Before I married my meat-and-potatoes-loving husband, I was an occasional vegetarian. For one person, a meatless meal was often the most convenient and economical option, and in winter, roasting became my cooking method of choice; it’s mostly hands-free, and the vegetables come out crisp, golden, and intensely flavored.
Now, my menus often feature meat, but I still rely on roasted vegetables to round out the plate during the blustery days of winter. And although plain roasted vegetables make great basic side dishes, with a little experimentation, I learned that tossing them with bright accents really punctuates the deep, rich flavor of the vegetables. I’ve provided a few recipe ideas, but you can adopt this trick and toss in your own choice of flavors by following the steps at right.
Wait until the end of cooking to toss vegetables with flavorful ingredients. Nuts, butter, and cheese often burn if they roast in the pan with the vegetables, and liquids like citrus juices can cause the vegetables to steam instead of roast. Hardy wood-stemmed herbs like rosemary and thyme are the exception: Because they can withstand high heat, they can be tossed with the vegetables before roasting. Also, garlic burns after about 30 minutes, so if you choose to add it to quick-cooking vegetables, you can do so before roasting. If you’re using vegetables that take longer to cook, you can stir a small amount of raw garlic into the vegetables after they’re done.
Three steps to customizing your own roasted vegetable combinations
1. Choose veggies that cook at the same rate.
If you want to improvise your own roasted vegetable dish, first choose vegetables that will all cook at about the same rate, and be sure to cut them into similar-size pieces.
Long cooking time (30 minutes or longer):
Average cooking time (about 20 to 30 minutes):
sugar snap peas
whole garlic cloves
Quick cooking time (under 20 minutes):
thinly sliced shallots or onions
2. Use a heavy pan and high heat
For roasting vegetables, I like to use a heavy roasting pan or Pyrex baking dish, not a baking sheet. Because roasting pans and baking dishes are designed to withstand high heat, they help keep the vegetables from burning. Pick the right size pan for the job at hand. And don’t be afraid to crank up the heat and let the vegeetables sizzle. The heat blisters the vegetables’ surfaces, and this is just what you’re after—a pale-looking vegetable will have a pale flavor to match.
3. Add flavor after roasting with toss-ins
• Nuts and seeds: toasted pecans, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, shelled sunflower seeds
• Cheeses: goat cheese, blue cheese, feta, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
• Sauces and dressings: vinaigrettes, curry pastes
• Butter: flavored with herbs and zest
• Juices: fresh lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit
• Zests: freshly grated lemon, lime, or orange
• Delicate oils: truffle oil, walnut oil, avocado oil
• Chopped fresh leafy herbs: basil, cilantro, parsley, mint, dill
• Garlic: finely chopped (add according to vegetable cooking time)