The Comfort of Roasted Veggies
with Stephanie Bullen
Beets, carrots, parsnips, squash, and potatoes may not seem glamorous to you. But I loved the idea of a root cellar long before I grew to appreciate the rich, earthy flavor of these vegetables. I remember reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and being just a little bit awed, as a suburban kid, by her depiction of fall and winter.
“Now the potatoes and carrots, the beets and turnips and cabbages were gathered and stored in the cellar, for freezing nights had come. Onions were made into long ropes, braided together by their tops, and then were hung in the attic beside wreaths of red peppers strung on threads. The pumpkins and the squashes were piled in orange and yellow and green heaps in the attic’s corners.” (From Little House in the Big Woods).
Doesn’t that make you want to cook? I’ve grown fond of these vegetables, especially when they are oven roasted to a beautiful golden brown. The Maillard Reaction, the reaction that occurs during roasting or browning, results in sweet and toasty flavors. Oven roasted, warm flavors immediately transport me to those cool nights of late autumn or winter.
Oven roasting doesn’t require much effort (aside from some chopping) and doesn’t require much of a recipe, allowing you to improvise based on ingredients or spices on hand. I cook most roasted veggies at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until tender, adjusting the time according to the size of the pieces. The most important thing when roasting is to have a single layer of vegetables – more than one layer will result in steamed rather than roasted veggies!
I recently made a colorful and delicious root vegetable medley by chopping two beets, a carrot, and a parsnip and tossing them with a tablespoon of olive oil. I put a single layer of those delectable veggies on a baking sheet and sprinkled a generous tablespoon of the Great Plains Butcher’s Rub over the top, although you could use any of our fantastic butcher’s rubs. For those of you who like things sweet, try adding a sweet potato to the mix and using Park Hill Maple Spice Pepper for seasoning.
I’ll admit that sometimes carrots are the lone vegetable in my refrigerator. Rest assured, you can still make a wonderful dish even if you only have one kind of veggie on hand. The sweetness of brown sugar with tart Za’atar is a great way to jazz up roasted carrots. You can either use baby carrots or chopped carrots. Place them on a sheet pan (remember, only a single layer or else you’ll have steamed carrots!), drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle brown sugar and Za’atar on top. It’s a dish that is simple, delicious, and a little different.
Unlike the pioneer families of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories, you may not have a cellar bursting with carrots, beets, onion, and squash, but you can keep your crisper filled with the flavors of fall. In root vegetables you can taste the long, hot days of summer and the cool, refreshing rain that seeped into the soil. At first glance, especially after the fresh abundance of summer, food this time of year may seem lackluster but there is certainly no lack in flavor. These hearty vegetables stand up to bold pepper, complement the mellow flavors of herbs, and balance the sweetness of maple or sugar. As the days get shorter and the weather grows cool, there is something wonderfully comforting about the reds, oranges, and yellows of fall produce.