Summer heats up, and I long to blast the oven | Food Feature | Indy Week
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Summer heats up, and I long to blast the oven 

I'm aware this makes no sense, especially for a family that prefers a cool house year-round. And yet, a trip to the farmers' market sends my soul soaring with visions of piles of roasted vegetables. (That is, Raleigh's state farmers' market or the market in Carrboro--not those groceries that comically label their fluorescent-lighted produce sections as "farmers' markets" and call their depressing seafood counters "fish markets.")

I know that in summer I'm supposed to grill those vegetables. Good flavor, doesn't heat up the kitchen. I, though, vastly prefer to grill in spring and fall, and even winter. Grilling may not heat the kitchen, but it sure cooks the chef. Opening the lid to a blast of heat when it's 95 degrees and the mosquitoes gnaw at my legs just doesn't feel like the living is easy.

So we bite the air-conditioning bullet and crank the oven to 450. In exchange, I try hard to make the best use of all my hot air by filling the racks full of sheet pans, making supper supplies for the week.

If I'm feeling especially wacky, I heat the kitchen the rest of the way with a stockpot of boiling water for corn on the cob, which I'd roast except that by then my oven is full.

This is kid-tested, dad-approved food: roasted green beans as addictive as french fries, roasted vegetables for phyllo pizzas and salad toppings, and a smoky, velvety tandoori chicken all cooking at once, plus that corn, with leftovers for breakfast corn fritters.

Knowing when to stop when I'm at the market can be the hardest part. There's always some new variety of squash, some funky-colored eggplant or pepper, some just-pulled potatoes that I surely need to test--for professional reasons, of course. The good news is that those roasted vegetables can reappear night after night, and while you may be eating the same four veggies each time, the tasting possibilities seem endless.

My favorite combination couldn't be simpler: I toss cubes of eggplant, red peppers, zucchini and yellow squash separately in olive oil (if there's space on a pan for more than one vegetable, I do the eggplant and peppers together), and roast them at 450 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until tender. I like the red peppers to get a tad charred on the edges, so they may take a bit longer. The eggplant timing depends on how dry they are to start; regardless, I cook eggplant thoroughly--undercooked eggplant is nasty and puckers your tongue more.

From there, I put some into the fridge for later. The rest I toss with a splash of balsamic vinegar, ready-to-garnish mixed greens tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette, and top with cashews for crunch. This is my perfect salad, one I could truly eat nightly.

For a phyllo pizza, layer two sheets of phyllo in a greased sheet pan, folding in the ends to fit, brush lightly with olive oil, and repeat the layering with six more sheets. Brush the top sheet with pesto, if you like, and top with roasted vegetables and whatever cheese appeals to you (Parmesan, mozzarella, jack or fontina). Bake at 400 degrees until the phyllo is crisp, about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on how deep your toppings are.

With a few additions, the roasted vegetables can be a main course on their own, most notably as a roasted ratatouille. Add some tomatoes, either some you've roasted or, in a pinch, canned ones; chopped basil; and a touch of garlic (preferably roasted, too--my way is to briefly simmer heads of garlic in milk, dry them, toss with olive oil, and roast until soft). You could also add roasted onions, but I find their flavor overpowering here.

The Carrboro market inspires my roasting beyond vegetables. From the Nu Horizons Farm stand, I pick up chicken legs for Fake Tandoori Chicken, adapted from a recipe by the late Laurie Colwin. This incredible rub of yogurt, paprika and chili powder transports chicken far from its usual boring self. I substitute smoked paprika, delicious in its own right, but even better when it hints at the grilling I ought to be doing.

Cook's notes: The original recipe for this chicken called for one cut-up chicken. With the exception of post-Thanksgiving sandwiches, though, I don't care for white meat, so I call for whole chicken legs instead. As long as you go for eight pieces of meat, your proportions will be fine. You can shift the proportions of chili powder to paprika if you want it spicier, but I opt for more smoked paprika than heat for a more interesting flavor and to keep it kid-friendly. The chicken is crispy if you've left the skin on, crunchy if not; I never can decide which I prefer. It's great hot, lukewarm and cold--ideal picnic food. Leftovers make great filling for quesadillas. If I'm roasting the chicken at the same time as other vegetables, I keep the oven at 400 degrees for the chicken--the vegetables just take longer to roast.

Fake Tandoori Chicken
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup (8 ounces) plain yogurt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed (optional)
4 whole chicken legs

In the morning (or 8 hours before you plan to cook the chicken), stir together in a small bowl the yogurt, chili powder, both paprikas and garlic. Paint the chicken legs all over with the paste, and keep them covered all day in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken on a wire rack set over a foil-lined baking sheet (I use a cooling rack from my baking; you can skip the rack, but you may need to pour off the juices halfway through the cooking time). Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, until the chicken is the color of teak.

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