Frosts have taken their toll on most gardens by now, leaving lucky gardeners with a lovely supply of turnips, swedes, celeriac, parsnips and carrots – all old world veggies that were staple winter foods until the potato was brought to Europe from South America. At my house, this year’s bumper crop of autumn turnips and swedes has me flipping through cookbooks to find the best recipes for root vegetables.
First we must acknowledge "neeps and patties," which is chunks of potatoes and turnip or swede cooked together and mashed. Dressed with a little butter, this is winter comfort food at its best. But beyond this classic dish, I think the best way to cook root vegetables is to roast them in a hot oven, so that the sugars caramelise on the outside of the pieces, while the insides become soft and moist.
Preparing root vegetables for roasting is simple. Peel veggies with tough or bitter skins like swedes and celeriac, but there is no need to peel potatoes, radishes (yes, you can roast radishes), or carrots just pulled from the garden. Cut the veggies into bite size pieces, and place them in a mound in a large baking pan. Add salt, pepper, and about 2 tablespoons of olive or canola oil, and toss the pieces until each is nicely slicked with oil. Roast in a hot oven (425°F/ 220°C) for about 40 minutes. Every 10 to 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and stir the pieces with a spatula to ensure even cooking.
Plain roasted root vegetables are wonderful, but varying the veggie mix, using accent herbs, or adding a glaze during the last 10 minutes of cooking time creates truly spectacular results. I often roast root vegetables in quantity, and then use the leftovers in casseroles, quiches and even pizzas. Here are six flavour profiles I especially like.
Maple Syrup and Sage
My garden sage bounces back easily from early season frosts, and most gardeners have plenty of it on hand for pairing with roasted vegetables. The maple syrup and sage flavour profile goes great with salty cheeses from goat cheese to gorgonzola. Leftovers are wonderful on hot sandwiches or pizza.
Procedure: Any assortment of vegetables is prepped and roasted in the usual way, using only olive oil, salt and pepper. After 30 minutes or so of roasting time in a hot oven, or when the vegetables are almost done, they are tossed with a mixture of 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 2 tablespoons finely chopped sage. The glazed vegetables go back to the oven for ten minutes more, and they’re done.
Garlic and Herbs
The great thing about including fat cloves of garlic in vegetable roasts is its fabulous aroma, while it is cooking and again when leftovers get tossed with hot pasta or baked into a quiche. Roasting substantially tames garlic’s flavour, so don’t be afraid to add six or more cloves to a pan of vegetables. This is a great use for valiant little tips of oregano and thyme that have made a comeback in your garden.
Procedure: Be sure to include onions in your veggie mix, and toss them with canola or olive oil, salt and pepper. To keep the garlic from overcooking, add it halfway through the roasting process, when you have the pan out of the oven to stir the vegetables. Long cooking times never do fresh herbs any flavour favours, so chop up whatever herbs you have and add them to the roasting pan as soon as the vegetables are done.
Balsamic Vinegar and Honey
This glaze may be too sweet for some palates, but it’s a sure way to get kids to eat vegetables. Use olive oil to dress the raw vegetables, and wait until the last 10 minutes of cooking time to toss the veggies with a mixture of 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons honey. Return to the oven until the vegetables are nicely browned. Roasted root vegetables glazed with balsamic vinegar and honey make a great cold salad, especially if you include beets in the mix. Note that red beets will keep their colour to themselves if you roast them separately and mix them with other roasted root vegetables after they are cooked.
Apples and root vegetables come into season together, and their flavours blend well in the roasting pan, too. Adding a cup of apple cider or freshly pressed apple juice changes everything, because the cider is poured on just before the vegetables go into the oven. The extra moisture has a steaming effect, though most of the cider is gone by the time the vegetables are done. Root vegetables roasted in cider are softer than those cooked without additional liquid, and make less of a mess in the pan. Try cider roasted vegetables lightly spiced with cinnamon and served with butter.
Roasted vegetables destined for spinach salads or as an accompaniment to Asian foods can be tossed with the rind and juice of an orange and a tablespoon of sesame seeds are they are prepped for the oven. I like to use one tablespoon canola oil and one tablespoon toasted sesame oil for its great nutty aroma that marries beautifully with orange. Served with steamed rice and chopped coriander or parsley, this version of roasted vegetables is a meal in itself.
Curry and Coconut Milk
Several spice blends, including curry powder, sambar spice, and garam masala can be sprinkled over prepared root vegetables along with olive oil and salt, and roasted in the usual way. The spicy fragrance coming from the oven will tell you something special is happening, because roasting brings out the best in spices, too. When the vegetables are almost done, you can mix in a half can of coconut milk, a handful or toasted nuts, and a sprinkling of coriander or parsley. There is no need for me to list uses for leftovers of Indian spiced roasted root vegetables here, because there will be none.
By Barbara Pleasant