March 4, 2013

Roasted Vegetables, and the Importance of Salt

Roasted onion, red potatoes, butternut squash, and carrots

A chef ended his speech at my brother-in-law and sister's culinary school graduation six years ago with the words, "and for God's sake, season your food!" I've always remembered his talk about seasoning, and have been beginning to understand the importance of seasoning ever since.  I think so many home cooks don't use salt or don't use enough of it because we are aware that salt is something of which we are supposed to watch our intake. Processed foods have so much salt (and sugar) that if you eat processed foods you can very quickly max out your quota of salt and sugar. However, if you make and season your own food, you will be using a fraction of the amount in processed foods.

Roasted red onion, garlic, carrots, butternut squash, and red potatoes

Other chefs in cookbooks that try to teach talk about the importance of seasoning well and tasting as you go and being sure to use the right amount of salt. In The French Laundry Cookbook, Thomas Keller writes, "The ability to salt food properly is the single most important skill in cooking...Salt opens up flavors, makes them sparkle. But if you taste salt in a dish, it's too salty...Pepper, on the other hand, should be used only in certain cases for specific tastes." I try to remember that when deciding whether to salt and pepper something I'm cooking or just to salt it. (Something else that is delicious with just oil and salt and no pepper is arugula-- top with shaved Parmesan and pine nuts if you have them. Arugula is so peppery on its own, it doesn't need any pepper added to it.) 
Roasted halved fingerling potatoes-- slightly crispy and delicious, I think they're better than french fries

Roasting vegetables, which I do multiple times a week, to accompany anything, always makes me fully appreciate how important using the right amount of salt is, as it is so delicious-- yet salt is the only ingredient aside from the vegetables themselves and oil. Roasting is a great way to tame and enjoy almost any vegetable you have around.

Leftover roasted potatoes are delicious eaten cold on a salad, and any leftover roasted vegetables are great chopped up in an omelet, on a pizza, on rice with a fried egg, tossed with pasta and cheese...  Having leftover roasted vegetables in the fridge means the seed of another great meal.

Cherry tomatoes, summer squash, onion. Before I learned how divine just oil and salt was for roasted vegetables, I used to sprinkle some rosemary or other herbs.

Purple potatoes, summer squash, onion, parsley
  • vegetables (any one or a combination of: potatoes, squash, onions, carrots, chard, green beans, corn, tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli...), chopped to fairly uniform size for even cooking
  • olive oil
  • coarse salt
Put vegetables in roasting pan (or rimmed baking sheet, or brownie pan-- just make sure there is enough space that the vegetables can spread out and won't be steaming on top of each other). Save more tender vegetables (such as chard leaves or corn kernels or tomatoes) to add a little later into the cooking time, as they will not take as long.

Drizzle with oil and sprinkle fairly generously with coarse salt. I like to do the salting by hand. Toss well, making sure all vegetables are coated. Roast in oven at 400 (or 425, or 450; I usually do 400) for 30 minutes or more. Check every so often and toss vegetables with a spatula, adding a bit more oil if they are beginning to stick. 

Remove from oven when vegetables are starting to brown.  

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