VEGETARIAN FOR THE DAY. |
An easy addictive dish to impress your friends with.
Every now and then the thought of something different, breaking old habits or even changing the usual course of a day, wells up like an appetizing challenge. It is difficult but worth the effort as the very nature of the humdrum and often boring, daily rituals take on new meanings. Change is as good as a rest, but eating habits often defy efforts as the intention often ends up with compromise and then the usual takes over. It need not be the case and perhaps for those with a determination to cut down on meat or engage on future dietary plans, a stomach filling appetizing vegetarian meal is an interesting proposal. I guarantee that if done as I am about to show, it will taste good and if attacked with a reasonable appetite will lead to repeats or search for similar for other adventurous days.
One of the off putting aspects of vegetables and one which does not encourage the young to eat vegetables, is the taste. That bland unexciting flavour that makes each spoonful heavier than the rest often leads to an avoidance that can in fact be a source of a great many health problems. Salads may be fine, but there is a world within the vegetarian field that once discovered will lead to healthy addiction.
This dish is a classic in the western Mediterranean, particularly in Malta, where I am told it came from, but in fact it most probably came in with the Ottoman empire where vegetable dishes arise in abundance and vary in style and taste within an incredibly broad spectrum. Experimenting therefore should start with simplicity, attraction and taste. Vegetarian for the day every now and then, is better for those who will always find it difficult to get away from the attractions of meat.
This dish is called Menestra and was probably once called something else since the word means combined vegetables. It is purely and simply a clean cut vegetable dish with a taste and presentation second to none. Different Mediterranean countries have the same name for other delicacies, but all of them are composed of vegetables.
We need a wide selection of vegetables like, baby marrow, aubergine, pumpkin, suede, turnip, parsnip, carrots ,runner beans, tomatoes, olive oil, ready cooked Pinto beans, basil and spaghetti.
Cut all the vegetables into dice chunks for easy broiling except for the carrots which look better lengthwise and in two inch strips. Some vegetables soften quicker and the runner beans should go in first with the carrots, pumpkin (without skin) turnip and suede. Bring to the boil just covered with water, add a good measure of olive oil (about half a cupful) and then simmer slowly adding more liquid as it starts to boil off. Remember, keep an eye on it and do not be tempted to leave the kitchen and get on with something else. The aubergine, baby marro, pinto beans (cupful) and a handful of small chunks of potatoes (for slight thickening and taste) can be put in when the rest has had five minutes of broiling. Let it simmer very gently and check individual chunks of vegetables for tenderness without disintegration. Even if some vegetables are not available, Pumpkin is essential and so is Basil. You can overload with both. Do not experiment with other vegetables which may not suit the dish.
Meanwhile get a good handful of Basil and pound it well together with the fresh skinned or tinned tomatoes, a few cloves of garlic and a little oil in the mortar before adding it to the pot. The basil is essential and will transform those flavours into one unique blend that is both appetizing and balanced. Some people add a touch of turmeric or saffron. Both work wonders, but just a hint….
Finally and just before you call it a day, add enough spaghetti to curl round most of the vegetables without choking the dish. The final dish should be possible to eat with a fork, but the sauce should be creamy and the vegetables soft but firm. If it all dries up too much whilst the spaghetti is cooked, add a little bit of water. Enough to make sure you can take it off the fire and thicken as it cools. If it is duram wheat pasta, put it in whilst the vegetables are being done or do it separately until tender and add it just before you take it all off the fire so that acquires the overall taste.
Serve it warm and grate some strong cheese like parmesan or mature chedder over it for the final touch if you like it that way. Do not smother it and do not use a soft or bland cheese. It is the sweetness of the basil and the strength of the little cheese that makes the taste buds go for it in a big way.
Good Luck and show it off to your friends.
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