Recipe: Baked Vegetables with Smoked Mozzarella
My love of smoked foods can be traced back to my family’s annual, summer trips to Colonial Williamsburg. Short of donning a hoop skirt and bonnet, my parents, siblings and I are as historically geekish as is possible. My parents would pile the five of us in their old, red station wagon at 3am, in order to make it from New Jersey, down to the Colonial Parkway (the main artery leading back in time) by 10am.
Our drive was an exercise in my father’s ingenuity and dashed hopes of one day (ONE DAY!) being an inventor, just like Thomas Jefferson. He fashioned bunk beds out of plywood, in the way back of the station wagon. Bunk beds just wide enough and claustrophobically deep enough to hold my three older sisters and my brother. The back seat was piled with luggage, leaving space for me to curl into a fetal position and snuggle down on the floor behind my father’s seat, the thud-thud-thud of the tires as we rolled south over highways, easily lulling me to sleep. We were packed in and transported back centuries, in the airless, non-airconditioned car, like a small school of anchovies in an oily, Spanish can.
We’d arrive in Colonial Williamsburg, groggy and sweaty with stinky morning breath, park the car at the hotel and, because it was too early to check in, my mother gave us each a small, foil-lined Wet-Wipe pouch to wash our faces, and a tick-tac to cleanse our tongues. Buying our tickets, the children of our family were set free to explore and terrorize the more civilized, history buffs in Williamsburg. We’ve got a picture of my brother every year from the age of 10-16 standing under the same ancient tree, in front of the Governor’s Palace, grimacing as he gives the camera the finger.
Because this was the very early ’70s and there hadn’t been a kidnapping since the Lindbergh baby in 1932, and there was no such thing as pedophiles (at least no one mentioned it), from a very young age, like 6, I was usually left to my own divices, as well. Attempting to trail my much older siblings, I was quickly and judiciously left in the dust of Duke of Gloucester Street and had to find ways to entertain myself. I loved this freedom. I’d hit the wig maker first, stopping in Tarpley’s Store to get a piece of licorice root (which tasted horrible, but I had to have it), making my way to the blacksmith (even at such a young age, I recognized that blacksmiths were usually quite the dandies), touring the Magazine, ending up in the Governor’s Palace and finally, the giant, boxwood maze.
My family meet up for a late lunch at one of the taverns. If I was lucky, and the meeting point was King’s Arms, without fail, I’d order a bowl of peanut soup with sippets washed down with two sparkling ciders.
But my love of all foods smoked didn’t begin with eating smoky, old foods. In fact, I don’t recall the restaurants in Williamsburg serving lots of smoked foods. No, it was the pervasive smell of smoke that wafted through the historic streets, year round, that impacted my palate’s memory so. The scent primal, and comforting all at once.
35 years later, I am still lured by the smell of slowly smoking foods; smoked meat, smoked fish, smoked cheese, smoked tofu– smoked salt for crissake– if it’s smells and tastes smoky I am going to digest it.
At Earth Fare last week I found smoked mozzarella on sale. $2.99 a ball. Crazy cheap. I’ve managed to work the cheese in to at least one meal per day over the past seven days. This specific recipe is a good one to prepare ahead of time and just pop it in the oven 30 or 45 minutes before dinner. I encourage you to trick it out, make the recipe yours with personal favorites. Just don’t lose the smoked cheese.
2 pounds small, red skin potatoes, quartered
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, roughly chopped
4 baby eggplants, peeled, roughly chopped
1 large tomato, squeezed of excess seeds and roughly chopped
1 can artichoke hearts, drained, roughly chopped (optional)
1 ball smoked mozzarella, sliced
1) Boil the potatoes in salted water until a sharp knife easily slides through a chunk. This should take about 10 minutes of boiling; try not to over-cook. Meanwhile, sauté all the rest of the vegetables in a pan with olive oil until soft. Season with salt.
2) Pile the potatoes in a casserole dish, then spoon the cooked vegetables over top. Last, lay the slices of cheese over top. Bake immediately, or cover and chill in the fridge for up to a day.
3) When ready to eat: Preheat the oven to 375F. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then remove the cover and continue baking until the cheese gets golden. Serve at once.
Serves 6 side dishes
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