It always seems to me that having something in the oven warms the house in a more satisfying way than just turning up the thermostat, so when cool fall days come around I find myself thinking, “What shall I bake?”. And since there are only so many baked goods a family can eat, I eventually turn towards the savory. Fortunately, all that cool weather also brings us beautiful harvest vegetables: squash, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots…so many others—and my favorite way to prepare them at this time of year is roasting.
There are so many great things about roasted vegetables. Firstly, they’re vegetables, of course–and vegetables are good for you! You don’t need very much fat at all to cook them—the heat provides great flavor by caramelizing the sugars in the vegetables. You can do a single vegetable or any combination that happens to suit you (or in my case what I happen to have in the veggie drawer). It’s relatively easy and not very labor-intensive. And on top of tasting great as a side dish with dinner, there are lots of different things you can do with any leftovers, which is always a good thing.
If you need some ideas there are many recipes to be found in cookbooks, magazines, and online, but if you follow these tips you can make up your own batch and you hardly need a recipe.
To get the best results, I suggest roasting the vegetables on a half sheet (that’s a large, sturdy cookie sheet with a rim) or what some people call a jelly roll pan. A large surface will give you plenty of room to spread the vegetables out in one layer and a shallow rim will allow for good heat circulation. If you want to do a large batch, use two pans. If the vegetables are piled on top of each other or the side of the pan is too high, they will steam rather than roast and you won’t get that nice caramelization. I spread a little olive oil on the pan before adding the vegetables.
The oven needs to be very hot, so make sure to preheat it so it’s ready to go once you’ve prepared your vegetables. Recipes indicate anywhere from 325º (way too low in my opinion) to 500º which seems a little high. I would go with at least 375º but I usually roast at 450º in my oven with good results. Depending on whether you have a gas, electric or convection oven, you will have to adjust the temperature.
After washing and/or peeling your vegetables, the goal is to cut them so that they cook evenly. Stick to dense vegetables like cauliflower, parsnips, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, and cut them in uniform sizes. If you do want to try less dense vegetables like broccoli, cut them in larger pieces. Of course, the smaller you cut them the quicker they will cook and the more char you will get on them. I suggest pieces about 3/4 of an inch for most vegetables, leaving Brussels sprouts whole and cutting broccoli or cauliflower into florets. Once you have your selection, you can toss them in olive oil right in the pan. You want all the pieces to be glistening and coated—but not swimming—in oil. Season generously at this point with salt (I prefer Kosher salt for its flaky texture) and freshly ground pepper. Add some fresh or dried herbs (rosemary and thyme are my favorites) or unpeeled cloves of garlic if you like.
After about 10 minutes check and see how the vegetables are browning, if you think they’re burning or cooking to quickly, turn down the heat 25º or so. After about fifteen minutes of roasting, toss the vegetables with a spatula, they shouldn’t be sticking too much at this point if they have been coated with enough oil. Continue to toss the vegetables every fifteen minutes until they’re tender and nicely roasted—about 40 minutes to an hour.
Roasted vegetables make a delicious side dish with almost anything, roasted chicken, pork chops, pot roast—I’ve even served them with macaroni and cheese. If you’ve included potatoes in the mix you don’t even need a starch. I like to make a large batch so that I have some leftovers. You can put them in a breakfast burrito with some scrambled eggs and cheese, or combine them in a wrap with hummus and hot sauce. For a delicious soup, puree vegetables with chicken stock in a blender, heat in a pot and serve topped with feta cheese and a little parsley. Or use your favorite quiche or frittata recipe and replace the vegetables with the same amount of leftover roasted vegetables.
I gathered some other thoughts from the Family Circle food staff. Julie says season generously with herbs (if you’re using them) and salt BEFORE they go into the oven. When you take them out taste them and add more if they need it. Michael says he would stick to mostly root vegetables, since some green vegetables can look unappealing and are better blanched and sautéed (with some exceptions – Brussels sprouts for one). Melissa cautions against being skimpy with oil–if you don’t use enough the vegetables will dry out. She likes to experiment with unusual vegetables like sunchokes—they’re delicious and you can roast them with the skin on!
If you haven’t already, I hope the next time you’re wondering what to make as a veggie side dish you’ll give this technique a try.