Roasted vegetables are the “Sara Lee” of the refrigerator. They’re easy and everybody loves them. Picky adults? Children? Sic roasted vegetables on ’em; it’s failsafe.
Roasted vegetables go down so well because the roasting caramelizes their native sugars (you can see it in those sticky little brown bits at the edges). Roasted vegetables become much sweeter than they taste in their raw, sometimes nose-upturning state.
Any vegetable roasts: root vegetables such as carrots or beets; cruciferous ones named broccoli or cauliflower; even potatoes and tomatoes. Fungi get that roastin’ feeling. Ever have a roasted portobello mushroom? Heaven.
And wait until you taste a roasted radish. Yep, a roasted radish.
But there are some key kitchen things to keep in mind in order to get roasted vegetables to their peak of flavor.
Roast only at high temperature; 425 degrees works well, 475 if your oven and kitchen can handle it. Caramelization of sugars can occur as low as 250 degrees; it just takes a long time, but also dries out the vegetable. Caramel is a quick and sure thing at higher temperatures.
Assure that the cut-up vegetables are dry. Water steams at a little over 200 degrees but steam very much gets in the way of caramelization; in fact, it prevents it. So, once the vegetable pieces are prepared for roasting, roll them around, over and under paper or kitchen toweling, to dry off all the pieces.
This also means giving the pieces of roasting vegetable space while roasting. If the pieces touch and crowd each other, the moisture within them will steam out and also impede caramelization.
Finally, most recipes recommend a light coating of good olive oil and seasonings before roasting. The gloss of oil simply will not stick to the pieces of vegetables if they’re wet.
I roast on a baking sheet, but one covered in parchment paper. It makes for easier cleanup, plus the caramelization works pretty much just as well as on naked metal.
But perhaps the most important factor in roasting vegetables is timing: each different vegetable has its own best amount of time for its proper roast.
That may mean roasting in stages — heating one sort of vegetable before adding another sort, and so on — or roasting each type of vegetable separately, then combining all of them back together again.
No matter: what you want is the ultimate, the maximum of caramel, of sweetness. And roasting time in the oven is the only story. You cannot roast vegetables subjected to any other form of heat than dry oven heat.
So, coat the vegetable pieces in the olive oil and seasoning, and roast at 425-475 degrees for the following amounts of time depending on the vegetable, turning the pieces over with a spatula or hearty shake once or twice during the roasting time:
- Hard, dense vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, carrot, beet, rutabaga, or turnip, in 1-inch or slightly smaller chunk, skin-on if desired: 30-45 minutes
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower, in medium-small floret, or Brussels sprouts, halved: 15-30 minutes depending on size and age
- Firm, dense winter squashes such as butternut or acorn, in 1-inch or slightly smaller chunk, skinned: 30-60 minutes depending on size and age
- Soft, moist vegetables such as “summer” squashes (for example, zucchini), yellow squash, bell pepper, in 1-inch or slightly smaller chunk, skin-on: 10-20 minutes
- Long, thin vegetables such as asparagus or green pole bean, in 2-inch lengths: 10-20 minutes
- Onions of any color, peeled and in quarters or small wedges, depending on initial size: 30 minutes or more
- Tomatoes and mushrooms, whole or in 2-inch chunk depending on initial size: 15-20 minutes
Roasted Colorado Organic Vegetables
Recipe from Big Bang Catering
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
8 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces on the diagonal (tops cut off and reserved for stock)
6 parsnips, cut into 2-inch pieces on the diagonal (tops cut off and reserved for stock)
3 pounds Baby Red and Baby Yukon Gold Potatoes, halved
4 turnips (optional), cut into 2-inch chunks
2 large yellow onions, cut into 1-inch wedges
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
Fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, minced for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss all vegetables with the olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt, black pepper, thyme and chile powder. Re-toss so they are evenly covered. Place in rectangular baking or casserole dish. Roast 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until tender. Before serving, sprinkle with parsley.
Bill St. John has written and taught about restaurants, food, cooking and wine for more than 40 years, locally for Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post and KCNC-TV Channel 4, nationally for Chicago Tribune Newspapers and Wine & Spirits magazine. The Denver native lives in his hometown. Contact Bill at [email protected]