, the couscous, slightly smoky with harissa, which marries well with the bursting juiciness of the tomato and almost fondant smoothness of the courgette. A pine nut adds a pleasing crunch. My only slight disappointment flavour-wise is the aubergine, which seems to have absorbed all of the lemon juice and taken on a rather sharp character.
H suggests skipping the lemon juice next time, and I agree. We also contemplate adding an extra pepper for sweetness, and possibly even introducing a fruit – maybe apricot – into the mix. I’ll let you know how that goes if and when we try it out.
Our final little gripe is that, as we sit back and set down our cutlery, we realise we are both still hungry. Not ravenous, sure, but hungry enough to need a piece of cheese on toast. How, we wonder, would we feel if we hadn’t added the couscous to the recipe?!
So, while this was an easy and tasty dish to prepare, it takes a while to cook and doesn’t quite deliver what we would hope for in terms of flavour balance. Overall, I’ll give it three Forks-Up.