Make light of sides for festive mains

Ray McVinnie gives us some different side dishes to try with festive main courses

by Ray McVinnie | Cuisine issue #143 | Saturday, 10 December, 2011

Make light of sides for festive mains

Traditional vegetable sides for the festive season often involve a battery of pots cluttering up the stove or more roasting pans filling the oven – so annoying when you are trying to manage the sometimes challenging job of providing festive main courses as well. I generally try for one or two more easily handled dishes of whatever is in season – which is even easier when done on large platters. Many people prefer festive food such as a meat roast with traditional Antipodean accompaniments of roasted or boiled vegetables, but if you want something a bit different, try a couple of these vegetable dishes and salads.

Steamed vegetables with ricotta (pictured above)
Place halved baby fennel, halved radishes and halved baby turnips (or a mix of sliced large vegetables) in a steamer and steam until just tender. Add green beans and peas, and steam a further few minutes (alternatively, blanch all in stages in boiling water). Serve tossed with ricotta, capers, parsley and finely diced preserved lemon peel and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Warm potato & tomato salad
Place plenty of boiled new potatoes in a large bowl, lightly crush with a fork and add ripe tomatoes cut into wedges, sliced semidried or sundried tomatoes, finely chopped red onion, chopped roasted almonds, rocket leaves and lots of mint and basil leaves. Dress with extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar then serve warm. Good with ham, beef, chicken and lamb.

Baked eggplant with walnuts, garlic breadcrumbs & vinegar
Slice lots of eggplant about 2cm thick and brush with plenty of olive oil. Barbecue until well browned on both sides or bake side by side on baking sheets in a 200°C oven until browned on both sides (turn them halfway through cooking). Pile on to a serving plate and drizzle with red wine vinegar and sprinkle with chopped toasted walnuts, fresh breadcrumbs that have been fried with chopped garlic in olive oil until crisp and parsley sprigs. Good with lamb or turkey.

Baked eggplant & tomato
Fry lots of chopped onions, garlic, finely chopped rosemary and anchovies. Place in an even layer in the bottom of a shallow gratin dish. Cover with rows of thinly sliced eggplant and pour in plenty of tomato passata. Bake in a hot oven until bubbling and well browned. Serve with a liberal dusting of freshly grated parmesan. Good with lamb or chicken.

Zucchini with tomatoes & pine nuts
Panfry lots of sliced zucchini, lemon zest and chopped garlic in olive oil until the zucchini is soft. Remove and reserve. Clean the pan and add lots of olive oil and chopped onion. Slow-fry the onion until soft. Add plenty of chopped, peeled and cored ripe tomatoes and bring to the boil. Taste and season well. Place the zucchini on a warm serving platter, pour the tomato sauce on top and serve sprinkled with roasted pine nuts and basil leaves. Good with chicken or lamb.

Leeks with lemon herb cream
Grill or barbecue blanched leeks or thickly sliced fennel bulbs that have been brushed with olive oil. Put some cream in a small bowl, add plenty of lemon juice and after 10 minutes stir slowly and the cream will thicken. Add finely grated lemon zest, chopped chervil, parsley and finely chopped shallot and season well. Pour this over the hot vegetables and serve. Good with fish, chicken or lamb.

Green pea purée with lemon herb cream
Use the same lemon herb cream as above swirled through green peas that have been boiled, drained and puréed. Good with chicken or fish.

Fennel, orange & fig salad
Thinly slice plenty of fennel bulb and place in a bowl with rocket leaves, thinly sliced dried figs and red onion, and some black olives. Peel some oranges with a sharp knife so there is no pith. Over a bowl, cut segments of orange from in between the membrane divisions of the oranges, saving the juice. Put the segments and juice in the bowl with the fennel mixture. Add lemon juice to taste and some extra virgin olive oil. Season and serve. Good with fish or chicken.

Carrot, ricotta & lemon salad
Boil lots of carrots that have been cut into thick sticks in well-salted water until just tender. Drain and place in a large salad bowl. Add plenty of coarsely crumbled ricotta, and lemon zest and juice. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season well and toss briefly. Sprinkle with chopped chives and chervil sprigs and serve warm or at room temperature. Good with chicken, ham or turkey.

Barbecued capsicum salad
Toast plenty of 2cm-thick sliced sourdough bread on the barbecue (or in the toaster) then place the bread slices in a shallow dish side by side. Core, quarter and seed lots of red and yellow capsicums and brush lightly with olive oil. Barbecue (or roast side by side in a roasting dish in a hot oven) until well browned and softening then place on the bread so it is completely covered. Sprinkle with capers, black olives and parsley, and dress with balsamic vinegar. Good with ham, lamb, beef, chicken and turkey.

Fried Eggplant & Zucchini Salad
Serves 6

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 zucchini, cut into 2cm-thick slices
2 eggplants, halved and cut into thin wedges
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried wild oregano
2 handfuls rocket leaves
50ml extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1⁄2 cup black olives
1⁄2 cup sliced semidried tomatoes (I used the Telegraph Hill Manuka Smoked Semi-Dried Tomatoes – the smoky flavour is excellent in this dish)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
mint leaves for serving

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over moderate-high heat and add the zucchini, eggplant, garlic and oregano. Fry until the vegetables are well browned and just starting to soften. Remove from the heat.

Place the rocket leaves on a serving platter and sprinkle the hot vegetables on top.

Put the extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, olives and tomatoes in a bowl. Mix well, taste and season. Pour this over everything.

Sprinkle with mint leaves and serve warm or at room temperature. Good with roast lamb, chicken, turkey or beef.