During the summer I try and minimize how much I use my oven. The air conditioning in my apartment is adequate for dealing with Philadelphia’s steamy weather, but it begins to falter when I add all that radiant oven heat to the mix. So when cooler temperatures roll around, I’m more than ready to reconnect with the world of baking, broiling and roasting.
This last weekend, I was making a little dish to take with me to a birthday potluck. It was simple enough, just a bowl of lemony white bean spread and some crunchy baguette rounds. I’d cut the bread thin, so it would become akin to little crackers as it toasted and be a good partner for the smooth dip (this is a great way to give new life to day- or two-day-old bread).
As I stood by my oven and watched the bread to prevent it from burning, I saw a spark and then a small flame shoot out of the element (it’s electric). I quickly switched off the broiler, pulled my sheet of toasts off the rack and attempted to blow out the flame (for future reference, this is not a particularly good way to extinguish a kitchen fire). Thankfully, the flame died back almost immediately and I was able to investigate the damage. A chunk of the element was burnt away.
I was worried that my 46-year-old oven was done for — and right at the beginning of braising season! I stewed and fretted for the rest of the weekend, until the office opened and I was able to request a repair. Happily, it appears that I live in an apartment building that is prepared for such culinary calamities. They had a replacement element in stock. In just 15 minutes, I was back in the home-baking business.
How did I celebrate my oven’s restoration? By putting it to work to make Ina Garten’s Prosciutto Roasted Bass With Autumn Vegetables. The entire meal is made in the oven and is so very warming and autumnal. She has you roast up a medley of seasonal vegetables. When they’re nearly done, you add little parcels of prosciutto-wrapped fish to the party. Both elements finish at the same time and you’re ready to serve.
It’s a particularly nice meal for small dinner parties because all the prep can be done ahead. Vegetables go in half an hour before your guests arrive, the fish goes in when they’ve just walked through the door and dinner is essentially done. You can have a glass of wine with your friends while the oven does the rest of the work and look like the calm, collected host that you always aspire to be. Good for mellow evenings and very good for The Weekender.
Before you pre-heat you oven, here are a few things you should know:
– Use your very largest rimmed baking sheet for the roasted vegetables so you don’t lose any bits or pieces to the oven floor.
– It’s always a good idea to check Seafood Watch when selecting seafood. Currently, striped bass has a very high rating, whereas halibut, the other suggested fish for this recipe, is slightly more suspect.
– If you have any leftover roasted vegetables, try tucking them into an omelet the next day. It’ll make for a tasty seasonal brunch.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Canning in Small Batches Year Round, is now available.