Sweet Roasted Escalivada
With summer finally here, tomatoes are ever closer to reaching gazpacho ripeness. But as I wait, I thought I’d share a recipe for Escalivada, a Spanish dish that’s wonderfully simple, incredibly tasty, and can be served cold on those hot summer days. It’s also a favorite of my talented mother-in-law, Fresita.
Fresita isn’t her real name of course, but the one used by family and friends since she was a young girl growing up in rural Galicia. Fresita in fact, means little strawberry, which is quite endearing I think. Although when I first met her, little strawberry didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
Fresita and her six siblings were part of a generation that grew up in the villages of post Civil-War Spain, where finding enough work was never easy. As a late teen, she followed her sister across the country to Barcelona, where she found a job, got married, had two children and has lived happily ever after.
Therefore it’s only natural that her cooking be a mixture of Galician and Catalan influences.
The Catalan dish of Escalivada is one of many recipes that Fresita has passed my way over the years, and follows a formula of simple, tasty, healthy, and affordable.
When I saw her last, I asked if I could take photos as she prepared the dish, using her tool of choice, the scissors.
Being the very opposite of shy, she happily agreed.
How to Make Escalivada
Escalivada is quite simple. “Roast your vegetables, peel off their skins and mix them together,” she said. “Ya está.”
This ya está sounded all too familiar. Although it means that’s all, in fact there is often this, that, and the other thing implied along with it, so I thought it best to corner Fresita for the details; easier said than done.
Since I’ve known her, I’ve never seen a recipe within arm’s reach, and only once - at my insistence - has she used a real measuring cup.
Fresita prefers concepts such as “a yogurt jar of this, a coffee cup of that,” or my favorite, “just enough til it tastes right.” Over time, I’ve translated these measurements into actual grams - weighed out by my nifty digital scale - something she politely refrains from commenting on when visiting.
Which Vegetables to Roast?
Escalivada, like other wonderfully simple recipes, has many variations. The Fresita-approved combination and the one I like, as well as the one I’ve seen most in restaurants, is red bell pepper, eggplant, and yellow onions.
Roasting these ingredients together and capturing their run-off juice is the key. The very name Escalivada comes from the verb escalivar, which in Catalan means to roast over embers. However, should you also be living in a 520 sq ft apartment with no back yard or embers to be had, an oven will do.
So as you read through the instructions below, and wonder how exact they might be, remember that trial and error is still appreciated by many a seasoned cook. Fresita admits this allows for variations in the final product, but it also keeps things from getting boring.
Fear not though, with something as easy and tasty as Escalivada, there’s very little that can go wrong.
Recipe for Escalivada (spelled Escalibada outside of Catalonia)
Adapted from Fresita’s non-existing recipe book. Serves 4 - 6 as an appetizer.
- 1 large red bell pepper left whole
- 2 large eggplants left whole
- 3 large yellow onions, sliced in half with tough outer skins removed
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup tap water
- salt to taste
1) Pre-heat your oven to around 180 degrees C, or 355 degrees F
2) Pour a bit of olive oil into your hands and rub the skins of the bell pepper and eggplants til they’re shiny. Drizzle a tad bit of oil over the onion halves, cut-side up.
3) Place all the vegis in a roasting pan along with the cup of water and into the oven it goes. The bottom rack is best.
4) Wait til the bell pepper starts to turn black on one side, which should take roughly 30 - 45 mins depending on the oven. Flip over the bell pepper and eggplants to blacken the other side. Then take a fork and mash the onions so that each layer breaks apart and spreads out over the pan, allowing them to caramelize completely. Place back in the oven for another 20 - 30 minutes.
5) At this point, the bell pepper’s outer skin should be fairly burnt and the layers of onions should be brown but not burnt. If your onions are dark brown and the bell pepper still hasn’t blackened, taken the dish out anyway, as you don’t want to burn the onions.
6) Let the vegis cool for about 30 mins before peeling off and discarding the skins of the bell pepper and the eggplants. Then use scissors to slice up their interior meaty parts and place in a serving dish. Spoon the onion layers into the same serving dish, then use the scissors to cut them up inside the dish. This is easier if the dish is narrow and tall, like a bread mold.
7) Take the juice that’s collected in the roasting pan and pour a bit into the serving dish. Pour just enough to cover around half of the vegetables. Any more will make the final dish too soupy.
8) Add salt to taste, and drizzle olive oil over the top. How much olive oil? “Not too much,” according to Fresita.
9) Mix everything together and serve on a slice of baguette. Escalivada is great any way you serve it: cold, warm, or my favorite, at room temperature. Sealing and storing it overnight in the fridge will allow the flavors to blend together and make for an even richer dish the next day.
A soup spoon of Sherry vinegar mixed in to the final dish livens it up nicely. Also feel free to change the quantities of vegis above. If the dish is too sweet for you, try using fewer onions.
You can of course add your own vegis to the mix. Popular options include tomatoes, garlic, and fennel.
Cheese can be a wonderful topping for the dish as well. I especially like sauteing fresh goat’s cheese and adding it right before serving, as seen in the last photo above.
Let me know in the comments section if you’ve tried one of the variations and how it turned out!
Last update: February 22, 2016