Cooking to "burnt" is about getting to a point that you were taught to fear. But in that rebellion is the art of what makes Victor Albisu's burnt fall vegetables so hard to ignore. At Del Campo, the Cuban-Peruvian chef's South American restaurant in Washington D.C., the grill is the focus of the approach, and the chef has a handle on his heat. "But we're not just recklessly burning food," Albisu says. "You have to find that line between burnt and burned, and you can go a little further, experiment a little more with vegetables than you can with meat."
Albisu builds a nice layer of char on the outside of his veggies, leaving the inside infused with a rich caramelization. "It's a cool way of creating something new out of the everyday, yet the technique is so primal, you're still honoring the ingredients." Of course, cooking until "burnt," not just burning until ruined, takes some practice. But with a cast-iron skillet and some high-quality vegetables – sunchokes, baby beets, butternut squash – you have everything you need at home. "Use a dry skillet," says Albisu, "and set the vegetables down to cook on only one side." Albisu gives them time, allows the char to develop, and serves them with creamy burrata cheese as a counterpoint. "You know burnt vegetables are done when they're black on one side and still vibrant and beautiful on the flip side."
Burnt Fall Vegetables, Burrata, Basil, Pine Nuts
• 3 1/2-inch slices of butternut squash
• 2 each sunchokes
• 3 each baby carrots
• 3 each baby beets (Reserve beet greens.)
• 1 red onion
• 1/2 bunch frisée
• 1/2 bunch of small picked basil
• 1/2 cup pine nuts
• 1 sprig of picked thyme leaves
• 2 tablespoons golden raisins
• 2 tablespoons capers
• 1 piece of burrata
• 1/2 cup aged balsamic
• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• Salt and pepper
Slice the onion into 1/2-inch slices, and burn them in a cast-iron pan until they are black on the outside.
Remove the onions and place on a cutting board warm, and chop while drizzling 1/4 cup of balsamic over them. Continue to chop until onion resembles a paste or jam in consistency.
Place the thyme leaves (picked from the stems), raisins, and capers in a food processor. Pulse to a rough chop.
Add remaining balsamic and olive oil.
Add the burnt-onion jam to the vinaigrette, and season.
Slice the beet greens.
Blister the frisée in the cast-iron pan.
Toast the pine nuts.
Peel the sunchokes, beets, and carrots.
Cut the sunchokes into 1/2-inch bias slices, depending on the size of the carrots and beets, cut them in half or into quarter pieces to match the thickness of the sunchokes.
Using the same cast-iron pan, place the vegetables cut-side down and cook over medium-high heat. Without moving them, allow them to caramelize aggressively or "burn" on one side.
Toss the burnt vegetables into the vinaigrette, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Assemble the dish: Drizzle vinaigrette on the plate, tear the burrata into pieces, and place the pieces artfully down the center of the dish.
Surround the burrata with the vegetables (at room temperature), and garnish with the greens, pine nuts, and basil.