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Roasting Vegetables 101

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In the fall and winter, my absolute favorite way to prepare vegetables is to roast them. Like a good crusty bread, a roasted vegetable will have some crunch on the outside, but will be soft on the inside. Roasting also caramelizes the natural sugars in the vegetables, which makes for a deeper, richer taste.

I'm a firm believer that the process of roasting vegetables will transform them from "nothing to talk about" to "I literally can't stop eating this". Something like a humble carrot or parsnip becomes a delicious cube of goodness. Yup, you heard me. Cube of goodness.

If you haven't tried roasting vegetables, yet, it might feel a little intimidating. If you're used to heating up frozen vegetables, or avoiding veggies altogether, then it will require a little work and knowledge. But it's a very simple technique that anyone can master.

Start with fresh, raw vegetables. Frozen veggies don't roast well, because they have already been cooked, and they have such a high moisture content. If you become super desperate for roasted vegetables and all you have is frozen, you could try it. But I'd recommend you learn from my mistake. It's just not the same thing.

1. Size Matters

The first step is to get the vegetables cut into pieces that are all about the same size. This helps for even cooking. I tend to aim for pieces no bigger than a one inch cube, but not smaller than a half inch. But not all vegetables cube easily. I roast white potatoes in long wedges, like steak fries. Carrots work well in a cylinder shape or as coins. I like to cut onions into eight wedges. Broccoli and cauliflower remain in florets. Brussels sprouts get cut in half.

As you can see, not all sprouts are created equal! I cut the large one in half and kept the small one whole.

As you can see, not all sprouts are created equal! I cut the large one in half and kept the small one whole.

Again, the exact shape isn't as important as the fact that the pieces are all about the same size. Don't forget that there will be some shrinkage as the veggies cook and lose water. Another reason not to make them too small. Too big and they'll have to be in the oven all day, though!

2. Give Them Space to Breathe

You want to roast your veggies in one layer. Whether you use a baking sheet, or a 9x11 pan doesn't matter. The point is that you don't want crowding or overlapping of the vegetables. If they don't get room to breathe, you end up with mushy veggies. Again, not the goal.

OCD much? I know. But I like the cut sides of the veggies are down for the best coloration.

OCD much? I know. But I like the cut sides of the veggies are down for the best coloration.

I would recommend using foil or a reusable liner, like these non-stick silicon sheets. It just makes clean up easier, and it limits the amount of oil you have to use to keep the veggies from being permanently stuck to your pan!

3. Season Away

Speaking of oil, you don't want your veggies going in the oven naked. I normally use about one tablespoon of olive oil per baking sheet. You can toss it together in a bowl, or if you're baking sheet has a lip, you can do it right on the baking surface. No need to create extra dishes, am I right?

Along with the oil, add some kosher salt and pepper. That's the most basic recipe. Of course, you can experiment with different herbs and spices, and even lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. While some salt makes a huge difference in the flavor, be mindful of the sodium that you're adding to the veggies - through salt or other seasonings with salt.

A few of my favorite seasonings include garlic powder, cayenne powder, nutritional yeast, rosemary and thyme. All depends on what you're else is going with the veggies.

4. Turn Up the Heat

This is where many people differ on recommendations for roasting. You'll see anything between 375 and 450 degrees. I like to stick to about 400, or maybe 425 at most. Some of this depends on the size of your pieces, but I think that higher heat results in an under-cooked inside. But if you go lower, you're going to just bake the vegetables through, and you won't get that caramelization.

5. Better Together

A common mistake that people make is cooking incompatible vegetables on the same sheet. The hardiness of the vegetable will determine how much time it needs to cook. A potato, for instance, will take much more time to roast properly than asparagus. (Again, size and temperature matter). To save yourself a little pain and suffering, try to group vegetables by the amount of time they need to cook.

Your most delicate vegetables won't take much time - maybe 10-15 minutes. These are most often spring and summer vegetables: zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, asparagus and mushrooms.

A slightly hardier vegetable will take more time - about 30 minutes. Many of these are cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage (thick-cut), onions and fennel.

Finally, your hardiest vegetables will take even longer to cook - between 30 and 45 minutes. These are mostly root vegetables: beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes (white and sweet) and winter squashes.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts3.jpg

Recently, I roasted two different types of vegetables - a classic, and one that may be new to you. Brussels sprouts have become the darling of the vegetable family, known for being roasted en masse this time of year. In the spring I really enjoy radishes dipped in hummus. But winter radishes can be a little too peppery. Roasting mellows them out and brings a sweetness to them you wouldn't expect.

Roasted vegetables work great as a side dish at dinner, or they can be thrown into other dishes. They work great on homemade pizzas, or in a grain-based salad. I tried some in an omelet, which was a nice change of pace.

How do you like to use roasted vegetables? Any tips or tricks that I'm missing?