I don’t want you to ever resent vegetables. But, I know. Sometimes we do, simply because in the past, vegetables may have been difficult and time consuming to prepare.
They don’t have to be. In fact, I insist that vegetables be the most unfussy, uncomplicated part of any meal I prepare because… Without vegetables, we miss an opportunity to feed the good gut bacteria that strengthen our immune system. Without vegetables, we miss out on important antioxidants, flavonoids, and other disease-fighting phytonutrients that keep us healthy. Vegetables are a big deal. Vegetables are magic. And I want that magic on my plate every day, multiple times a day, without resentment.
So how do we get to that perfect plate of magical veggies without holding a grudge? Minimal cuts to the veg, some fat, some salt, and a hot oven. Seriously. That’s it.
Let your oven do the work
Your oven — whether a toaster oven or regular oven — will become the reason why your vegetables contain less resentment and more flavor, because once you answer the four questions below, your part is done and the oven does the rest. So, preheat to 400 degrees F, and then decide on the following:
- Am I peeling the veg?
- How much chopping/slicing do I want to do?
- What fat will I be using?
- Do I want easy clean up after dinner?
To peel or not to peel?
Most vegetables can be roasted with the skin on and eaten with the skin on. As a general rule of thumb, if the skin is (pleasantly) edible, leave it – it contains valuable fiber and nutrients. If the skin is too coarse, fibrous, and tough to chew, like with beet skins, peel before or after roasting.
If you’re not peeling, rinse the vegetables and gently scrub to remove any embedded dirt. Dry them with clean paper towels, a clean hand towel, or run them ’round the salad spinner if they’ll fit. Vegetables must be (mostly) dry if you want caramelization to happen in the oven.
Whole, half, or quarters?
If you don’t like to cut vegetables, then simply don’t do it. I live by the “whole, half, quarter” philosophy when I have to quickly get dinner on the table. I either leave the vegetables whole, cut them in half, or cut them into quarters. Done.
If mixing different varieties of vegetables on the sheet pan, it’s important they are all cut to similar sizes so everything cooks evenly, and at the same time.
You need fat when roasting, otherwise you’ll end up with dry, shriveled vegetables that no one wants to eat, and then we’re back to the whole resentment thing. Fat also plays an important role in keeping you full, regulating your blood sugar, metabolism, and regulating your fat burning systems, so don’t skip it. The type of fat you choose is also crucial.
When roasting at 400 degrees or higher, you need a powerhouse fat that isn’t going to oxidize in the oven. And since you really should be using saturated fats for cooking anyway, you hopefully have one of these on hand and ready to go: clarified butter, ghee, coconut oil, chicken fat, duck fat, or pork fat. Clarified butter and ghee can be made at home using this technique. Chicken, duck, and pork fat can all be rendered at home or purchased at the store. Beef tallow can also be used, but it’s not as easily rendered at home or widely available in stores as the other fats mentioned.
To render your own saturated animal fats, place a cut of meat (chicken thighs, duck breast, nitrate-free bacon, or pork belly) in a Dutch oven and bake at 250 degrees F. for two to three hours. Or, place in a saute pan over low heat and allow the fat to melt in the pan, which will take about an hour. Drain rendered fat into a ramekin and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.
Saturated fat is solid at room temperature, so you may need to gently melt the fat before tossing with your cut vegetables.
Some things to keep in mind about fat: coconut oil tastes like coconut, so consider flavor when roasting since coconut doesn’t go well with every type of vegetable or cuisine. Olive oil or avocado oil can be used, as long as the oils are labeled as “cold pressed virgin.” Expeller-pressed, without the word “cold” in front of it, indicates that the heat wasn’t regulated during processing, and the product could already be oxidized. If using olive oil, you’ll lose some of the polyphenols and flavonoids, but it should otherwise remain stable (it won’t oxidize) in the oven.
Easy clean up? Yes, please!
Parchment paper, not to be confused with waxed paper, will still allow for the caramelization of the vegetables to happen, without having to scrub and scrape off any crispy bits that would have otherwise melded to the metal pan. Go for natural parchment to be sure it’s just plain baking paper and doesn’t contain silicon or wax. If you’re not sure, read the fine print on the parchment paper box, which will indicate if it’s natural, waxed, or has silicon added. Never use aluminum foil. Ever. It will stick to the vegetables, and there is a small window of opportunity for the metal to leach into the vegetables.
Cooking times will vary
The smaller the vegetable (the more cuts you make), the faster it will cook, so quartered vegetables will always cook more quickly than whole vegetables.
Whole carrots and parsnips will soften and caramelize in about 45 minutes; halved carrots will take 25 to 30 minutes; quartered carrots take about 20 minutes.
Larger, whole vegetables, like beets, or an entire head of cauliflower, will take about 50 to 55 minutes to roast, but sometimes I’m okay with that so I can do other things (like thaw the meat I forgot to take out of the freezer that morning, bleh).
Rather than list the approximate times for every vegetable known to man (because I know you’ve got vegetables to roast and want to get right to it), following steps will produce perfectly roasted vegetables, every time:
Roasted Vegetables 101
- Preheat oven to 400 F
- Cut vegetables to desired size using the “whole, half, quarter” method
- Toss vegetables with desired saturated (melted) fat (clarified butter, chicken fat, pork fat, duck fat, coconut oil)
- Lightly sprinkle sea salt over veg (always add after the fat so the salt sticks – and no, adding salt is not going to create a steam bath in the oven)
- Place vegetables in a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan (baking sheet) with plenty of air and space between the vegetable pieces. In other words, do not crowd.
- Place pan in oven. Bake for 20, uninterrupted minutes, no peeking.
- Check the veg after 20 minutes to see “where they’re at” on a scale of desired “doneness.” Doneness is simply how soft and caramelized you prefer your vegetables, and it’s different for everyone. If they’re hard as a rock (like a whole beet might be), add another 20 minutes. If they’re soft but not caramelized yet, check every 7 minutes. If they’re soft, and just starting to caramelize, spot check every 4 minutes.
Set your timer, every time!
When vegetables begin to caramelize, they can quickly burn. Whether it’s 20 minutes, 7 minutes, 4 minutes or less, set your oven, phone, or stand-alone timer so you remember to check the vegetables.
They’re done when they’re done
Remove the pan from the oven. Turn the oven off. Let the vegetables stand for 5 to 7 minutes. Load onto plate. Enjoy. Strengthen your immune system. Fight disease. Be happy and well.
And that’s it. You now have the power to roast any vegetable without using a recipe. Feels pretty good, doesn’t it? #cartwheels #foodasmedicine #cookfromscratch
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