Last year my father turned 70. It was a big deal so there was a celebration to go with it. As the daughter who cooks, I was left to feed 40 for lunch. The main event was, vegetarians please skip this paragraph, a barbecued whole rump steak that took about 2 hours to prepare and grill to perfection. Actually there were two whole pieces, each weighing more than 10 pounds. The zero is correct. We barbecued, and ate, 10 kg of meat. When you do the math between forty people it´s pretty average. Right? Let me clarify this.
There was a buffet table with all types of salads, sausages, relishes, appetizers, you name it. But this is meat country folks; and the women present , whom we never counted as a full person, ate as much meat as the men.
Anyway, this spread was served as an appetizer, together with this hummus and quesadillas. The days prior to the event, as I was cooking, baking, preparing for the party, in addition to working, I left the vegetables in a hot oven more than necessary according to the recipe, while doing a million other things. Thanks for that distraction. They were very charred and tasted extraordinary.
This is another winning recipe courtesy of the Contessa. So simple. I changed the ratio of eggplants and red onions (more) to red peppers (less). Roasting an eggplant is like going into another flavor dimension. The smokiness and the way it melts in the mouth; I dream about this kind of food. My idea of roasting includes lightly charring whatever goes in the oven, with olive oil, coarse salt (absolute favorite) and pepper.
This is good, crowd-pleasing food. The tomato paste adds a tangy aftertaste that you shouldn't avoid. So first go buy tomato paste.
ROASTED EGGPLANT SPREAD
barely adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
2 medium eggplants, peeled
1 large red bell pepper, seeded
2 red onions, peeled
2 garlic cloves
3 Tbs olive oil
1 teaspoons coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon tomato paste
Preheat the oven to 400º.
Cut eggplants, peppers and onions in large chunks. Toss them in a baking sheet together with unpeeled garlic cloves, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 1 hour, tossing once during cooking and checking after 40 minutes (I usually lower the oven tº at this point to 375ºF/180ºC). Cool slightly.
Peel garlic cloves, and put vegetables in food processor fitted with a steel blade, add tomato paste and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. I add a few more Tbs olive oil and process it to a paste.
Serves 6 to 8