Saturday, February 6, 2010

Roasting Veggies, 101

This past November, The New York Times published an article by Julia Moskin on roasting vegetables. I don't know about most of the US population (though I have a sinking suspicion most revert to steaming vegetables...blah...), but roasted veggies have always caught my eye (and stomach...). The tender veggies, with a concentration of flavor and caramelization on the edges. Delicious.

I know a good roasted vegetable when I encounter one (Eli Zabar's Vinegar Factory salad bar; The Dressing Room's Brussels Sprouts side dish, Market Table's Roasted Broccoli), but between you and me, I didn't really know how to make a roasted vegetable side dish at home til now. Usually, when I throw some broccoli or brussels sprouts in the oven to roast, they brown so quickly on the edges without the insides getting tender enough. I usually don't have problems roasting squash, due to its high moisture content, but potatoes sometimes give me trouble, too.

Julia's solution? A little steam moisture to keep the veg from drying out, thanks to a tip from Ilene Rosen of City Bakery, who sells the most deliciously tender, yet intensely flavored and caramelized, roasted vegetables at the New York City cafe. She says:

“I never go above 375 degrees in a home oven,” counseled chef Ilene Rosen of City Bakery, in the Flatiron district, where the roasted vegetables are consistently golden and tender. She said high temperatures dry out and brown the food too fast. “Vegetables only release that secret buttery sweetness when they turn golden and then brown,” she said. A dish of hot water placed in the bottom of the oven when you turn it on produces the steamy heat that keeps the vegetables succulent. Using her method and the convection function on my oven, I achieved roasted vegetable Nirvana over and over again."

So, this weekend, I was presented with two bags of brussels sprouts in the fridge. They had to be cooked, but what to do with them? What do you think I did? Roasted them!

Though Julia suggests roasting the veggies at 375 in a convection oven, I wanted to go the traditional route to see if I could achieve similar results without a convection oven. I first preheated the oven to 425. Meanwhile, I sliced my brussels sprouts in quarters (if large) or half (if 6/8" in diameter). I tossed the chopped sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper prior to roasting (the salt will help draw out some of the moisture). I then popped the pan of veggies in the oven and another pan on the lower shelf, and poured hot water into that one. The hot water is the trick here -- the heat of the oven will cook the veggies, while the steam of the water will help thoroughly cook the vegetables through and keep them moist.

Honestly, I am not sure how long I had the pan in there - from 30 to 45 minutes. But, when I took the veggies out of the oven, I was incredibly surprised. They were tender all the way through, but with a hint of golden crustiness on the edges. I finished with another pinch of salt, tossed them, and immediately devoured a ramekin-full. Mmm... Now, for the next test, broccoli in the oven at 375...stay tuned!

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