One of the reasons I garden is because I love to cook and prepare wonderful, flavorful dishes that I might not get anywhere else. I believe many gardeners share this passion. One of the techniques I haven’t used often is roasting vegetables, but I’ve been roasting some recently and will be doing more. I find it sweet and intensifies the flavors.
It all started when I baked potatoes. I had the oven at 425 degrees and decided to make a couple of kale chips at the same time. I ran into the garden and picked some leaves. I took four of these, cut the leafy portion off the stems, and roughly chopped it into 1 to 2 inch squares. Then I drizzled them with olive oil, tossed them well and sprinkled them with salt. I put them on a baking sheet and toasted them crispy – 10 minutes seemed just about right.
I’ve made kale chips before but never fell in love with them. This kale had been hit by frost several times, which made the leaves sweeter. And I cooked them at a higher temperature than before. I also made a small portion: Cindy and I ate them all before dinner. I used to keep kale chips in a tightly closed jar, but they still got mushy. Do you still have kale in the garden? Try it.
Baked potatoes are a classic dish and easy to prepare. A few tips: grow a few russeting next year, they are best for baking. And brush them with some melted butter or olive oil to make the skin crispy. But plan ahead: it takes 45 to 65 minutes at 400 ° to bake a potato. The bigger the spud, the longer it will take. You should be able to easily stick a fork or knife in while cooking. Oh, and don’t forget to poke a few holes in the skin when you start – I’ve been told they can explode if you don’t.
I usually freeze fresh peppers in the fall. I think they’re great for cooking and can also be tossed into a salad. No blanching: I wash and wipe them dry, core and cut into slices and freeze them in a zippered bag. I decided to toast frozen peppers now to see how they would do.
I spread a couple of cups of frozen pepper slices on a clean cloth on the countertop while preheating the oven to 450 degrees. They thawed quickly and I patted them dry. I put it in a bowl and drizzled it with some olive oil. Then I removed one half and put the baking sheet on to a boil; I sprinkled the other half with dried oregano flakes and a little salt before spreading it on the pan. Line up parchment paper or aluminum foil to make cleaning easier.
It took the peppers 25 to 30 minutes to become soft and slightly charred. I didn’t remove the skins, although people who roast them whole tend to. If you’re roasting peppers as a side dish, be aware that roasting reduces the size significantly – a cup of sliced peppers doesn’t make much of a dish.
A few days later I got a nice roast pork and cooked it at 350 ° for over an hour. This gave me a medium hot oven just begging to roast vegetables. I roasted beets, carrots, onions and tomatoes and they were all delicious!
The beets were medium-sized – about two inches in diameter, and took an hour or a little longer to feel well cooked through. After cutting off the leaves, I wrapped them loosely in aluminum foil. I left the tails (roots) on the beets and an inch or so of the stem and leaves. Cut beets have a tendency to bleed, and I didn’t want that.
The carrots. I just tossed them in the roaster after cleaning them well and cutting off the stems and tips. If you have small carrots, they won’t take as long as beets, so you can add them to the cooking process later. I peeled onions and roasted them whole. When roasted, they caramelize and become sweeter. Well used cold in sandwiches!
I tried roasting my tomatoes by either cutting tomatoes into half inch slices and also simply cutting them in half. I found the halves to be easier to serve – the sliced tomatoes tended to fall apart. Later, when roasting peppers, I roasted three more fresh tomatoes at 450 ° after sprinkling them with dry basil. Even at 450, it takes about an hour for them to collapse and turn brown.
Roasting tomatoes gives them a very nice, intense tomato flavor. Years ago I roasted some with the idea of keeping the results in the freezer. It worked well. I’ve roasted them longer than now; I toasted them until almost all of the moisture was out, probably on a lower temperature. Then I packed them in zipper bags and frozen them for use in winter sandwiches. I take the frozen tomato pieces and defrost them in a toaster.
I grow some winter squash every year. My favorite is the Waltham butternut. It is a light brown gourd with a bulbous, seed-filled distal end and a narrower, seedless section that extends to the point of attachment on the vine. Most of the time I peel them, remove the kernels, and cut them into cubes for use in stews and stir-fries.
I recently roasted a butternut squash and was delighted not only with the taste, but also with the fact that I didn’t have to peel the skin. When serving (after an hour at 350 °) I scooped the cooked meat out of the skin. But later I tried a bite of the skin and it was soft and tasty. Vegetable skins are generally full of vitamins and minerals, so I’ll be eating pumpkin skins from now on (with the exception of Blue Hubbard skins, which are so thick and leathery).
So when planning your garden for the next year, remember to grow vegetables that you can roast. They are the perfect comfort food for long winter nights.
Henry Homeyer is a long time master gardener and author of four gardening books. At this time of year he dreams of spring. You can reach him at [email protected] or by mail to PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746.