Jim Dixon wrote about food for WW for more than 20 years, but these days most of his time is spent at his olive oil-focused specialty food business Wellspent Market. Jim’s always loved to eat, and he encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes every week through his newsletter. We’re happy to have him back creating some special dishes just for WW readers.
We have some family in Maine, and when we were there last fall, we made sure to eat at Leeward in Portland (the other Portland, that is). I first met owners Raquel and Jake Stevens here in this Portland, where Jake ran the kitchen at Beast and Raquel worked at Laurelhurst Market; both restaurants were regular customers where I delivered olive oil every couple of weeks. Several years ago Jake told me he was leaving Beast so they could move to Maine where Raquel hoped to attend graduate school.
Raquel’s plans for an advanced degree didn’t pan out, so they decided to open a restaurant, and Leeward served its first customers in March 2020. Three days later, the pandemic shut the doors. Takeout, sidewalk dining, and patient backers kept them alive, and Leeward opened back up in April 2022. Within a few months it was a Best New Restaurant finalist for a James Beard Award, and The New York Times listed it as one of America’s best places to eat. During our September visit to Maine, the place was packed. Everything we ate tasted great, but one of the vegetable sides stayed with me: an eggplant puree spread on a plate and topped with roasted peppers. I knew I’d steal the idea for a recipe someday, and here we are.
For the eggplant I borrowed from escalivada, a traditional Spanish dish that evolved from an old shepherd’s trick of nestling whole eggplant, peppers, and unpeeled onions in the dying embers of the cooking fire. The vegetables would roast slowly all night, and the next morning the ashes would be brushed off, the charred skins peeled away, and everything would be chopped together with lots of olive oil for lunch. It’s a great technique, and it’s used these days by the fire-cooking wizards at our own Tournant, but there are faster ways to get almost the same results.
Since summer is the time for eggplant and peppers, as well as local sweet onions from Walla Walla, I decided to use more seasonal vegetables—zucchini and corn—for the topping. If I’ve got a fire going, I’ll cook all the vegetables on the grill. But it’s even faster to roast them in the oven. Since the cooking times for the different vegetables vary, I use several skillets, but you could use a sheet pan and remove things as they finish.
Roasted Eggplant With Corn and Zucchini
1 large globe eggplant
1 smallish sweet onion*
1 green pepper, preferably not a bell pepper*
2 smallish zucchinis (about 6 inches long)
1 ear corn, kernels sliced off
1 tablespoon sherry or wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus a bit more roasting
Kosher-style sea salt to taste
Smoked paprika, aka pimentón
*Substitute a yellow onion, and Anaheim peppers are close to the “not bell peppers” used in Spanish cooking, but a jalapeño would work if you don’t mind a little heat.
Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and place it, cut side, in a skillet that’s been lightly drizzled with olive oil. Peel the onion and cut it in half, but leave the pepper whole.
Slice the zucchini into quarters lengthwise, then cut it into pieces about 1/2-inch thick and drizzle with a little oil before placing them into a skillet. Put the corn kernels in another skillet and drizzle them with olive oil, too. Sprinkle both with a little salt.
Roast everything at 400 degrees. The corn and pepper are usually ready after about 20 minutes, but pull them out when they start to brown. The zucchini usually take about 10 minutes longer, but you want them to be a little brown, too. The eggplant should be very soft and, when poked, feel like it’s about to collapse.