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How-To

Making Delicious Roasted Vegetables in Half the Time

Thin slices of winter vegetables, tossed in oil and herbs and spread on baking sheets, roast to perfection in less than half an hour

Fine Cooking Issue 25
Photos: Mark Thomas
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There’s something irresistible about the earthy, sweet flavor of roasted vegetables—everyone loves them. When I make a big batch at home, the leftovers mysteriously disappear from the refrigerator overnight. And around my house, roasted vegetables are especially popular in the winter—humble root vegetables and winter squashes, with all their stored sugar, are transformed into something grand by the kiss of high heat.

But most recipes for winter vegetables call for roasting them whole or in chunks. They can take an hour or so to roast, so they aren’t practical for weeknight meals. I’ve found a way to get the same wonderfully caramelized results by thinly slicing root vegetables—and other winter vegetables like hard squashes—and roasting them on baking sheets. I get delicious, evenly cooked vegetables in less than half the time with this quick-roasting method.

The technique for quick-roasting winter vegetables is easy to master: Cut the vegetables into thin slices and toss them with olive oil, salt, and herbs. Spread the vegetables in one layer on a lined baking sheet and roast them in a 450°F oven.

In about 20 minutes, the vegetables are done—soft on the inside, brown around the edges, and super-sweet. Because the vegetables are sliced into disks, they have more surface area for caramelizing. As a bonus, these roasted vegetables look great on a plate, and they’re really versatile—as delicious right out of the oven as they are in leftovers (see the sidebar).

Tips for quick-roasting

Roasting thinly sliced root vegetables on baking sheets is a straightforward concept, but the following suggestions will help guarantee that your results are delicious.  

You don’t have to peel most vegetables that you’re going to slice thinly. I like to peel carrots and parsnips, but I leave beets, turnips, sweet potatoes, and squash unpeeled. Just scrub them and trim the ends.  

Have a heavy, sharp chef’s knife on hand to make quick, even cuts. A flimsy knife won’t cut an even slice of beet or turnip. You want slices of equal thickness, so that all the slices cook in the same amount of time. And you want thin slices (not paperthin—just a little smaller than the width of a no. 2 pencil) so that the vegetables cook quickly.  

Make sure your vegetables are well coated with oil. Start with about two tablespoons of oil per pound of vegetables; you may need to add a little more. A thorough coating of oil traps moisture and also helps the vegetables to caramelize. If it looks like too much oil, just leave the excess in the bowl when you transfer the veggies to the baking sheet. I like to use a blend of vegetable and olive oils; use your favorite oil, and just be sure it’s really fresh.  

Add kitchen parchment to your pantry supplies. Your vegetables will never stick to parchment, and you can slide the parchment right off the baking sheet for easy cleanup. If you do line your baking sheets with foil, brush them with a little extra oil to guard against sticking. A rimmed baking sheet or a jelly roll pan keeps drops of oil from running off the sides.  

Use hardy herbs like sage, oregano, thyme, and rosemary. I leave thyme leaves whole and roughly chop sage and oregano. I like to finely chop rosemary leaves so no one gets a spiky surprise. I prefer the variety of rosemary with bright, shiny green leaves, which are grayish on the back. This moister rosemary has a gentler flavor than the piny, sharp leaves of rosemary “skewers” sold in the grocery store.  

Don’t crowd the vegetables or they’ll steam. A pound of most winter vegetables, after trimming and slicing, will fit on a large baking sheet. If you want to cook several different vegetables in smaller amounts, they can share a baking sheet. When the first vegetable is done, remove the pan from the oven, slide the cooked slices off with a spatula or tongs, and return the rest to the oven to finish cooking. Or use two or three smaller baking pans.  

Flip the vegetables over with tongs or a spatula halfway through the cooking time, if you want. The vegetables will brown most on the bottom from the heat of the baking sheet. You can turn the vegetables over for more even browning, but you certainly don’t have to.  

Follow the chart to start quick-roasting vegetables. You may find that your oven is a little slow or a little fast, and that you want your vegetables cooked a little more or a little less.

Turn quick-roasted vegetables into side dishes, salads, and main dishes

JUST OUT OF THE OVEN …
• Mound vegetables separately on a big platter; everyone can eat what he or she likes best.
• Arrange roasted roots on warm dinner plates as a bed for juicy slices of roast lamb, pork, or beef pot roast.
• Make a warm salad by lightly wilting spinach in a pan with sautéed onions or garlic, deglazing with balsamic vinegar, and mounding the vegetables over the spinach.
• For a terrific main dish, pair the vegetables with pasta—linguine, fettuccine, or pappardelle—and a light sauce of hot chicken stock, enriched with a little butter and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
• Serve roasted sweet potatoes or winter squash with melted sweet butter and chopped toasted pecans.
• After cooking, toss and serve roasted roots with a bit of chopped fresh parsley or lemon zest, or a splash of your favorite nut oil or vinegar or both.
• For a delicious all-vegetable dinner, serve each person a plate of mashed potatoes surrounded by a medley of roasted vegetables.

… AND THE NEXT DAY
• Dress leftover roasted roots with your favorite winter vinaigrette (try a splash of apple cider in it) for a delicious salad.
• Mound roasted beets on a bed of frisée, mesclun, or Bibb lettuce, sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts and crumbled blue cheese, and dress with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.
• Mix roasted vegetables with cooked rice or barley and a bit more salt, pepper, and herbs for a quick pilaf.
• In a shallow bowl, pour steaming beef or chicken broth around a mound of cooked rice or other grain and roasted carrots, parsnips, and turnips for an easy, hearty, soup.

Turn a salad into dinner by combining greens with roasted vegetables and your favorite vinaigrette.

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