Thursday, 5 June 2014

Bulgur with roasted vegetables and feta

Bulgur with roasted vegetables and feta

I admit I have periodic - let me say - affairs with some food. I explain better: I sometimes become smitten with a particular ingredient, or even a dish, and then I prepare it with a very high frequency, not every day but maybe at least once a week, often in the same way (I precise I am the kind of person who doesn't like monotony at the table). So I had the period of "paccheri", and most of the pasta recipes I prepared was made with paccheri; then came the period of "pappa al pomodoro" (a typical dish of the Tuscan cuisine made with tomatoes and bread, which is as simple as delicious) and now that I recall it I think I could get back in love; then I had the "ratatouille" period: how many dishes had a ratatouille as a side, when not the leading role, at that time! There were also sword fish, ginger, anchovies, shrimps, bottarga (an Italian specialty made from fish eggs, salted and dried, mostly produced in Sardinia), scallops, sesame, barley (with which I used to make "orzotto", a dish prepared like a risotto but using barley instead of rice), spaghetti and more.
Now it is the bulgur time. Bulgur is a quite recent discovery for me; before I used to prepare couscous, that I like very much too, and since in shops bulgur and couscous are usually displayed on the same shelves, I noticed it and, being always very curious to try something new, I decided to buy. I loved it since the first time I prepared it; for sure I make it much more often then I make pasta (I admit, even if I am one-hundred percent Italian, I do not need to eat pasta every day, not because I do not like it but because I think that many other things are good too, so I prefer to vary and make every day something different).
I prepared it in several way and this is my favorite: easy to make, full of colors and flavors, healthy, light and tasty, it is perfect for summer. It can also be prepared in advance and served at room temperature, therefore it is a good solution for several occasion: a family lunch or dinner, a buffet supper, an outdoor picnic, the lunch-box.

Bulgur with roasted vegetables and feta

Bulgur with roasted vegetables and feta
serves 4
120 g bulgur
200 g feta cheese
4 medium zucchini (if possible use 2 green and 2 yellow), halved lengthways and deseeded
2 red onion, peeled and cut into chunks
2 peppers (one green and one yellow or red), deseeded and cut into chunks
2 eggplants, cut into chunks
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
1 bunch fresh herbs (I use thyme, oregano and mint, but also marjoram, rosemary, parsley and basil work well)
zest of 1 lemon
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

-      Baking the bulgur before cooking it is not necessary but adds a peculiar and original toasted flavor to the dish and enhanced the nutty taste of the grain (if your guests have ever had bulgur before, they will ask you what particular type or brand you use)
-      Bulgur can be substituted for couscous, farro, barley or even rice (if using one of these alternatives do not toast them in the oven but cook according to instructions on package)
-      With regard to herbs it is possible to add any combination according to your personal taste as well as local or seasonal availability

Preheat the oven to 200°C.
In the meantime, slice the zucchini crossways into chunky crescents and put into a large roasting tray with all the remaining vegetables; season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with a generous handful of thyme and oregano (reserve mint  for later) and toss together with a good splash of olive oil. Roast in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through and crisp and golden around the edges: in order to have vegetables equally roasted, remove tray from the oven each 15-20 minutes and carefully mix with a spatula.  About 15 minutes before the end of cooking, sprinkle a generous splash of balsamic vinegar over the vegetables and mix gently.
On a separate, small baking sheet, spread bulgur in an even layer and toast in the oven until fragrant and deep golden, stirring halfway through, about 10 minutes. Transfer bulgur to a large bowl or tray and let cool, then place the bulgur  in a saucepan, cover with fresh cold water (about twice the volume of the bulgur) and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until tender, then drain well (also refer to package instructions for cooking time).
Transfer to a large bowl, dress with a good splash of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss with the roasted vegetables. Scatter the lemon zest  and mint leaves roughly chopped over the mix, add the feta cheese crumbled, mix gently and serve.
This dish is delicious served straight away, but it is very good also prepared in advance and served at room-temperature.

Cooking tip: how to use fresh herbs

I like to remind that herbs on twig and with needle-shaped leaves (rosemary, thyme, bay) maintain their flavor even if they are cooked,  while herbs with more fleshy leaves, like basil, parsley, mint, ecc. loose their flavor if cooked, than it is better to use them raw and add them out of the heat.   

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