© 2018 Can Caramelo

Grilled Veggie Stack

I have been wanting to publish this recipe for months now! I was just waiting for the summer vegetables season to begin to get some really tasty and colourful locally grown ingredients. This recipe is inspired by a dish that was served at a place called “Born Cooking” (situated in “el Born” neighbourhood in Barcelona) where I worked years ago. It was a little café-take-away-catering place in which an Argentinian chef made delicious savoury food and his American business partner made typical American desserts. The food was absolutely great and it could only be due to the hiddenness of the place in a tiny street that it didn’t greatly succeed.

As happens often though, the owners had some near to mortal fights not long after opening the store (I at least once had to close the kitchen door so customers wouldn’t hear them screaming at each other and a buck of water was thrown once). Both of them were highly temperamental and not in a good sense. In summer, work started to be rather scarce and some days they would call me in the morning to tell me it wouldn’t be necessary for me to come in that same day. When on top of this, the chef made romantic (or just sexual?, I never knew) advances at me, I decided not to go back to work in spite of my lack of savings. As I had craved to leave the city for a couple of days or so, I counted my coins and decided to invest 16 of my 40 Euros on a bus ride to Cadaqués, a picturesque fisher town where the parents of a friend who had invited me there, owned a house. When I got there, my friend told me that it happened to be his birthday and we were going to have dinner at a nice restaurant. We hadn’t known each other for long and I felt a little shy with him and somehow didn’t dare to confess my money situation. In the end I just let him pay the bill and during the next couple of days I kept telling him I preferred to have a pasta with some old garlic at home instead of going out, that I preferred breakfast at home to coffee at the beach and sometimes that I just wasn’t hungry at all (at 5pm, when we had been out all day, still didn’t have lunch and my stomach was roaringly calling me a liar). He still invited me to all kind of things. So when he finally took me to the bus station to go back, I attempted to give him the 24 Euros I was left with, but luckily he just told me to buy him an ice cream. Done! So I still had around 20 euros left to survive till I would be paid a salary at a job I still had to find. At least I had paid the rent for the month.

One day I ate pasta with banana because that was all I had at home. Although I might have been a little worried, I also remember enjoying the free time, opening up to my surroundings and embracing help (mostly in form of lunch or dinner invitations) from both friends and strangers. Weirdly, in this couple of weeks (fortunately I found a new job rather quickly and it was one of the rare job where they paid weekly, bingo!) I started to get presents from strangers. There was a rose-seller whom I often ran into as I had been delivering cakes with a tricycle around the neighbourhood were I lived and he worked. Now every time I saw him, he gave me a rose. Then, one day, I say somebody carrying a big marihuana plant. I told him it was beautiful and he just gave it to me (it was masculine, no THC, but looked beautiful on our terrace). Then somebody on the street gave me a pair of sunglasses. And one day I went to the beach and swam out as usual and when I came back a guy who was selling cold drinks at the beach was impressed and gave me a beer. And there is more: I was out one night and some English guys asked me for the way to a club. I told them it was just on the other side of the square. “I ‘ll give you 5 euros if you take us there.” That was like 1 euro per meter. Deal! If they knew they sponsored 1 week of food for me!

Memories of other times. I think having lived (not only this time) with very little money has made me more sensitive to this kind of situation for others. A general rule I have is that whoever has more money pays, and I try not to feel bad about it if it is the other person, and that the other person doesn’t waste a thought if I am this person. If I have to pay somebody, I want it to be a fair payment and it will be made instantly or at the established time – because for many it might be peanuts and doesn’t matter too much, but for some it might mean to worry about dinner that night or rent at the end of the month.

Sometimes I get a little carried away when writing these blog posts, so back to the recipe now. It’s a simple dish (very simple if you buy grilled peppers, pesto and olive paste, a little less, but so much better if you go for homemade), just grilled summer vegetables, layered with olive paste, pesto and cheese. It is a flavour bomb and can be eaten on it’s own, with bread, rice, pasta or cut into cute little canapés.

Serves 4.

For the pesto:

  • 1 packed cup/ 40g of fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds/cashews (I used hald and half)
  • 1/2 cup/ 110g extra virgin olive oil
  • 50g/2oz fresh Parmesan Cheese or 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast for a vegan version
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 clove garlic (optional)

For the olive paste (Tapenade):

  • 200g black olives with stone (I used the Greek Kalamata olives with which I’m in an ongoing love affair)

The vegetables and else:

  • 3 eggplants (aubergines)
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 yellow bell peppers
  • 3 zucchini
  • 1 bunch green asparagus (optional)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 200g goat cheese (can be swapped for mozzarella, provolone, taleggio or other or left out to keep it vegan)

Turn on the broiler of your oven. Rinse the peppers, dry them and put them into the oven (on the top rack). Turn around every 5min to burn them evenly. They should get quite black (you’ll remove the skin). Meanwhile, cut the eggplant and zucchini into 5mm/0.2in slices. Line a baking tray (you might need two) with parchment paper and put the vegetables slices on top. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Once the peppers are grilled, remove them from the oven, switch to top and bottom heat at 250ºC/500ºF and insert the tray(s) with the sliced vegetables. Bake for 20 minutes or until slightly browned and soft (if you do 2 trays simultaneously, don’t forget to switch at half-time. You can bake the asparagus with the rest of the vegetables in the oven or fry them separately in a pan (the latter makes for a nicer colour). If frying in a pan, just add a little olive oil and fry for about 5 minutes on medium-high temperature and sprinkle with a little sea salt. While the vegetables are in the oven and the peppers are cooling, pit and puree the olives and prepare the pesto by adding all ingredients to a food processor and blend until a creamy, but not totally smooth. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skin (should come off easily) and seeds and slice into large pieces. Now you can start layering your milhojas. Start with a big slice of eggplant and alter vegetables with pesto or olive paste every other layer. Top with cheese and put under the broiler for 5 minutes or until the cheese is partly runny, puffy and a little browned. Top with an outer slice of eggplant if you wish. Enjoy!

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