Handy to have around
I haven’t been doing a lot of cooking lately, to tell you the truth. When I feel busy, my interest in food – or cooking it, at least – sort of sneaks out the back door, like a burglar with a sack of loot. I’m still plenty hungry, of course. It’s just that I’d rather set the table, say, or slice lime for a gin and tonic, than stand at the stove. I feel kind of bad about it, but only a little. I know it’s temporary. And anyway, this is where Brandon comes in. Come dinnertime, he’s very handy to have around. On a whim, he’ll whip up some chickpea salad. Or he’ll snip some herbs from the pots on the patio, bring some pasta to a boil, and bang up a meal’s worth of warm, fragrant noodles. He also poaches a mean egg – be still my beating heart! – to perch atop roasted vegetables. He even grills steak, people, to a perfectly rosy shade of rare. (He’s my kind of vegetarian.)
All of which is to say that I owe him quite a debt of gratitude for keeping us flush with recipes around here. Like these vinegar-roasted shallots, for one. These days, I can’t be counted on for much more than dessert.
The idea for these shallots came last Thursday night, in Oklahoma, where we were spending a long weekend visiting my mother. These visits generally include lots of cooking and, for me, a ritual clean-out of Mom’s fridge – a sort of black hole, if you will, for foodstuffs. Mom is a wonderful cook, but she has a special talent for keeping food well past its prime. Luckily, as it should happen, I have a special talent for throwing such specimens away. Each time I visit, I do what is now called my “Fridge-Nazi Number,” wherein I hitch up the garbage bag and scour the shelves in search of shriveled asparagus, yellowed celery, and items formerly known as cheese. This time was especially fruitful. I even found a Tupperware of tomato bread pudding from our last visit, in early March. [Hi, Mom! Love you!]
Brandon also got into the spirit, which is where the shallots come in. On our second day there, he stumbled upon a plastic bag of them, waiting quietly on the second shelf. Some were a little spongy, but most were fine. He schemed silently for a minute, scratching his head, and then he set to work. First, he trimmed and peeled them and put them in a baking dish. Then he added a slip of olive oil and a good glug of vinegar. Then he covered the pan and slid it into the oven, where the heat began its work. An hour or so later – during which time he grilled some zucchini and two steaks while standing under an umbrella in a torrential downpour; I told you he was good – the shallots had softened to translucent jewels, now-pink, now-browned, and melty-soft. Sticky with cooked-down vinegar, they were almost gooey, heady with fragrance. To taste them, I would never have known that there was vinegar involved, had I not seen them in the making. It left only a faint trace, a sweetly sour wisp, making the shallots taste fuller and more like themselves. Mom and I scooped them atop our steaks, while Brandon made himself an open-face sandwich of sharp cheddar, shallot, and baguette.
Now, they’d also be delicious, I’ll bet, atop a cracker spread with fresh goat cheese, or on a hamburger, tucked under the bun. You could eat them alongside a piece of toast with sautéed mushrooms, as we did last night, or straight-up, with your fingers, while standing in the kitchen. If we ever get around to throwing a barbeque this summer, I plan to park a big pan of them on the buffet, for eating out of hand or piling onto plates. In the meantime, though, what I’d really like to do is stand them up like dominoes - the soft, purply, edible kind - and eat my way down the line.
Like most roasted roots and vegetables, these are about as easy as it gets. Stick ‘em in the oven; turn once or twice with a spatula; and ta daa! They’re ready. The only thing to be finicky about is the size of the shallots. They should all be of similar size – or, if not, cut any large ones in half.
2 lbs. shallots, trimmed and peeled
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
Sea salt, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Put the shallots in a baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer. [I like to use a ceramic 9" x 13" from Williams-Sonoma, but Pyrex would work nicely too.] Add the oil and vinegar, and toss well with your hands to coat. Cover the pan tightly with a sheet of aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes; then remove the pan from the oven and gently flip the shallots with a spatula. They should be beginning to soften nicely and starting to brown. Cover the pan again, and return it to the oven for another 15 to 45 minutes, checking occasionally, until the shallots are very soft and well caramelized. Don’t be afraid to let them brown in spots. They should bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours in total.
Serve warm or at room temperature, with salt, if you like – though I find that these don’t even need it.
Note: You could use any number of vinegars here; sherry isn’t essential. Brandon also suggests, in particular, balsamic or vinaigre de Banyuls.