Born to Roast (Root Vegetables, Roasted)

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Watching Iron Chef America tonight–Batali vs. Dufresne (of WD-50)–I recalled something that I read, heard or saw somewhere that goes a little like this: “Cooking is about technique. Once you learn the techniques, you can do anything.”

This philosophy makes tons of sense as you watch these iron chefs fly around their kitchens. They are in control because they know how to slice, to dice, to braise, to saute—it’s just a matter of prepping, performing, and plating. Mario Batali isn’t cocky, he’s a master of his craft. He knows his techniques and that’s all he needs to fry, frizzle and filet his opponents. The judges were swooning over his dishes and it’s simply a matter of knowing good techniques for making food taste good.

I know very few techniques. For the record: I can’t saute, I can’t flip an omelet, I can’t make a bernaise or a hollandaise sauce, I can’t roll pastry dough to save my life, and I can’t make Nancy Silverton’s savory caramel corn. In my defense, I can crack an egg with one hand (though almost always bits of shell get in), smack garlic efficiently to peel the skin, chop an onion, and sift dry ingredients (ok, ok, anyone can do that). Where I excel, however, is in the art of roasting. I am a brilliant roaster. I was born to roast.

Tonight I went to Whole Foods without a plan for dinner. There, perusing the vegetable aisle, I had the inspired idea to roast root vegetables. I purchased one white sweet potato, half a pre-cut butternut squash and two parsnips. I came home, peeled what needed to be peeled, cut everything into 1/2-inch squares and placed them on a cookie sheet. I tossed with olive oil, lots of kosher salt and pepper:

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Into a 415 oven it went for 1 hour (give or take a few minutes). I stirred it around a few times while it cooked and eventually I had this:

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On a scale from 1 to “totally awesome wow I can’t believe how good this tastes” this rates a 99. I love sweet potatoes and butternut squash on their own, but prepared like this–where everything caramelizes, gets crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside–it’s pure heaven on a plate.

I therefore declare that roasting is the best technique out of all the techniques you can learn for the home chef. It involves a hot oven, some slicing, some tossing and some seasoning. Anyone can do it. And you can probably roast anything. I don’t think there’s a vegetable in the produce section that wouldn’t taste good roasted, except maybe lettuce—but maybe even that too. Roasting is the secret to the City Bakery salad bar, much of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks and the Amateur Gourmet’s bid for becoming an iron chef. (Ok, that’ll never happen, but I may be going to a taping in two weeks that I can’t tell you anything about because I’m going to sign a confidentiality agreement!)

The chicken you see above was roasted, but not by me. It’s half a pre-roasted Whole Foods chicken and once again, as with the vegetables, the roasting brings out all the chicken’s better qualities. If only we could roast people, wouldn’t the world be a better place? Oh wait, we already do!

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