This post also appeared in The Tennessean, here.
I get especially excited about roasting each fall. I love firing up the oven and filling the house with the warm aroma of something homemade. It’s especially nice if it’s cold outside.
Roasting is essentially the same thing as baking. They’re both dry heat cooking methods using the oven. The difference is the food being cooked. To me, roasting usually applies to meat or vegetables that need cooked on the inside, and get crisp and caramelized on the outside. Baking applies to food that is assembled or mixed up and needs to rise.
Roasted vegetables are delightful. They’re impressively delicious, easy to prepare and inexpensive.
Sturdy root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, turnips and parsnips lend themselves nicely to roasting. But beyond roots, you can roast most anything. Crisp up okra slices to make them less slimy. Eggplant and their skins roast beautifully without becoming bitter. If you’ve never had roasted broccoli you’re missing out! Don’t forget about Brussels sprouts – they are like a whole other vegetable when sliced and roasted. Keep in mind that vegetables with a higher water content (the broccoli, for example) will cook faster than their more dense counterparts. If you’re going to roast lots of different kinds, roast them on separate baking sheets so you can take the more delicate ones out first.
I also like roasting vegetables because roasting is a forgiving cooking method. Don’t get me wrong – it’s possible to over- or under-cook them. There’s just a lot of room for error. It’s also a hands-off process. Chop of your vegetables, toss them in oil, then pop them in the oven and forget about them for 30 minutes or so while you prepare another part of the meal.
Lastly, roasting can be a healthy way to prepare flavorful food. A fat like oil or butter keeps the veggies from sticking to the pan and promotes better browning, but you don’t need much. The caramelization that happens when the natural vegetable sugars cook and brown adds a lot of flavor.
Following are a few more tips.
- Leave the skin on. Skins are rich in nutrients, and I like the way they taste when they’re roasted. Plus, it saves a lot of time NOT to remove them.
- Use an acid. Right before serving, toss roasted vegetables with the juice and/or zest of lemons, limes or oranges. Vinegar, like apple cider, balsamic and red wine, is also wonderful. The acids balance the sweetness that comes out during roasting.
- Slice and dice uniformly. It’s important to dice your vegetables into uniform sizes so they cook more evenly.
- Go for garlic. If you dice your vegetables into about three quarter- to one-inch cubes, they’ll be about the same size as whole peeled garlic cloves. Roasted garlic is magical. Raw garlic can have an abrasive, sharp flavor while the roasted variety is sweet, complex and practically melts when it’s done.
- Foil is your friend. Roasting vegetables can seriously stain your pans and be hard to clean. Save some time and line them with foil before tossing on the veggies.
- Give ‘em space. If the vegetables are crowded on the baking sheet, they’ll steam instead of roast. They’ll still cook, but you’ll lose the crispy, browned bits.
What are your favorite vegetables to roast? Leave a comment and let me know!
Balsamic Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Yield: 4 servings
This is a very simple recipe for roasted sweet potatoes and carrots with garlic and balsamic vinegar. You can substitute in other vegetables, use rosemary instead of thyme, or swap out the balsamic for another vinegar or even orange juice. Enjoy!
2 large sweet potatoes (about 1-1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 to 4 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
5 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 to 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potatoes, carrots and garlic with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss in thyme sprigs. Spread onto baking sheet and give it a shake to allow the pieces to spread out. Reserve bowl.
Roast, uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes until potatoes are cooked through and vegetables are browned. Run your forefinger and thumb down the thyme stem to remove the roasted leaves. Discard stems.
Using reserved bowl, toss cooked vegetables, garlic and thyme leaves with cumin and vinegar. Serve immediately.