Unearth a Winter Treat: Roasted Root Vegetables ; Winter Root Vegetables Are Ideal for High-Heat Roasting, Which Seals in Delicious Flavor

By George Erdosh Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 25, 2006 | Go to article overview

Unearth a Winter Treat: Roasted Root Vegetables ; Winter Root Vegetables Are Ideal for High-Heat Roasting, Which Seals in Delicious Flavor


George Erdosh Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


I can almost say that I look forward to the dark, cold, winter months. I enjoy lighting a wood fire in the morning when the sun is still hours from lighting up the sky, and I look forward to winter dishes in the evenings.

Among my favorites is oven-roasted root vegetables. They are perfect for the winter months, when the produce section is filled with expensive and not-so-appealing vegetables imported from such faraway places as Chile and New Zealand. Root vegetables, however, are domestic - and plentiful. And when they're prepared with care and skill, they can be very pleasing to the palate.

The microwave oven was the worst thing that ever happened to vegetables. It heats so quickly that it's easy to overcook them. Even 30 seconds too long can adversely affect their texture, nutrition, and flavor.

But complex flavors do develop when vegetables are cooked in high, dry heat - such as frying, stir-frying, and roasting. High heat without moisture activates the browning, or Maillard reaction, caramelizing the surface of the food. This is the same chemical reaction that flavors roasted meat and poultry, toasted bread, roasted nuts, and other oven-roasted foods.

Only dense and relatively low-moisture vegetables roast well - others tend to shrivel and become leathery. Most winter root vegetables are ideal candidates for high-heat roasting. Instead of drying out in the heat, they develop a brown crust that seals in moisture and delicious flavor. The moisture that does escape during roasting only intensifies vegetables' flavors.

The best root vegetables for roasting are russet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and sweet potatoes. Peel all except for the russet potatoes, and then cut the vegetables into chunks. (Winter squash, though not a root vegetable, also roasts well.)

For a good mix of flavors, choose four or five different vegetables - not including onion and garlic, both of which are optional. Keep in mind, if you roast onions in large chunks and garlic in individual cloves, even people who dislike them can eat around them and enjoy the rest of the vegetables.

Some vegetables cook faster than others, yet you want all to be equally cooked by serving time. Cut fast-cooking vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, into larger chunks. Cut parsnips, turnips, and rutabaga into medium-size chunks, and cut slow-cooking vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes, into smaller chunks. …

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