Born to Roast (Root Vegetables, Roasted)

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:


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:


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!

20 thoughts on “Born to Roast (Root Vegetables, Roasted)”

  1. Wow! Ur best skills is roasting ? Thats one of the difficult one……Vege is ok but try meat especially whole bird..

    I cant get them right….hate roasting actually even though it sounds and looks easy.


  2. Yummy! I love roasted butternut squash! I fixed some a couple of weeks ago. Just the right amount of crunch and sweet! (And Whole Foods does have good roast chicken when you don’t have the time to fix one yourself.)

  3. I haven’t been thrilled with the WF roasted chickens I’ve had, bot for veggies, roasting is always the best way to go.

  4. next time roast the chicken and throw all the root vegetables in the pan with the chicken. toss them throughout the roasting time. the vegs will be dark as sweet as sugar when its done.

  5. We’ve been doing a butternut squash, apple, dried cranberries mixed up with olive oil, butter and light brown sugar and roasting these together. Yum! I’ll have to try mixing a parsnip in there sometime.

  6. Ina would be so proud. Her books converted me into a roaster as well–now, it’s really the only way I cook vegetables, except occasionally on the grill.

  7. Oh, I am so with you on roasted vegetables. Mmm. I haven’t tried root vegetables but will have to soon. Giada de Laurentiis has a really easy recipe for pasta primavera that basically involves roasting vegetables (zucchini, bell peppers, carrots, etc.) and then mixing with pasta and grated parmesan. So good!

  8. You should really try making bearnaise, you know. If you make a bearnaise, no one will care about the rest of the food (you only have to be picky about your guests – I served it to a couple we know who are doctors and they looked like I was trying to give them heart disease :). Try Nigella’s recipe in How to Eat, she really makes it sound easy. You arm will hurt from all the whisking but it’s worth it!

  9. Adam, sprinkle the veges with some fennel seeds along wuith the salt and pepper for a different and yummy flavour.

    Also chopped rosemary and garlic work wonderfully (as do any herbs, just about).

  10. Next time you roast some veggies take a head of garlic and break apart and peel the individual cloves and toss them onto the roasting pan with whatever else you are having. Nothing is better than roasted garlic!!

  11. Roast a few more veggies and use the leaftovers in a soup. Simple add veggies to bought chicken stock and use an immersion blender. It’s a good thing.

  12. I have just taken up roasting this year, and I must say, it’s practically a fetish now.

    For Christmas I made a dish of roasted root vegetables: butternut squash, carrots and orange sweet potato, and roasted it all with pine nuts, butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. It tasted festive and delicious.

  13. Try it with Cog Au Vin for a wonderful company dish. I always add onion, carrots, red pepper as well. Makes for great colour. And some basil and origano a splash of balasamic vinegar! Yum!

  14. Your post inspired me to toss cubed white potatos and carrots (the only two root vegetables I had on hand) in olive oil, salt, rosemary & garlic and roast them as a side dish for bistecca Fiorentina. Damn, they were good! The white potatoes got almost as crisp as fries.

    I also second the poster who recommended roasting veggies in the same pan as the chicken. Not only is there a delicious co-mingling of flavors, but there’s one less pan to clean.

  15. Don’t be afraid of a whole butternut squash. They are much easier to peel and cut than recipes from people like Giada would lead you to believe, and the strings and seeds are best part (not for eating on their own, perhaps, but for making a quick broth in which to cook rice that accompanies your roasted veggies).

  16. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have never liked sweet potatoes or squash, but I just had to give your recipe a try. I roasted the same veggies as you did along with a chicken. Not only was I in shock that I liked what I was tasting…it was unbelievable! Yum. I wanted to eat the entire pan (of veggies). Thank you for changing my whole outlook towards these two root vegetables! :)

  17. I took all of this to heart and made Roasted Root Vegetable Soup for Soups and Stews “pitch-in”, which is what Hoosiers call a pot luck. I roasted a red pepper, 3 parsnips, 1 head of garlic, 1 onion, 1 sweet potato, 3 carrots, and 1 small butternut squash. Kosher salt, pepper, rosemary. All of that into food processor, then stirred in vegetable stock to desired thickness.

    Love this site – love NYC –

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