Roasting vegetables is easy, they say. I have always heard that but never experienced it. Anyone can throw a dish of vegetables in the oven, but I found it difficult to achieve that crispy coated browning. The caramelized sweetness of broccoli, zucchini, onions. That perfect browned skin-like coating around every cube of potato.
I gave up on roasting vegetables long ago. My roasted vegetables were always just overcooked and oily. Or the opposite: dried out beets. I am looking for that crisp outer shell with a soft fully-cooked inside. The intensified flavor you get from concentrating sugars, drawing out a sweetness you don’t expect from broccoli, zucchini, eggplant, and onions.
Last week I gave roasting vegetables another try. I tossed them with olive oil, careful not to use too much, and baked for 40 minutes at 410 degrees Fahrenheit. I took them to a potluck with good friends. My dish was popular: zucchini and eggplant sweetly softened; buttery garlic and onions; sweet peppers, soft potatoes. But no crispy edges. No roasted browning here, for the most part; flavorful and sweet, but soft.
Friends enjoyed them. Did I mention they were good friends? Dear, very tolerant, friends? Nobody complained, everyone was supportive and ate all their vegetables. When asked how I made them, I mentioned baking at 410 degrees. Andrea tilted her head at me. 410? She looked at me sideways. Who cooks anything at 410? “I never go for 410 for anything.” She seemed surprised at my choice of heat index.
It got me thinking. Why do I roast at 410? Is it my magic number? Or is it like wearing last year’s pant length? A shirt in an off shade of pink? Next time I tried 450 degrees. It worked! 450 is great! 450 achieves the crisp edges. The perfect potatoes. The browning I seek. Roasted perfection is found at 450. Thank you, Andrea!
Now I am roasting all the time. Most of what we eat is what we grow on our farm here in Maryland. Roasting can change with the seasons. Right now in late summer, we have potatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, eggplant, red peppers. Later I won’t have zucchini or eggplant but I will add fall butternut squash and sweet potatoes.
I see all the delicious uses for roasted vegetables: pasta toppings with sauce or pesto, over rice, in eggs, on sandwiches, as pizza toppings, in soup. Leftover roasted potatoes make the best hash browns. My hash browns were always too oily and soft as well; now using leftover roasted potatoes, my hash browns are so much better.
Cut vegetables into approximately equal sized pieces, so they cook evenly. If you want to get fancy, put zucchini and peppers in a separate pan and roast for just 20 minutes.
Toss with olive oil, to coat. Not too much!
Sprinkle with spices like oregano and rosemary, salt and pepper. Roast at 450 degrees. For 40 minutes. Scrape and mix with spatula about mid-way through.
Honestly, you should hesitate to follow my recipe on roasting vegetables. I just explained all the trouble I’ve had with roasting. We’d probably both do well to check some other recipes. I’m still playing with this. Roasted vegetables are supposed to be cooked separately so they can be pulled out at different times. I found a chart for roasting times of different vegetables. Potatoes take longer than zucchini. Still I haven’t done this. They all stay in with the potatoes for 40 minutes, in it until the end, like a good team. Having said that, I bet the red peppers would benefit from half the roasting time. Will I be lazy and cook everything together, or will I achieve roasting multi-task prowess, pulling out separate trays at perfect midpoints? We shall see. And get this: the recipe I looked at recommends roasting at 400-425 degrees…and 410 is right in the middle of it, in full roasting fashion.
Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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