Friday, April 13, 2007

Everything tastes better roasted.....

When I was in culinary school, I had a job with the director of the department as an instructor's assistant and a general flunkee. On Saturdays we had Chef Series classes that were opened to the general public for a flat rate. My friend Marion and I (due to our low level status) had the pleasure and at times, the curse, of convincing area chefs to come in early on a Saturday morning to teach a class for the "housewife demographic" on any subject they preferred. Lucky for us, one chef, Rick Mahan, was always available. He had a bit of that "chef rock star" air about him and due to his roguish good looks, he was always a big draw.

Both Marion and I had worked for him at different points in our culinary careers and we loved and respected his talent and genuine kindness. His approach to food is very tactile, involving all the senses and and his charm cannot be ignored. Currently, he owns and operates my favorite restaurant in town, The Waterboy, named after a Celtic rock band that he loves.

It was in one of these classes that Rick taught me one of the most important aspects when composing a dish; each ingredient should be able to stand on its own. Quality means everything and the layering of flavors can take a simple dish to a whole new level. The item on the class agenda that day was pizza. This was the early 90's and "gourmet pizza" was the trend du jour. Since the actual cooking time on a thin crust pizza is minimal, it's crucial to cook the actual toppings individually, thus giving gourmet pizza all its flavor. Rick took the class from cradle to grave as he caramelized onions, sauteed wild mushrooms, and roasted bell peppers and garlic. It was a long process, but what a payoff. To this day, Rick still conducts cooking classes (now held in his restaurant), sharing all his knowledge and love of food.

Chef Rick at The Waterboy


For the Lunch Club this week, I decided to bring in a Roasted Vegetable and Potato Salad. I adhered to the lessons Rick taught me, seasoning and roasting all the potatoes and vegetables, layering my flavors.


Approximately 2 pounds of Baby red potatoes cut in half and seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper before roasting in a 400 degree oven for 35-45 minutes depending on your taste and size of potato.

One large sweet red onion sliced crosswise in 4ths to make large rings, 3 large zucchini sliced in a 1 inch diagonal , and 1-2 pounds of whole crimini mushrooms seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper before roasting in a 400 degree oven for 35 minutes.

After all the vegetables have cooled, I combined the potatoes and vegetables together and checked the taste to determine if more salt was needed.

When I was ready to serve the salad, I added roasted red bell peppers (this time I used peppers from a jar due to the rain dampening my ability to get to my outdoor grill), fresh arugula and a simple balsamic vinaigrette. I use one from Trader Joes. I prefer to eat this salad at room temperature and since there isn't any protein or dairy, it is safe to do so.

I served the salad with a roasted chicken that I picked up at the market. It was unfortunate that we were at work, because the lunch would have been bliss with a glass of Viognier. True to form, Rick was right.....layering the flavors added complexity and texture to the salad. The only seasoning added was olive oil, salt and pepper. The roasting allowed the natural sugar and flavors of the vegetables to emerge and the arugula added that peppery pungency...simple and delicious.

7 comments:

Urban Vegan said...

Those roasted veggies make me hungry.

Chef Rick sounds like a Reniassance Chef.

doggybloggy said...

excellent and bravo on the cooking lesson..I always layer flavors and will cook things separately then combine them later...I do that with soups a lot so that each item has good flavor

buffalodickdy said...

The pizza class reminded me of when I placed 3rd in the main dish category in a city wide cooking contest sponsored by the local newspaper. 1000 recipes entered, 10 picked to cook in each category head to head in the local colleges' culinary arts kitchen. Guess what 3rd prize was? A cooking class!(guess they thought I needed more training!) It was a pizza seminar by a local (published) expert in Italian cooking and also a wine expert. I learned more that day about pizza making than I thought possible!Why do we always remember the talented teachers the best?

Michelle Ann said...

Urban- Rick is a Renaissance Chef...normally he wears skater shorts and vans at work and makes a point of going out into the dining room every night to say hello to all his friends and fans...

Doggy-you are so right about the soup thing. And when making a good marinara sauce, cooking everything separately really gives the sauce that "next day flavor"

Buffalo-I know! Pizza can be a fine art, from the dough, to the toppings, to the wood fire ovens. Rick has even been known to make his own fresh Mozzarella....

pinknest said...

i totally agree with having the ingredients stand on their own. your potatoes and veggies look fabulous!

Dan said...

I'm drooling all over my keyboard. And it's a new keyboard! I just got it last week. Darn! :)

Robin said...

oh man...that looks so good...my mouth started watery..I gotta go eat!