You Can Stop Chopping: Here's How to Roast Whole Vegetables This Winter
This is a move that is good for your budget and your health.
Put down the knife. It's time to start roasting whole vegetables this winter, instead of chopping them. Here's why:
Roasting large format vegetables whole can be the center of a meal just as much as any roast—whole chicken, pork loin, or leg of lamb—and they are so easy to make (and hard to screw up). Think about it: Meats like these can be expensive and veggies aren't. Maybe you have vegetarians or vegans at the table and they'd really appreciate vegetables taking center stage. Maybe you'd like to work vegetables into your winter rotation in a bigger way to get healthier. Or maybe you are super busy and don't have time to monitor or fuss about internal temps, afraid of overcooking a pricy piece of meat or serving something raw.
Vegetables are here to save you.
You can keep it as simple as a basic oil rub with salt and pepper, or as complex as custom spice rubs, pre-roast poaches, glazes, or sauces. Once you start experimenting, you may just find that making a carve-able roasted vegetable is one of the best ways to feed your friends and family. Here are 9 steps to creating show-stopping veggie roasts.
1. Choose the right vegetable.
Whole heads of cabbage or cauliflower, large format squashes like Hubbard or Kuri, whole celery roots or large rutabagas, all work well for this, in no small part because they bring a certain meaty quality when roasted whole. If your market carries specialty items like brussels sprouts on the stalk, that can also be a fun and unusual roast.
2. Prep it properly.
For cabbages, flatten the bottom by making a small slice to even the core so it will stand up, and remove any wilted or damaged outer leaves. For cauliflower, trim the bottom similarly, and wash it well to remove any dirt. The leaves are edible, so no need to remove them if you don't want. For squashes, remove a plug from the top and scrape out the seeds and guts, and wash the exterior well. For root vegetables, peel them.
3. Give it a rubdown.
Unlike meat, vegetables have no natural fats, and fat is what is going to give you that lovely burnished crispy exterior. So, you have to give your vegetables some love. You can get creative here: clarified butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil. Not cooking for vegetarians or vegans? Don't be afraid to use bacon fat, duck fat, goose fat, or chicken fat to bring some delicious meaty flavor to your vegetable roast.
4. Season it well.
Different vegetables take to different seasonings. Cabbage and cauliflower, for example, are more delicate and are great with milder seasonings like fresh herbs and citrus. Sweet vegetables like orange squashes can stand up to heat and intensity as well as acidity, and the larger root vegetables can take sweetness to balance their natural bitterness. You can use any spice blend or rub that you love with your vegetable roast, and if it works on the grill, it will work in your oven.
RELATED: Our Best Cauliflower Recipes
5. Roast at either a high heat or a super low heat.
You want to cook your vegetable roast either between 200-225, or between 400-425. This will help it to cook to tender in the center and get that browned exterior. Be sure that you set your rack in the lower middle so that your vegetable is not sitting too close to the upper element of your oven to help prevent burning. Low and slow style cooking will yield an intense vegetable flavor; high heat will retain more of the fresher flavors.
6. Start covered.
These large format vegetables take a long time in your oven, often between 75-90 minutes at high heat, and up to 3 or 4 hours at low heat, so you want to begin with them covered in foil to jump-start the cooking, and then remove the foil about halfway through so that they can get caramelized.
7. Keep them moist.
Again, with no interior fat to melt away and keep them from drying out, you will want to add some moisture to the bottom of your pan for the cooking. Whether you use stock, wine, juice, beer, or even just water, that liquid will create steam to help the initial covered cooking, and then once you take the foil off, it will help keep a moist environment in your oven and create some pan juices you can use for sauce or gravy. Adding some aromatics to this liquid like shallot or onion, carrot and celery, even some halved citrus fruits like lemon or orange, can bring flavor to the roast and to those pan juices.
8. Cook until tender, but not mushy.
Begin with the timing guidelines above but check for doneness. You want a paring knife to slide easily into the very center of your roast, but you don't want it to collapse in on itself. Start checking the texture about halfway through the estimated covered part of the cooking: You want the exterior to be beginning to tenderize but the interior to still be firm when you remove the foil.
9. Garnish and serve!
Think about adding a glaze like teriyaki or barbecue sauce for the last 15 minutes of cooking to create a pan sauce with the juices. Consider topping your veggie roast with whipped goat cheese or feta; or add texture with toasted breadcrumbs, fried shallots, or toasted nuts. Serve sliced into steaks or wedges.
Get started with these two recipes, then have fun playing with your own ideas. And promise your knife you'll get back to it another day.