Stuart McLean’s Favourite Dish
While we speak, Stuart McLean is knocking back a banana, berry, kale, and flaxseed smoothie. I suggest that he must be on a health kick, and I am swiftly corrected. “This isn’t healthy,” he says. “It’s aiming for health. Besides,” he adds, “You can’t even taste the kale.”
Since writing the award-winning Welcome Home: Travels in Smalltown Canada in 1992 and creating the Vinyl Cafe radio program over 17 years ago, McLean has spent his share of time on the road, where making healthy culinary choices can be a struggle. “These days, I just eat the way I like to eat, which turns out to be the stuff that’s good for me. I’m not drawn to junk anymore, which is partly taste, and partly training,” he says.
This is the season of the annual Vinyl Cafe Christmas concert tour, and the time of year when McLean’s fictional character Dave cooked his now-infamous turkey. I want to know if Canada’s best-loved storyteller has a favourite seasonal dish.
“I love roasted vegetables: beets and Brussels sprouts, parsnips, potatoes, carrots and onions. It’s a great dish for so many reasons. First off, I love roasting vegetables because it involves my favourite cooking utensil — parchment paper. It means a no-cleanup meal. You put the parchment paper down in your roasting pan, and when you’ve finished roasting the vegetables you peel it off and throw it out, and put the roasting tin back on the shelf without washing it. It’s fabulous,” he says.
McLean recommends peeling the vegetables so that, once again, you have less to wash. Then, chop them into cubes. The onions, he says, are best sliced into wedges. Place the chopped vegetables in a bowl, drizzle them with as much olive oil as you like (though a tablespoon will do), a bit of salt, and toss them with your hands.
“If you have a heavy earthenware bowl it makes it even more fun.” he says. “I have a really nice Le Creuset, and it pleases me every time I use it. It’s a big bowl, and you don’t get to use big bowls very often. Loading it up with vegetables is like arranging flowers — all the beautiful colours. And because you’re working with root vegetables, and a knife on a chopping block, and a ceramic bowl, you start feeling more like a French peasant than a suburban North American. Suddenly you’re in some basement in France, or the hills of Tuscany. And then what do you do? You bring out the old, blackened roasting tin. It feels as though you’re about to put it in a brick oven, and at this point you stop and pour yourself a glass of wine because you can’t stand it anymore. And even though you don’t need it, you go and put on a white apron, because you’re so wrapped up in the process,” he says.
Here comes McLean’s favourite part: line the bottom of your roasting tin with parchment paper. Dump the vegetables on the tray and cook them slowly, at about 325˚F. Add the onions when you think the rest of the vegetables are half-done. He figures this will be around the 20-minute mark. When they taste good, they’re ready.
“Every once in a while, you have to do two things: take a sip of wine, and stir the vegetables. But more important that you sip on the wine. As long as you sip long enough, everything will turn out alright,” says McLean.