By Elizabeth Fechter
The first time I remember having roasted vegetables was four years ago. I was meeting a few family members at our now favorite pizzeria, and upon arrival a big plate of roasted butternut squash and brussels sprouts were on the table. I wasn’t hesitant, because I generally like all types of food. However, I was intrigued. I don’t know why it took so long for me to encounter the glory that is roasted vegetables, but it wasn’t until my 20th year that I fell in love with them. These particular veggies, which were roasted to perfection in a beautiful copper pizza oven, were crispy on the edges without carrying a burnt flavor. They were cooked to an al dente level of firmness, not too soft but left with a little bit of chew. They were simply superb.
Since then, I have added roasted veggies to my weekly repertoire. Not only are they super trendy right now, but you really can’t go wrong with them. It’s a great way to enhance the flavor of all sorts of vegetables by bringing out their natural sweetness through caramelization. And it is so easy. It’s easier than bringing a pot of water to a boil, easier than sautéing them in a skillet, and most certainly easier than tending to ’em over the grill. They’re great doctored up, but at the end of the day, all you need for roasting vegetables is olive oil and salt. Perhaps some pepper, if you like a little heat, but it is not required by any means. You don’t even need a fancy copper pizza oven! All you need is your run-of-the-mill standard oven and a few basics in order create your own delectable pan of roasted vegetables. The basics are as follows:
1. Roast at a very high temperature. I prefer roasting at 400°F, but many others choose to roast closer to 425°F. It’s completely up to you. The key to perfectly roasted vegetables is the high heat, it’s what brings out their natural sugars and creates the desired crispy edges.
2. Cube/cut the vegetables into uniform pieces. This is important in order to achieve equal cooking times for your spread. Obviously brussels sprouts and squash can’t be cut into the exact same size, but the closer they are thickness, the better your results will be.
3. Use enough cooking oil to coat evenly. I’ve tried now and again to skimp on the oil to cut back on calories, and it wasn’t the end of the world. However, it’s not quite the same. You don’t need to douse your vegetables and counteract their nutrition with fat, but you do need to make sure everything is coated enough for them to brown properly. Feel free to substitute any oil in the place of my personal favorite, olive oil. Coconut oil and grapeseed oil work well. Heck! You could even use melted butter if that fits your fancy, and it would be dang delicious, too.
4. Use a big enough pan. You want to make sure that everything can lay flat, without having to pile on top of each other. This is important for even cooking. A half sheet pan usually works very well, but if needed don’t hesitate to use two.
Now that you have the basics down, you’re free to concoct your own pan of roasted vegetables! Winter is a great time for roasted vegetables, because so many cold weather veggies are hearty and take well to roasting. As I described in this previous post, eating seasonally is a win-win. The produce tends to be budget-friendly, and eating seasonally is good for both the mind and body.
When deciding what to roast together, I tend to lean towards an appealing color combo. One idea for a simple medley of roasted winter vegetables could include cubed butternut squash, parsnips, beets, red onion and whole cloves of garlic. Toss it all in olive oil and salt and pop it into the oven for 25 minutes or so, and voila! You have a beautiful side dish, filled with vegetables that are at their peak in January.
Another roasted winter vegetable idea could be to combine sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, turnips and carrots. Again, tossed in oil and sprinkled with salt and some whole garlic cloves. You will be left with a delectable, sweet side dish.
I wanted to share two more roasted vegetable recipes that I came across while browsing the web. These are both fun and fresh takes on roasting, and manage to maintain their simple application.
The first recipe is by Not Without Salt and is for whole roasted cauliflower with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. I have in fact made this recipe before, and let me tell you it was a hit! Not only was it gorgeous to look at, but cooking the cauliflower whole creates that same crisp-but-not-burnt taste that the pizza joint accomplished. My whole family loved it, and I saved the leftover vinaigrette to use on salads for lunch throughout the week. I highly recommend you try this recipe very soon.
The second recipe is for roasted garlic ratatouille by The Food Charlatan. I love the presentation in the cast iron skillet, it’s both rustic and functional. Karen combines cream, zucchini, yellow squash, fresh thyme and red bell peppers to create an extremely attractive ratatouille. She also adds Ranch flavoring, which in my mind means the kids will like this dish, too.
Happy roasting everyone!