TO ROAST VEGETABLES
All you need to roast vegetables is the vegetable of choice, some good quality oil, salt and possibly pepper, although that is optional. And the technique is so simple that you won’t even need a recipe after a while. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of vegetables, intensifies flavors, leaves nutrients intact and limits fat and calories. If you are roasting a chicken, the vegetables can be slipped into the oven with the bird at the end of the roasting period. What could be simpler?
Vegetables typically are roasted at a high temperature, between 400* and 450,* to caramelize their sugars and create a crusty singe around their edges. You are looking for centers that are soft and creamy and edges that are almost crisp and beginning to caramelize.
A large, low sided, metal pan, like a rimmed jelly roll sheet, is ideal for roasting vegetables. The pan needs a large surface area so the vegetables can be spread out evenly in a single layer, not piled on top of each other. Each piece should be in contact with the pan bottom and also be exposed to oven heat on the top. You don’t need lots of space between vegetables, but don’t overcrowd them, either. If they won’t all fit comfortably in a single baking sheet, add a second.
How you cut vegetables for roasting matters. Tiny pieces brown faster than large chunks, and batons finish roasting before cubes. If you are roasting more than one kind of vegetable, cut them to approximately the same size and shape (some cooks prefer to roast only one vegetable at a time because of the difficulty of synchronizing different cooking times). The undersides of vegetables, parts that are in contact with the pan, brown faster than the tops, so check halfway through the cooking time and flip the vegetables over if their bottoms are too brown. After the halftime inspection, you may want to continue checking every five minutes or so until the vegetables are done.
Coat the vegetables evenly with oil. Olive oil is classic, although it doesn’t have to be the expensive stuff you’ve reserved for vinaigrette. You could also experiment with a little sesame oil, peanut oil, etc. If, at the end of the cooking time, the vegetables are soft but not browned, take them out of the oven, heat the broiler, and crisp them. If they’re browned but not tender, turn the temperature down to 350*, sprinkle them with a few tablespoons of water to cool the pan and create steam, and return them to the oven until they’re done.
Some vegetables lend themselves to roasting, including asparagus, beets, parsnips, potato spears and acorn squash. Cauliflower is particularly delicious roasted. The recipes that follow are for roasting cauliflower broken into florets, a quicker undertaking than roasting the whole head, but should you wish to roast the head intact, put an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 450*. Lightly oil a 9 inch pie plate or square baking dish. Core the cauliflower, leaving the head intact, then discard the core and put the cauliflower head into the pan. Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over top of the cauliflower and sprinkle it with ½ teaspoon salt. Bake until tender, 1 to 1-¼ hours. In comparison, when broken into 1-1/2 inch florets, tossed with olive oil and salt, spread in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet and placed into a 450* oven, the same cauliflower will roast in 20 to 25 minutes.