Whether your root cellar is filled or you are simply tempted by the colorful fall displays of root vegetables at the farmers’ market, you are probably thinking of roasting those roots. And why not? Roasting root vegetables enhances their sweetness and mellows the sometimes sharp, sulfurous notes of rutabagas and turnips.
Roasting is simple, but I’ve been served a lot of disappointing roasted roots in my day. Properly roasted roots are well-browned on the outside and tender within; they are never pale in color or soggy in texture. Here are ten ways to guarantee delicious roasted root vegetables every time.
1. Cut the vegetables into uniform-size small pieces. I prefer cubes, about 1/2 inch in size—never more than 1 inch in size. This creates the maximum surface area for caramelizing the sugars inherent in the roots. The number one mistake people make is cutting their vegetables into large pieces or chunks that cook unevenly.
2. Mix it up. An assortment of root vegetables is more interesting than just one variety. Here’s a dish where red beets can be mixed with other vegetables without turning the entire dish purple. Stick with root vegetables, however, to avoid overcooking the more tender green vegetables (like broccoli).
3. Use a large sheet pan, two or more if you must. Sheet pans are preferable to any pan that has high sides. Never crowd the pan or the vegetables will steam rather than sear. Yes, the space demand does make it a problem when cooking for crowds, especially because the vegetables reduce so much in volume.
4. Lightly grease both the sheet pan and the vegetables. First lightly brush the oil or fat on a large sheet pan. Mound the veggies on the pan, pour over the melted fat or oil, and toss the vegetables gently to coat. Then spread out the vegetables in a single layer. Make sure the pieces are not crowded. (If they are, divide them among more sheet pans.)
5. Consider roasting with rendered duck fat, chicken fat, lard or tallow rather than a vegetable oil. Duck fat and chicken fat in particular add wonderful flavor. Lard or tallow, unless flavored, add less flavor but are still good choices. Your best olive oil should not be used here because the flavor nuances will be lost. Don’t use butter because it will burn.
6. Flavor enhancers should include onions or shallots, which may burn but still taste sweet. Dried herbs and garlic can be added, but wait until the last 10 minutes of roasting; otherwise they will burn and become bitter.
7. Roast in a hot oven and on the bottom rack. I roast at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are roasting more than one pan, use a convection oven if you can or consider roasting the sheet pans one at a time. If you must roasting the veggies all at once, be sure to rotate the pans top to bottom as well as turning from side to side during roasting.
8. Roast root vegetables for 25 to 30 minutes, until tender and well caramelized.
9. If you are serving roasted vegetables for a crowd, consider roasting earlier in the day to avoid crowded pans, but reheat on parchment paper–lined sheet pans (to absorb excess grease) in the least crowded way possible. Or serve at room temperature on a bed of greens with a drizzle of salad dressing, like a maple-balsamic vinaigrette.
10. Sprinkle with coarse salt before serving. For variety, consider drizzling with a maple syrup, boiled apple cider, or pomegranate molasses.
Yield 1/2 cup
• 2 tbsp maple syrup
• 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 2 tbsp soy sauce
1. Combine the ingredients in a small jar and shake well.
2. Root vegetables are great for roasting. Toss with melted, rendered animal fat or oil.
3. Don’t crowd the pan. Roasted vegetables lose a significant amount of volume.
Consider serving on top of a bed of greens and calling the dish a salad. A maple-balsamic vinaigrette is the perfect dressing to use.
Andrea Chesman has written more than 20 cookbooks, including The Pickled Pantry, Recipes from the Root Cellar, Serving Up the Harvest, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How. She teaches and does cooking demonstrations and classes at fairs, festivals, book events, and garden shows across the United States. She lives in Ripton, Vermont. Read all of Andrea’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.
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