When I was growing up, my mom boiled vegetables. Or perhaps I should say, she reheated canned vegetables like corn, green beans, asparagus, limas, peas, spinach, carrots, stewed tomatoes. It seems I remember the occasional fresh butternut squash cut up and boiled, and potatoes, of course. After all, we had no vegetable garden, and the refrigerator I remember from my childhood had a freezer the size of a shoe box. Besides, frozen vegetables were costly. There were salads of lettuce, cabbage, and celery. Later, mom tumbled to broccoli, cauliflower, and acquired a steamer and a fridge with a larger freezer so frozen peas, so much better than canned, joined the list.
I don’t remember anyone roasting vegetables when I was young, except my Aunt Marian who put potatoes into the same roasting pan with a chicken. I recall that those potatoes came out golden and wonderful.
Roasting vegetables is what a lot of people seem to do these days. Even asparagus. An absolute favorite around this house is a pan of small potatoes halved, tossed with olive oil, to which several cloves of garlic is added, and everything blasted at 450 degrees for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Who needs French fries?
Roasting seems to work, I suspect, because the collection of vegetables you can use is really versatile. The summer version has summer squashes, peppers, tender green beans, snap peas, scallions. The winter version has vegetables that do well in storage. Observe the pan full in the picture: leeks, cauliflower, squash, Brussels’ sprouts, potatoes, two kinds of carrots—one plain all-orange carrot, and another called Purple Haze, orange in the middle and purple on the outside. Basically, I had friends over for supper and cleaned out the vegetable drawer.
If I worked for America’s Test Kitchen, I would have to separate all the vegetables and calculate the optimal roasting time for each, then roast them in order of longest to shortest roasting time. But I don’t work for any test kitchen, and I threw them all in for the same amount of time, which was about thirty minutes at 375. So some of the vegetables were soft and melted in your mouth, and some were a bit al dente.
Roasting intensifies the flavor of most vegetables. It is so easy to chop up a bunch of them, whirl a little olive oil into the mélange, slide them into the oven, stir them once half way through the baking time. Concentrate your attention on the meat or fish you serve them with, on the salad you make; the vegetables take care of themselves.
In a mix like this, the best way to decide how much to make, is to assemble a little pile of vegetables and divide it up into individual servings. Aim for a mix of orange, white, and green vegetables, with some root vegetables, a solid little member of the cabbage family like cauliflower or Brussels’ sprouts, plus something from the onion family like onions, leeks, or garlic. A couple of carrots, one potato, three or four florets of cauliflower, an onion, five or six raw green beans, a small sweet potato is enough for two or three people. Leftovers are handy to add to an omelet, use in a frittata, add to soup, or even toss with salad dressing and eat on a bed of lettuce.
1 small potato
1 small sweet potato, or a fist sized piece of winter squash
6 or 8 Brussels’ sprouts or green beans
3 to 4 florets of cauliflower or broccoli
1 small onion or 1 leek
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
Olive or other vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare the vegetables by peeling and cutting them into bite-sized pieces. Dribble a bit of oil into a roasting pan, and add the vegetables. Toss and add a little more oil until there is some oil on every piece. Roast for ten to fifteen minutes, stir, and roast another ten minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and have golden edges.
Makes enough for two to three servings.