The sight of the first Italian lemons, complete with their leaves, prompts me to make this dish, illustrated on the previous page, every year. Of all the roast, baked, grilled or marinated vegetable dishes in this book, this is my favourite. An atypical selection of vegetables is used – no tomato, aubergine, courgette, bell peppers or basil. Those used are of North European cooking – potatoes, turnips, peas etc. – but they are seasoned with the flavours of the Mediterranean – olive oil, chillies, lemon juice and garlic. In short a mongrel of a dish. It can be served as an antipasto or as a contorno (accompaniment). This is the dish in which to use all those infantile vegetables the supermarkets so proudly stock.
The list of vegetables is not definitive. Buy what is in season, but avoid beetroot as it colours everything else. Spinach, runner beans, pickling onions, greens, French beans and many others can be included. No baby sweetcorn please, I loathe it.
We are going to blanch and refresh a large selection of vegetables, so a little assembling of equipment and organisation is appropriate. Put 4 litres of water on to boil. Take two large bowls and half fill one with cold water. Put a colander in the empty bowl. Find your spider or buy one; it’s an absolutely essential piece of kit.
Blanch the potatoes, carrots, peas and turnip in the unsalted water for 10–12 minutes. They should be al dente, i.e. cooked, but with a little residual resistance to the bite. Drain with the spider and refresh in cold water. Drain again with the spider and transfer to the colander.
In the 10 minutes or so that the first batch of vegetables are cooking, prepare the asparagus (and broad beans, French beans or runner beans if using). While you are draining the first batch, the water must be left on a high heat to return to a boil. Blanch the asparagus (and beans) for 4–5 minutes, drain with the spider, refresh, drain again and add to the other vegetables in the colander. (You may need to change the water in the refreshing bowl and to tip out the excess water collecting below the colander in the other bowl.)
Prepare the spring onions and mushrooms and blanch for 1 minute, then refresh and add to the vegetables in the colander. (If you are cooking spinach, this should be in this batch.) Let the vegetables sit to drain then mix thoroughly and return to the dried-out bowl. They will look brilliant – but don’t worry, we are going to fix that.
At this point the vegetables can be held for up to one day, well drained and clingfilmed in the fridge. If you do this, give them 10 minutes in a colander when it is time to finish the dish as they will have rendered more water during their sojourn in the fridge.
When ready to roast, preheat the oven to its maximum. Select a large roasting dish and lightly oil it.
Quarter the artichokes and add to the other vegetables. Into a bowl (the refreshing bowl washed and dried), squeeze 2 of the lemons, then add the minced garlic and chilli and
Lightly drizzle the vegetables in the prepared roasting dish with oil, transfer to the oven, and roast for 30 minutes. Do not stir, as you want the protruding vegetables to brown and dry in the hot oven. You may shake the roasting dish from time to time to prevent sticking. Remove from the oven and allow to cool at least partially, as to my mind this dish is best at room temperature.
To serve, select a large, pretty, serving platter and tip the vegetables on to it. They will have lost their vibrant colours but the improved flavours imbued by roasting in a dressing will more than compensate. Serve with half lemons and more olive oil to taste.
© 1996 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.