Winter vegetable cooking school
Happy first day of winter! To celebrate, I'm going to give my garden a break today and cook with store-bought winter vegetables. I'm asked sometimes if I grow enough vegetables so that I don't have to buy them at the store. The answer to that question is "no." While my garden is *MIGHTY* and it makes a significant contribution, it's too small to rely on as our one and only food source.
When grocery shopping, I try to buy vegetables that are in season. There are many benefits of eating seasonally: it's better for the environment to buy food that was harvested locally (out-of-season produce is often shipped from far away locales, leading to a larger carbon footprint), the taste and texture of these foods are at their best when freshly picked, and you may end up with a smaller grocery bill because you're not paying additional shipping costs that get passed along to consumers.
My favorite method for cooking firm-textured winter vegetables is to roast them. Roasting creates crispy edges on the outside and tender middles. Water evaporates during cooking, concentrating the flavors and natural sugars. And since it's cold outside, I don't mind heating up the kitchen by having the oven on.
Root vegetables do especially well when roasted: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, and beets (here's a clever method to "beet" the mess). All kinds of winter squashes are excellent when roasted. While butternut, acorn squash, and pie pumpkins are readily available at my neighborhood grocery, I can often find my favorites, delicata and red kuri, at local farmers' markets. The non-leafy Brassica vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, do well in the oven too. And sure, you can roast leafy greens (kale chips, anyone?), but that's a blog post for another day.
Start with about 2.5 to 3 pounds of firm-textured winter vegetables in any combination you wish. I often mix 3 or 4 different veggies together. Today, I brought home a head of cauliflower and some red potatoes from the store, plus I already had an open bag of baby carrots that I needed to use up. Next, cut the vegetables into bite-sized chunks. The baby carrots were already cut, I cut the cauliflower into florets, and I left the peels on the potatoes when I cut them into chunks.
Toss those veggies in a big bowl with a couple tablespoons of olive oil plus a generous sprinkling of salt, pepper, and your favorite dried herbs to taste. I often use Herbes de Provence, Old Bay, or just dried thyme. Spread the seasoned veggies in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and put them in the middle of the oven at 400F. The exact cooking time will depend on how large you cut the vegetables, so check on them every 15 minutes and give them a stir to prevent burning. It typically takes between 30 and 45 minutes for me. There have definitely been times when I have bitten into a chunk of potato only to find it still crunchy in the middle, which is why tasting is important. And while it's easy to fix veggies that are underdone with additional cooking, there is no going back if you turn them into charcoal briquettes (been there, done that).
Roasted cauliflower, red potatoes, and carrots with olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried herbs