This popular vegetable dish can be found all over Catalonia. It’s a great excuse to fire up the grill and show off some of the great produce of summer. Escalivada is often served as a light meal on it’s own with anchovies and good crusty bread, or, better yet, with pa amb tomàquet – my personal favorite. Use it as a side for just about anything, from roasted or grilled meats to poached or seared fish.
Like most Spanish dishes, everyone does escalivada a little bit differently, but the big thing most people agree with is to cook and char the vegetables, while whole. The veg is then peeled, and cut or torn into strips. Some people mix the vegetables together into a sort of salad (my preference), while others prefer to present them arranged neatly and separately on a platter. The vegetables are then simply dressed with a bit of salt and a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil. The specific vegetables used can vary a little bit based on availability, but it generally includes eggplant, onion, and bell peppers. Zucchini and other summer squash are often added. You can also roast some ripe tomatoes and toss them in.
The Catalan word “escalivar” means “to roast in embers,” as traditionally, the vegetables would be roasted in embers in the hearth. Most people I know these days, at least my friends living in cities, don’t have a hearth or fireplace that they can cook in. As such, it’s quite typical to cook the vegetables on the grill or in the broiler.
There is a fantastic book called The Miracle of Fire, by William Rubel, all about the ancient art of cooking in the hearth, and cooking on fire, in general. Unfortunately, it’s been out of print for a while, but it’s a beautiful, very interesting book if you can find a pre-loved copy.
If you have a charcoal grill, you can cook in the cools and get very similar results as in the hearth. Keep a hot pile of coals going on one side of the grill, and spread a few coals out on the other side. Arrange and cook the vegetables on the shallow bed of coals, a few inches away from the hot pile. It’s a little more work to cook like this, but you get a smoky depth of flavor in the food that you simply cannot achieve any other way. It’s worth a try sometime when you are feeling daring. Feel free to broil or grill as normal, if you prefer – the escalivada will still be very good, just not as deeply smoky flavored.
1 large onion, whole (not peeled)
2 large eggplants, whole (not peeled)
3 bell peppers, mix of different colors, whole
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
¼ cup (or as needed) good extra virgin olive oil
1. Grill the vegetables: Prepare the coals (or embers). Get your coals going, and when they are hot, move most of them in a tight pile on one side of the grill. Spread a thin layer of hot coals out around the other side of the grill. The idea is to cook with the radiant heat from the larger pile, while still generating a little heat from below with the shallow bed of coals.
Place the whole vegetables on the thin bed of cools about 6” away from the larger pile of hot coals. Put the lid back on the grill, and cook with lid on. Turning the vegetables every few minutes.
You will probably need to add coals to the larger pile at least once to keep it good and hot.
Peppers are done as soon as the skin is evenly charred
Onion is done when the middle of the onion feels soft when a skewer or sharp knife is inserted. The onion will take 25-40 minutes to cook through
Eggplant is also done as soon when it feels very soft when a skewer or sharp knife is inserted. This should take about 10 minutes.
Cook in batches so you can get a good char. As vegetables are finished remove them and place them in a covered bowl or tray to steam out for a few minutes.
Alternate Step 1
Roast off the vegetables in your preheated broiler or on top of the grill. Otherwise, the procedure is exactly the same.
2. After the vegetables have steamed for 5-10 minutes, uncover them. Wait to proceed until they have cooled enough to handle with your bare hands.
To peel the onion, use a sharp knife to cut off the root end and the stem end. The skin will easily peel off, then you can cut the onion into strips with a knife.
The skin of the eggplant should peel off very easily with your fingers. Trim the stem end off with a knife, and tear the eggplant into strips with your fingers.
Peel the skin of the peppers off with your fingers, then open the pepper, and remove the seeds and membrane. You can use a little cold, gently running water to rinse off any stubbornly clinging seeds. Again, tear into strips with your fingers.
3. Combine all of the strips of roasted vegetables in a large bowl, toss with minced garlic, salt, and extra virgin olive oil. Can be served warm, cold, or at room temperature.