Sometimes burning your vegetables can be a good thing.
Roasting vegetables at high temperatures is great technique for bringing out deep, sweet flavors in produce by sealing in juices and caramelizing their natural sugars.
But taking it one step further by broiling and actually charring them not only gives you those deep sweet flavors, it also imparts a savory smoky dimension.
The best vegetables for this technique are those with thin skins easily removed after blackening under the broiler. Once charred, the skin itself can be unpleasantly bitter. Tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers are ideal candidates.
And since no added oil is needed, the resulting dishes not only burst with flavor but also have no fat.
Tomatoes can be broiled whole until the skins have blackened, about 10 to 15 minutes. When they have cooled, just squeeze the flavorful insides into a bowl and use them for sauces, salsas or as an easy topping for bruschetta.
Tomatillos should be removed from their papery husks, rinsed and dried before broiling using the same method as tomatoes. Puree charred tomatillos with grilled onions, a squeeze of lime juice, and a touch of brown sugar to make a salsa verde that goes well with meat, poultry and, of course, tortilla chips.
Peppers can be broiled whole or cored, seeded and cut into sections first. Broil them for 15 to 20 minutes. Putting the broiled peppers on a plate and covering them with plastic wrap while they cool will make it easier to remove the skins.
Use chopped up, charred peppers along with diced tomatoes and jack cheese to make a Southwestern-style omelet, or puree them to make a quick sauce for grilled chicken or steak.
This also is a great way of preparing eggplant. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, set the cut-side down on a baking sheet, prick through the skin several times with the tip of a sharp knife, and broil until the skin is black, about 30 minutes.
The eggplant flesh breaks down into a creamy puree that can be scooped out with a spoon and used in dips and spreads. The rich, creamy texture coats pasta well as in this recipe for rotini with smoky eggplant and red pepper sauce.
SideBar: Rotini with Smoky Egglant and Red Pepper Sauce
Start to finish: 1 hour (20 minutes active)
1 large eggplant, cut in half lengthwise (about 1 pound)
3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into quarters
8 ounces rotini or other small pasta
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat a broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Place eggplant halves, cut-side down, in the center of the baking sheet. With a small sharp knife, prick through the skin of each half in several places. Arrange the peppers, cut-side down, around the eggplant.
Broil the vegetables until the pepper skins have blackened, about 20 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a plate and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for 10 minutes to loosen the skins.
Meanwhile, return the eggplant to the broiler and cook until the skin has blackened and the flesh is completely softened, about another 10 minutes.
While the vegetables cook, bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the olive oil, parsley, lemon juice and garlic.
When the eggplant is done, let it cool slightly then use a large spoon to scrape the flesh from the skin and onto a cutting board. Chop the flesh to a chunky consistency and transfer to the bowl with the lemon juice and garlic mixture. Stir well.
Peel and discard the blackened skin from the cooled red peppers. Coarsely chop the peppers and add them to the eggplant mixture. Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce and toss thoroughly to coat. Season with salt and black pepper.
Nutrition information per serving: 383 calories; 15 g fat (2 g saturated); 0 mg cholesterol; 55 g carbohydrate; 9 g protein; 4 g fiber; 7 mg sodium.