Conscientious Cook: Get Roasted!

Tips and an untraditional recipe for enjoying roasted fall veggies.

By Mel Paradis // Photographs by Paulette Phlipot

As the heat of summer begins to dissipate (wait, what?!) and the cool days of autumn sneak onto the calendar, it’s time to shift our eating habits. Salads filled with greens from the garden sound great here in August, but, come late September, our bodies start to crave the warm comfort of slow-cooked foods. Still, we need not abandon our gardens and farmers markets when the first frost hits, as the natural sweetness of roasted vegetables is exactly what our bodies desire.

With so many varieties of vegetables available, you can serve a different roast vegetable each night of the week. While potatoes, yams, winter squash, and root vegetables come immediately to mind, cruciferous vegetables—such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts—are especially delicious roasted. Serve them as a side dish, toss with pasta, top off creamy polenta, or puree and add to soups or desserts.

General Rules for Roasting Veggies:
1. For even cooking, cut vegetables into uniform pieces.
2. Avoid steaming by not overcrowding pieces on the pan.
3. Use a high-quality cookie sheet. If you don’t own a restaurant-grade sheet, buy one.
4. Fall vegetables are not porous like eggplant or summer squash, so they won’t need as much oil. Still, give them a good toss in olive, coconut, or walnut oil, as well as a pinch of salt and cracked pepper.
5. Round out the flavor with herbs, like rosemary, thyme, or sage.
6. If roasting a medley of vegetables, cook in stages, with harder vegetables (such as beets) going in the oven or on the grill first. Add less-dense vegetables (such as broccoli) later.
7. Keep an eye on your vegetables while roasting to avoid burning.

Three Favorite Roasting Methods:
Cut ’em up: This method is the quickest and simplest route to a crispy outside and soft inside. However, vegetables prepared this way lose their moisture, so cook more than you think you’ll need. For roots, potatoes, garlic cloves, cauliflower, and winter squash, roast at 425°F. For broccoli or Brussels sprouts, roast at 500°F. Stir at least once while cooking. Cooking times will vary, but start checking at 20 minutes. Denser vegetables and larger pieces may take up to 40 minutes.

Par-cook ’em: When less moisture loss is desired, this method produces stunning results. Par-cook your cut-up carrots, parsnips, or potatoes by first boiling in salted water. When they are easily pierced with a knife, drain, toss in oil, season, and spread onto a preheated baking sheet. Roast carrots and parsnips at 375°F and potatoes at 500°F. Flip only once or twice to allow the side touching the pan to get crispy. Total cooking time is 30 to 40 minutes.

Roast ’em whole: Sometimes a soft texture without the crispy outside is desired. In this case, roast veggies whole (or for winter squash, cut in half). For roots like beets, carrots, and parsnips, cut off the greens and wrap the root in aluminum foil. No need to peel the skin—it will slide off once cooked and cooled. Place on a cooking sheet. For squash, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle the cut side with oil and place it on the sheet.
For a whole head of garlic, cut off the top (exposing the cloves), drizzle olive oil into the cavity, and wrap in foil. Roast all of these at 400°F. The cooking time will vary depending on the size, so start testing after 25 minutes for smaller vegetables and 40 minutes for larger ones. They are done when a fork easily pierces the flesh.

A Medley of Flavors

Roasted Idaho potatoes are a quintessential cold-weather side dish. John Hoggan of Grand Teton Organics grows more than forty varieties of certified organic seed potatoes on his Canyon Creek farm in Madison County, Idaho. Locally, Cosmic Apple, Snowdrift Farms, and Teton Full Circle Farm all buy their seeds from Hoggan. The best roasters, according to Hoggan, are the fingerlings. “They have a nutty, buttery flavor and cook thoroughly and quickly,” he says. Hoggan sells a fingerling mix that includes up to eleven varieties like purple, red, and pink-fleshed taters. If you can’t grab his fingerling mix from one of the above farms, seek out other unique varieties to create a mélange of colors for your feast.

Roasted Parsnip Cake with Spiced Pecans

This cake recipe by Lisa Hanley of Forage Bistro & Lounge in Driggs is similar in texture and flavor to carrot cake. “I tried a few variations with raw parsnips, but found that roasting them adds an extra touch of sweetness,” she says.

2 cups pureed roasted parsnips (3 to 4 medium-large parsnips)
Butter for pans
2 sheets parchment paper
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups coconut oil

1. Roast parsnips whole, wrapped in aluminum foil, at 400°F for 25-35 minutes (depending on size). Once cooled, pull off skins and place in a food processor. Blend until evenly pureed.
2. Reduce oven heat to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round pans. Cut to size and line bottom of pans with parchment paper.
3. In a large bowl, sift all dry ingredients together. Using a mixer, whisk eggs and oil, and add parsnips.
4. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet, but don’t overmix.
5. Pour into pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
6. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes. Then, remove from pans and place cakes on cooling racks.

for the frosting:
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon heavy cream
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

  1. Melt brown sugar and heavy cream together in a saucepan over low heat. Let it cool.
    2. Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and then add butter. Add brown sugar mixture and vanilla extract. Slowly add powdered sugar. Mix until blended.

    for the spiced pecans:
    1 egg white
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1 teaspoon ground ginger
    1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    1 teaspoon orange extract
    Pinch of salt
    2 cups pecans

1. Preheat oven to 250°F.
2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
3. Spread onto cookie sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour.

to assemble:
Once cool, use a paring knife to score a line around the outside of each cake as a guide for cutting. Insert the blade of your knife into the cut, hold it steady, and cut horizontally through the center of the cake to make 2 layers.
Spread frosting on top of each bottom layer, stack layers, then spread frosting on top and around the sides of each cake. Decorate with spiced pecans.