There’s something about the onset of spring that screams for Primavera sauces. Look up the word Primavera in an Italian dictionary, and the translation will be “In Spring”. Fresh vegetables and herbs are exactly what we crave as the weather begins to warm, yet the addition of butter, cream or rich tomatoes keeps us grounded and helps us easy our way into warm weather dinning. Substitute pasta with quinoa, and now you have a modern and healthy twist on a classic preparation.
Fire Roasted Tomatoes & Squash Primavera over Red Quinoa (pronounced: KEEN-Wah).
What started out as a recipe that may have resembled Pasta alla Norma became something much more because I needed to make the sauce into something so engaging, flavorful and significant that it would please the senses, the palate and the appetite, all on its own. This dish is vegetarian and extremely healthy but if you let that deter you, or convince yourself that “healthy” may equal “boring”, then you will be missing out.
Fire Roasted Tomato and Squash Primavera is a sauce loaded with vegetables in a sweet and spicy tomato reduction. The vegetables remain slightly firm, and each of them holds their own characteristic flavors. As you work your way through this dish you first find the sauce at center stage, which is smooth yet bursting with tomato flavor. It is slightly sweet but with a spicy kick that is only felt at the tail end. The ricotta cheese adds a creamy contrast and helps to cleanse your palate and prepare you for the next bite.
Now comes the squash with an intensity that only roasting can obtain. Yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant are all identifiable through their colors but also through their unique flavors. When you add a little quinoa to your fork, you realize how it all comes together, with a slightly crisp mouth feel and nutty flavor. It takes the sauce to the next level and creates a medley of flavors and sensations on your palate that causes eyes to roll as the satisfying sound of “umm” echoes around the table.
When selecting a wine, Sangiovese is the first thing that came to mind, as I’ve always found it to be a great compliment to tomato sauces with a spicy kick. One of my go-to producers is, San Giusto a Rentennano, a Chianti Classico which often displays a slightly richer and almost savory (in the best possible way) fruit profile. The mix of the property’s southern-most location in the region and mineral-laden soils provides the San Giusto a Rentennano with a depth not usually seen in Chianti. It really is the perfect pairing. (tasting notes below)
Fire Roasted Tomato and Squash Primavera over Red Quinoa
This recipe takes a good amount of prep time but I think you’ll find the actual cooking process to be quite easy. Since the presentation depends on the vegetables, make sure to take your time and make them as uniform as possible. You can make the sauce hours, or even a day, ahead of time and then warm at the time of service. I advise using a large roasting pan for the fire roasting and to sweat the mire poix. You will also need a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil and a medium size saucepot.
(Optional) A note on the preparation of the yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant: Wash them thoroughly because you will be using the skins. Do not peel them. You should aim to have a piece of skin on each piece of squash. Slice the squash into thirds (length-wise) with the centerpiece about two times the size of the other two. Reserve the two side slices and turn the center slice on its side. Now slice again into thirds. The result should be that the center of the squash (containing the majority of the seeds) would be left over without any skin. You can leave the center of the squash out of the recipe. The slices you made with the skin intact are what you want to use for your small dice. This is not necessary, but it adds a significant amount of visual appeal to the final product.
(Optional) A note on the San Marzano tomatoes: It’s beneficial to remove the seeds because they add bitterness to the final product, but it is not absolutely necessary to do so. This is not as difficult as it may sound, nor do you need to remove every seed. Set up two bowls with a wire mesh strainer in each and one bowl without. Open a can and pour the contents into the first strainer. Take a tomato in hand and, with your thumb, open the side of the tomato over the second bowl and strainer. Juice and the seeds will flow out of the tomato. Place that tomato into the third bowl and continue to do this until you have deseeded all tomatoes. Once this is complete, collect all of the juice into one bowl and, with a spoon (or your hand), massage the remaining contents from each strainer into the juice until the only thing left are seeds. In the end you should have one bowl of dry, deseeded tomatoes and one bowl of strained tomato juice.
2 28oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes (drained with seeds removed & juice reserved)
2 cups sweet onion (small dice)
1 cup carrot (small dice)
6 cloves garlic (fine dice)
1 cup yellow squash (small dice)
1 cup zucchini (small dice)
1 cup Italian eggplant (small dice)
2 Tbls. capers (rinsed and drained)
¼ cup sherry vinegar
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup white wine
¾ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. oregano (dry)
1 tsp. basil (dry)
1 Tbls. butter
1 ½ cups red quinoa
1 ½ cup vegetable stock
1 ½ cup water
1 Tbls. butter
1 cup ricotta cheese
salt & pepper (for seasoning)
olive oil (as needed)
1 bunch fresh basil
Pour the strained tomato juice into a medium pot and place over a medium flame. Stir in the sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano and basil. This mixture will cook like this through most of your cooking process, but it is important to stir from time to time. The goal is to reduce the liquid by half.
Turn your broiler on low and place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Put the yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant into a bowl and pour in enough olive oil to coat the vegetables. Toss to coat and season with salt. Check to make sure you have added enough oil; each piece should be lightly coated. Add more if necessary and pour the yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant onto a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Spread the vegetables out and place in the oven on the center rack.
Place a large roasting pan over low heat (it will likely span across two burners) and pour enough olive oil to just barely cover the bottom of the pan. Add the carrots, onions and garlic, and stir to coat with oil. Season them well with salt and allow them to sweat over low heat for about five minutes.
Check on the squash in the oven and stir if it appears to be browning.
Using your hands, break up the tomatoes into small chunks and place them into the roasting pan with the onions, carrots and garlic. If there is any juice at the bottom of the bowl, pour it into the saucepot, which should still be reducing. Also add the capers to the roasting pan and stir to combine. Continue to cook for about three minutes.
Now pull the squash from the oven. If it doesn’t look done, it’s okay, because it will continue to roast with the rest of the mixture. Pour the contents into the roasting pan and stir again to combine.
Place the roasting pan into the oven under the boiler on low. Roast, under the broiler, for six minutes and then stir. Repeat this process three more times (24 minutes total) but make sure that nothing begins to burn. While these items are roasting, check to make sure that the sauce is not reducing too much. Your goal is to reduce by half.
Now pull the vegetables from the oven and place the roasting pan back onto the stovetop over a medium flame. Pour in the white wine and stir. Continue cooking for another five minutes to allow the wine to cook off.
The sauce should be properly reduced at this time. Pour the contents of the saucepot into the roasting pan and stir to combine.
Remove from heat, add the butter and stir until combined. Lastly, season with salt and pepper to taste. It can be served now or cooled and set aside for later.
Cooking time can vary depending on the brand you buy, but the ratio of quinoa to liquid should be about 1 to 2.
Place vegetable stock and water in a medium saucepan, over high heat, and bring to a boil.
Add red quinoa and stir. Reduce heat to low medium and cover. Cook for about 15 – 20 minutes but make sure to check packaging for cooking times.
While the quinoa cooks, take the basil and remove the ‘blooms’ for garnish. Take a small bunch of leaves and chop fine.
Take a two-inch, round dough cutter and place in the center of the plate. Spoon the quinoa evenly around the dough cutter. Ladle the primavera sauce into the center of the dough cutter. Top with a dollop of ricotta cheese and a basil bloom. Pull the dough cutter straight up and off of the plate. Clean the rim of your plates with a warm, moist towel and serve.
… as for the wine:
2013 San Giusto a Rentennano Chianti Classico – This is another great vintage for San Giusto. The nose showed a thrilling and intense display of crushed raspberry, cherry, dusty floral tones, cedar, and spice. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by a vibrant core of acidity, showing tart red berries, charred meat, minerals, savory herbs and fine tannin. The finish was long, with its saturating red fruits and savory tones, yet most notable was it’s saline minerality, which lingered for well over a minute. (92 points) Find it at Morrell
Article, recipe and tasting notes by: Eric Guido