Ladies, bring a plateMay 30, 2009
Yesterday I was invited to speak at a literary lunch fundraiser, which took place in a large boat shed overlooking a beautiful bit of the harbour, full of very nice women who all seemed to be uber-professionals (radiologists, MCA guides, painters, doctors, etc) and at the same time very warm and generous people.
They also made the food – or at least a small band of great cooks from among their ranks did – for the 130 gals in attendance. And even before those women were thanked I could tell, looking at the buffet table, that this food came from good home cooks rather than profit-making caterers – it’s the generosity, people. Quality ingredients, bounteous servings and good taste: perfect rare roast beef, succulent chicken marbella, mounds of silky smoked salmon & capers, gorgeous salads, good bread and real butter.
I love a bring-a-plate* function myself, and I love that everyone has a signature dish or two. The Empress, for example, is duty-bound to lug a huge bowl of her incredible baba ganoush pretty much wherever she goes (I believe her secret is to smoke the aubergine first … mmmm). My own chart-toppers are a roasted carrot & mint salad, and a braised green bean, tomato & dill number for which I can never find the recipe and thus have to phone my sisters whenever I need it.
So I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. Here’s the simplest carrot salad in the world, and always beloved by all. Serve it warm or room temperature but don’t add the mint until the carrots have cooled enough not to cook the herb.
Roasted carrot & mint salad (as a side dish for 8 or 10ish)
- olive oil
- 2kg carrots
- 1 bunch mint, finely chopped
- balsamic vinegar
- sea salt
- Preheat oven to about 200 degrees C or hotter.
- Chop carrots into thickish rounds – about 1cm is good (they shrink a lot).
- Throw them into the biggest roasting pan you can find, or two pans – best to have them in a single layer if you can – with generous lugs of olive oil to coat, but they shouldn’t swim in oil or they won’t caramelise.
- Roast the bejesus out of them for around an hour, turning once or twice. Keep ’em cooking until they’re a deep golden-russet colour. The flavour really intensifies and sweetens as they roast.
- Pour off any excess oil and let cool for about 10 minutes.
- When the carrots have cooled a little but are still warm, slosh the balsamic vinegar over a little at a time, to taste. Be quite generous with it, but not so much as to overwhelm the carroty goodness.
- Let cool for another 10 or so, and then toss the chopped mint through (the colours are gorgeous) and season generously with crunchy sea salt and a little pepper.
- Throw it into a bowl, onto a table, and stand by for praise.
Okay. Your turn.
* When my English parents were first married in Oz they lived in a teeny bush town. My mother was asked to bring a plate to a function, which she thought was strange, but dutifully did so – and on arrival was embarrassed to find she was supposed to have put food on the plate first. Trap for young players.