“Tell me, honestly, do you think it can be done?”
Three weeks ago my middle school daughter’s principal called. The director for her play had quit suddenly with no notice, after having done very little in the first place to ready the students and the production for their performance which was just over two weeks away.
He wanted to know if I thought it would be possible for the students to actually pull together an entire production in two weeks and whether I would be willing to step up to be the director who would attempt and achieve such a feat.
Having run a summer theater program where essentially that is what we did – pull together a production in about two weeks worth of time – I told him that the kids and parents could definitely do it and that I’d be happy to help.
There’s a difference, though, between directing a production which you’ve planned from the start where you put into place ahead of time the variables which you know you need to and what I just did in these past couple of weeks – which was essentially scramble like a mad person to discover what needed to be done and having it done as quickly as possible with the few options I had available.
Sometimes mealtime can have the same feel. Certain days you’re able to plan ahead and create an extraordinary meal with items you were able to purchase from the grocery store ahead of time. Other days you find yourself scrambling, wondering what you have available and how you can pull something nutritious and tasty together in a short period of time.
That’s where roasting vegetables becomes a literal godsend. You can quickly roast most any vegetable you have on hand, whether fresh or frozen, and make a nice meal for your family on those days like the ones I’ve recently had where you’re literally figuring out dinner with less than thirty minutes to serve it.
The first advantage of roasting vegetables as a dinner meal is that you’re serving something healthy to your family because vegetables contain good nutrients you need. Secondly, roasting intensifies and brings out the flavor in vegetables which make them tastier. Thirdly, roasting quickly cooks vegetables through, better than cooking them stovetop or grilling. Fourthly, you can use small amounts of good, healthy fats like olive oil to roast the vegetables. Fifthly, once you have the tasty roasted vegetables you can easily add beans or leftover meats to it for a more filling, yet quick, meal.
Some Tips for Roasting Vegetables:
1. High heat is better: Temperatures of 450, 475 and 500 degrees are best for roasting. I always roast at 500 degrees. The high heat reduces the opportunity for your vegetables to “steam”, and it caramelizes the outer “skin” of your vegetables, bring out the flavors and sealing in the tasty “juices”.
2. A clean oven is necessary: Because you’re cooking at high temperatures, your oven must be clean. A dirty oven will smoke and set off your smoke detector and add an unpleasant odor to your kitchen. If you have a self-cleaning oven, use the feature. If you don’t, it really doesn’t take that long to use a little hot water and soap and a scouring pad to get off any grime and crusted on pieces which might burn.
3. Rack positioning is key: Roasting your vegetables in the center of the oven will cook more evenly. Putting the pan on the top rack usually browns the food more. Putting the pan near the bottom rack gives the food more of a sauteing effect. Depending on what you’re going for, you should be sure to place your rack before preheating your oven.
4. Pan size and type are important: You always want to roast your vegetables in a single layer without them being on top of each other, so your pan should be large enough to fit all the vegetables your are roasting. You don’t, however, want a lot empty space around your vegetable pieces because this will cause burning, so your pan should also be just right for the amount of vegetables you want to roast.
The type of pan you use is important, too. You want a pan that can withstand high temperatures and which won’t cause your vegetables to stick to it. If possible, you should invest in a basic roasting pan which will serve you well.
5. The type of vegetable matters: If you are cooking a variety of vegetables, you should always cook root vegetables like carrots first, because they take longer to roast. Vegetables like zucchini take less time, so you will need to plan accordingly. You’d start the carrots first and roast them so they’re halfway done, and then add the zucchini, so the two vegetables will finish together.
6. Size also matters: You always want to roast the same type of vegetables of the same width and length, because if your vegetables are different sizes, they won’t cook evenly. If your vegetables are different textures, however, such as peppers and green beans, you want the area of the peppers to match that of your green beans, which may mean cutting your peppers into large squarish chunks as opposed to cutting them into slices which match the length and width of the green beans.
Also, if you’re in a hurry, this is obvious, but the smaller your pieces, the more quickly they’ll roast. I usually chop my vegetables so that I can have fully cooked roasted vegetables anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes.
7. Turning the vegetables is helpful: If you don’t want your vegetables to burn on one side, you should be sure to toss or turn the vegetables as you roast them. I usually toss the vegetables every five to 10 minutes, depending on the vegetable (root vegetables need the longer time).
8. Plant oils are better: One, oils like olive oil, have good fats, but cooking-wise, animal fats like butter or bacon drippings will brown your vegetables much more quickly than you want when you’re shooting for even cooking. As well, you can more easily very lightly coat the vegetables with a smaller amount of a plant oil than you can with animal fats.
9. Season wisely: I don’t like to use salt unless I have to. Many folks argue that you need salt to bring out the flavor. I have found that seasoning in certain ways is just as flavorful. For one, you can use flavored olive oil like a roasted garlic olive oil or a rosemary olive oil to coat your vegetables. Two, you can add freshly chopped herbs just after roasting. Three you can creatively flavor your vegetables – mix a little balsamic vinegar with a tiny bit of maple syrup; stir curry powder into your olive oil; make a lemony vinaigrette; make a sauce of your choosing – the options are endless.
10. Enjoy the roasted vegetables alone or as a larger meal: Once your vegetables are roasted, you can eat them as a meal in and of themselves or you can use them to create an entree. For example, tonight in less than thirty minutes, I roasted butternut squash, carrots and Brussel sprouts in the oven while I sauteed some onions in olive oil stovetop. I added curry powder and fat free, low sodium chicken broth, and when it had come to a boil, I added a can of no salt added chickpeas and let it simmer for about five minutes. By then the vegetables were roasted, and I threw them into the chickpea curry mixture, and dinner was done.