The past few months I have been working as a personal chef for a couple who work long days and want their fridge full of healthy meals to come home to. It's a pretty great situation seeing as I get to do what I enjoy, can stay in my gym clothes, and it's flexible hours with Curran. I don't necessarily come home wanting to cook for my own family, but such is life. The wife was asking for me to leave some of the recipes of the foods I've been making them and I still haven't responded because I don't, um, have recipes to leave. I'm not one for rules, with practice, cooking has become an intuition sort of deal, and I think that's only because I understand the basic principle and can go off on my own from there. Anyway, I've been making big batches of roasted vegetables for them and realize that while it's not always a recipe, understanding a few things about doing them well, is helpful. A few tips I've learned only by doing them wrong a lot of times:
* They need a generous coat of oil. Vegetables are mostly water, and a generous coat of oil creates a barrier between the heat and their water, allowing them to retain the natural moisture as opposed to it cooking off and the vegetables just getting dry. It also dresses them at the end, so while you don't want them sitting in a big pool of it, you should see the oil coating everything.
* You want to use vegetables with a similar cooking time, and cut their size appropriately. For example, here, I know delicata will get soft before the fennel, so I cut the delicata on the large side and the fennel on the thin side so their cooking times balance. Make sense? Autumn vegetables usually need a little more time than summer so if you are cooking seasonal things, your timing should work out. Summer items like zucchini, peppers, eggplant have more water and less natural sugar in them so I find they roast in about half the time.
* A large, rimmed baking tray is key. Oil and season on the tray and just toss with your hands there for one less dirty dish. A thin lip lets the moisture escape so you get a good crust.
* Out of the oven, let them sit for a few minutes. Don't smoosh them all in a bowl so fast as they will steam each other and get moosh (technical term). Give them space to breathe before putting them on a serving platter. When I cook for work or make roasted vegetables in advance, I let them cool completely before packing them up for the fridge.
* Salt enough. Not too much. I can't tell you how much, that's a personal taste deal. But don't get stingy, I'll say that much.
* The other spices are up to you. I generally throw in something spicy, dried herbs and fresh herbs after baking. But you can be generous with these as well. I love za'atar on carrots, cayenne and maple on sweet potatoes, cumin and cinnamon on squashes, and lemon pepper and Italian herbs on zucchini. I like a little soy sauce or maple syrup on occasion but this adds moisture to the pan so only use a teensy bit to avoid steaming.
Anyway. I am no master, but a trial-and-error, learn by doing sort of thing has left me with the above constants in my vegetable roasting experience. Feel free to share your tips or favorite spices in the comments, I love to have new ideas.
ROASTED VEGETABLE + QUINOA BOWL // Serves 6
- 1 medium fennel bulb
- 1 small onion, red or yellow
- 4 carrots, cleaned
- 2 small delicata squash
- 1/2 lb. brussels sprouts
- 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (I used a chile infused one for a bit of spice)
- 3/4 tsp. sea salt
- fresh ground pepper
- 2 tsp. everyday seasoning or Italian herb blend
- pinch of cayenne
- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
- 1 3/4 cup vegetable broth
- few big handfuls of baby kale
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, to taste
- microgreens, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400'. Prepare all your vegetables and collect them on a large baking tray. Halve the fennel and slice it into wedges. Peel the onion, cut off the ends, and slice it into thin wedges, cut the end off the carrots and slice 1" pieces on a diagonal. Scoop the seeds from the squash and slice it into thick half moons. Halve large brussels and leave the small ones whole. Drizzle the olive oil, salt, a few pinches of pepper, everyday seasoning and cayenne. Toss to coat well and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Dividing into two sheets if it looks over crowded. Bake in the upper third of the oven for twenty minutes. Turn the heat up to 425' and cook another 20 minutes or until the edges of the vegetables are browned and crisp.
While the vegetables roast, cook the quinoa. Put the quinoa and broth in a pot. Bring it up to a gentle boil, down to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork, add a few handfuls of baby kale and leave the lid ajar so it cools. This will barely wilt the kale so its not quite so raw. Once it is room temperature, drizzle in the olive oil, red wine vinegar and a hearty pinch of salt and pepper and toss to coat. Transfer to your serving bowl. Top with the roasted vegetables, pine nuts, feta cheese and microgreens.
Serve warm or at room temperature.