Vegetable Bake and Lessons Learned

My husband Pino Donghi who is an academic of sorts has co-authored a book entitled “Errore” (which translates as “Mistake” in Italian) that has only just recently come out – and that I’ve yet to read.  Its underlying tenet is that we live in an age where people (and that means people like you and me too) tend to presume that fields of science are simply not allowed to err in any way.  Something like that.  Hence a reminder, if ever it were needed, that it’s a good idea to avoid making mistakes but it’s also useful to learn from mistakes made.  Old story.


How does this apply in the kitchen?  Well, I think that one of the reasons I have become an enthusiastic home cook is that I wasn’t afraid to try things out, to make mistakes in other words.  Well … maybe only when it comes to savoury foods.  I threw a hissy fit once trying to make a chocolate cake for my daughter: the intricacies of a complex cake were irritating in the extreme so far as I was concerned.  And that’s why, maybe, I continue to love to cook because I stay well away from fuss fuss fuss and OCD.


Remember how in a previous post I wrote about my shopping frenzy over vegetables at the market – the above photo showing some of my ‘stash’ ?

Well, I came across a recipe for making a mixed vegetable bake which sounded quite spiffing, a bit different too.  And I was all eager beaver to try it out.  The result, however,  was just an underwhelming ‘okay’: it all got eaten up which is always a good sign.  Something was missing, nevertheless, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.  So next time I make this recipe, I reckon it will need some extra ‘oomph’ – a spice or more than one spice or herbs, to make it sing.  Or more cheese – more cheese is always a good problem solver.  Or even susage meat.

So, the moral of the story is that there is always a moral to the story.  If mistakes are made, a lesson is learned.  Gosh, I feel so holier than thou!


2Here are some cauliflower and roman broccoli florets.  Some of their leaves too.  A leaf or two is always pretty.


And then we have slices of courgette, carrot and leek.

Lesson Learned and Useful Tip:

The recipe called for simmering the vegetables before baking them.  And for cooking the carrots slightly longer than the other veggies.  This was always Marcella Hazan’s advice and a cooking method that people might find curious.  We are used to our veggies having a ‘crunch’ to them, aren’t we, and to briefly sautéing or steaming them.  All very well and good BUT this method does not draw out the best TASTE from the vegetables.  It works beautifully for stir-fry Asian dishes – less so for European dishes.  Marcella Hazan prompts us to resist the urge to undercook our vegetables.  They only REALLY taste as they ought to – i.e. of themselves – when they are cooked ‘enough’. This is how Adina Steiman puts it in an article entitled “16 Things Marcella Hazan Taughts Us to Cook Better”.


4So here are the carrots simmering for five minutes before I added the other veggies.

57After simmering the other veggies together with the carrots until they reach the prime position of ‘doneness’ – i.e. cooked but not crunchy and not mushy either – I used a slotted spoon the remove them.


Previously, I had made some white sauce, or Bechamel sauce as it is usually called. (See link for the recipe below.)8

I used the water in which I had cooked the vegetables to loosen up the bechamel sauce, and make it ‘runnier’, smoother.  So – this is to let you know that you could make a bechamel sauce using vegetable stock instead of milk.


The baking dish was ready and waiting, with plenty of butter and black pepper corns to welcome the cooked vegetables.


Please notice how ‘green’ the greens are – see? I did not overcook them, they did not go that disgusting grey colour of overcooked greens.

11Time to slather the bechamel onto the precious ones.

12I like a dash of colour and so added quite a bit of sweet paprika before the flurry of freshly grated parmesan.

13A litle drizzle of olive oil never hurts – never !

14And yes, as a final ‘topping’, I had also added roughly sliced parts of the leek – the green part – totally RAW!  So daring of me …

I popped the dish into a previously heated oven – probably 200°C – and cooked it until it was ready.  I’m afraid I can’t remember how long it cooked and I don’t even have a photo of the final dish.  We had people over to dinner that evening and evidently I forgot to take any.

Thinking about it, I suppose this is a bit of a rétro dish … every individual ingredient so polite, so twee, not wanting to stand out.  There was a certain ‘sweetness’ that was inviting.  There was still a bite to the vegetables.  But there was no wow factor, uh uh.  And sometimes, that’s a good thing, I suppose?  Life can’t always be about bright colours and fireworks.

P.S. Of course Marcella Hazan taught us a lot more about cooking – here is an article by Adina Steiman, from 2016 and still worth reading:

P.P.S. :



3 thoughts on “Vegetable Bake and Lessons Learned

  1. Hi Jo, the only umami in the dish is the parmigiano, and it looks like you only used a little. You could mix parmigiano into the besciamella to increase the flavor. To get even more flavor, use all of the vegetable cooking water for the sauce, but reduce it first to concentrate the flavor. A lot of the flavor of the vegetables has ended up in what is essentially a vegetable stock. An alternative would be to roast the vegetables ‘naked’ before adding the besciamella, but that would create more of a chewy than crunchy texture and alter the dish completely.


  2. Oh dear, I was anxiously scrolling down for a photo of the final product but it never came… ! Anyway, it sounds like a lovely dish. I do adore homey “old fashioned” dishes like this. (Indeed, by coincidence, my latest post is about a not too different vegetable gratin.) And yes indeed Marcella taught us all a lot about cooking. And I couldn’t agree more about not under-cooking vegetables.


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