By this point in the summer I definitely get into a rut and prepare fruit and vegetables from the gardens and market in almost the same ways daily. Not that that is a bad thing, as with produce this amazing, at the height of their season, there is often very little that can improve upon them. A little grilling here, a little lightly dressed salad there, a little sautéing tossed with fresh pasta over there…
Vegetable and fruit roasting feels like almost too basic a technique to even justify a whole blog post. However, several times during the year I have these ah-ha moments where I am bored with what I have been cooking and then suddenly remember to mix things up I just need to roast, which I somehow forget about for spells at a time.
The long exposure to dry heat and the contact with the surface of a baking sheet or roasting pan transforms produce in ways very different than grilling, steaming or sautéing. Most importantly it evaporates much of the water in the fruit or vegetable, drying it out some (Take that watery zucchini!), and deeply concentrating the flesh and the flavor. Also the edges of the produce start to get brown and sweet and caramelized and utterly irresistible after the natural sugars are exposed to heat and the surface of the baking dish.
Roasting is a great method to bring some new wowzer to your daily market basket. Try it too as a way to change up old recipes—roast carrots, corn or tomatoes before adding them to soup, sauces or salsas, to give them a new, deeper flavor (and fancier name). If you can bare to turn on the oven, keep this in the back of your mind for summer meals and long into the winter.
Most fruit and vegetables are great for roasting (see suggestions below). Super watery or delecate produce (lettuce and leafy greens, celery, cucumbers, melon) don’t tend to work as great as there almost isn’t enough flesh there to remain when the water is gone.
Heat oven to 425° F.
Wash and dry the produce completely.
Cut into pieces that are uniform in size so they will be cooked through at the same time. Think too about surface area, and cut in a way that gives you the maximum, as that is were the delicious caramelized browning will take place. Maximize that and you’ll be suitably rewarded. If using an assortment of vegetables, try to combine produce that has a similar hardness, or add softer vegetables more towards the end of the cooking time. A hard beet will take longer to cook than a softer zucchini. Or separate different vegetables on multiple baking sheets so they can be removed at different times.
In a large bowl, toss pieces of produce to be roasted lightly with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. If roasting fruit, and they will be in a somewhat savory presentation (like to be served with duck or pork, or in a salad or chutney) this adds an interesting flavor too, or you could just use some neutral grape seed oil.
Spread the fruit or vegetables out in one layer
on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan. A big key to the success of this is maximizing the surface area contact with the hot baking surface. Also, the closer the pieces are crammed together or stacked on top of each other the more likely they’ll steam instead of roast, with no place for the moisture to escape.
Place in the top half of your oven. Check after 5-10 minutes, depending on the size and density of the pieces. If they are starting to brown nicely on the bottom, carefully turn them over with a spatula.
Check again in a few minutes, again using your judgment as to how long you think it’ll take for the pieces to be cooked through. Taste a piece to see if it is tender all the way to the center. Another method is to insert the tip of a sharp knife into one of the pieces, and if it slips off the blade, with no resistance, it is ready. If it hangs on the knife, it is not.
When ready, serve warm, cold or at room temperature. Add to a recipe or dress simply with a little vinegar or lemon juice, more salt or pepper if needed, or use as a topping for crostini, cheeses, desserts, ice cream, in salads, with roasted meats, etc, etc, etc.
Cut into uniform sized pieces: Beets, carrots, zucchini & summer squash, fennel, potatoes, parsnips, turnips, eggplant, butternut and winter squash, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, peppers
Leave whole: green beans, asparagus, some mushrooms
Onions: Cut into wedges or thick rings.
Shallots: Leave whole or cut in half
Tomatoes: Halve and cook cut side up on baking sheet
Corn: Remove kernels from the cob. They'll cook very quickly!
Peaches, nectarines, plums, grapes, cherries, apples, pears, apricots and figs.