There are few vegetables that don't benefit from the heat of the oven. Even watery radishes are transformed, their spicy bite tempered to a mellow kiss.
Oven roasting intensifies the natural sugars of vegetables while caramelizing the exterior and converting the insides into a soft and flavorful goosh.
People who hate Brussels sprouts, and I know a few personally, have been known to turn a 180 once they taste the sweetness of those tiny cabbage heads roasted to soft, imploded heaps. (Adding bacon crumbles doesn't hurt either.)
And if you need more reasons to roast vegetables this week, consider this: Roasting helps maintain nature's nutrients. In many cooking methods, simmering and even steaming, for example, vitamins and minerals leech into the water and air. Not so with roasting, which keeps the vegetable's attributes intact.
Roasting times will depend on the vegetable, but the oven is nearly always a preheated 400 degrees. Watery or lighter-density produce, such as tomatoes, asparagus and radishes,
will be ready in about 15 minutes. Onions, eggplant and peppers require at least 30 minutes, and the densest vegetables — potatoes, beets, carrots and winter squash — could take up to an hour. Some of the produce department's most underused veggies also take well to roasting, among them parsnips, turnips and rutabagas.
Cut the vegetables in similar-size pieces to ensure even cooking. If you're roasting a mixture of vegetables, they should all be of the same density unless you want to fish them out of the oven in stages. That's a problematic technique I wouldn't recommend.
To prepare vegetables for roasting, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. The vegetables should be lightly covered with the oil but not look greasy. The oil facilitates browning and caramelization, and you don't need a lot. After they come out of the oven, fresh lemon juice or a bit of balsamic vinegar adds more flavor, slapping awake the quiet earthiness.
Roasted vegetables are a wonderful side for roasted meats or chicken. But they also have other applications, especially the leftovers, including as the primary building block of a vegetarian entree. Here are some ways to serve them:
Creamy Soup: Toss roasted carrots and potatoes into a blender to puree, then add half-and-half or stock (chicken or vegetable) to add depth for a filling soup. Reheat if necessary, though if using dairy, don't bring to a boil. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream and croutons.
Bowl food: Pile mixture of roasted eggplant, peppers and onions on top of couscous and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and chopped fresh mint. Or use as a topper for pasta with lots of shaved Parmesan. (Save some of the pasta cooking water to make the vegetables more saucy.)
Veggie Pie: A melange of roasted veggies makes a wonderful topping for pizza, using refrigerated dough, a Boboli shell or homemade pastry. To complement the deep flavor of the vegetables, use a smoked mozzarella, which will play off tangy tomato sauce well. For a roasted vegetable white pizza, brush crust with olive oil, layer on vegetables and then scatter knobs of goat cheese all over.
Dip it: Make a dip by blending roasted vegetables in a food processor. Remove to a bowl and add equal amounts of sour cream and mayonnaise, using less of each with watery vegetables such as tomatoes. You'll need some seasonings to wake up the laid-back vegetables, so consider finely chopped rosemary with roasted onions; nearly any herb with roasted garlic; chopped basil with roasted peppers; or chopped dill with carrots or cauliflower. Use fresh or dry herbs, but remember the dried versions are more potent and you'll need about a third less than if you use fresh.
Stuff it: Use roasted vegetables as a filling for quesadillas with pepper Jack cheese and a generous drizzle of salsa verde. (Pace makes a tasty tomatillo salsa.) Or stuff into half a pita with feta cheese crumbles.
Fold it: Up the ante on a Sunday morning omelette by using leftover roasted asparagus along with chunks of brie cheese.
Munch it: Or just do what I do, wait until the veggies cool a bit and nibble piece by piece, like popcorn. Mellow, sweet and healthy. Something we should all aspire to be.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.