Looking back over this past winter I realize that I never made a lot of my favorite winter meals. Having only moved to Santa Monica, CA last October I went from summer to more summer and completely by-passed the cold winter weather I’d grown accustomed to over my 27 years. There were occasional cool rainy days where I’d scrape together a cozy soup but it wasn’t quite the same as enjoying it when coming in from a blustery New England winter day. Now don’t get me wrong here, I quite enjoy my new environment. In fact, I definitely feel spoiled to have all of this lovely sunshine year-round but there is a little part of me that has also grown to love those days where you come in from the cold feeling like you’ve earned a cup of cocoa or warm hearty meal.
One of my favorite dishes, which is super simple, is roasted winter vegetables. I shouldn’t even call them ‘winter’ vegetables because a lot of these are now available all year long and you can mix and match your favorites once you get the method down.
My favorite combination involves: sweet potatoes, parsnips, leeks, fennel, Yukon gold potatoes, garlic cloves, and cremini mushrooms (baby portabellas). I just chop all of these vegetables into about equal size pieces for uniform cooking (except for the garlic which I just smash with the side of a knife to remove the paper skin) and I place them on a baking sheet. I then sprinkle with coarse sea salt, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and mix together with my hands until all the veggies are coated in the oil and salt. They then head into a 425F oven for about 30-40 minutes until they are golden and crispy on the outside but soft on the inside (you can test how soft they are by poking with a fork). These roasted veggies are so delicious and work beautifully with just about anything. I also have a great couscous salad that I like to make with the leftovers so stay tuned….
Roasted Winter Vegetables
1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes (keep peels on)
2 med Yukon gold potatoes (keep peels on)
1 fennel bulb
4-5 cloves garlic
2-3 handfuls cremini mushrooms (cremini’s are baby portabella mushrooms, you can also use 2-3 chopped portabellas here)
Freshly cracked pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
*Dried herbs optional
1) Chop all the veggies to about equal size – I usually cut into about 1 inch pieces. Since leeks are delicate and cook quickly I’ll leave them a little larger – same with the mushrooms. For the garlic – leave them whole and just peel them – they’ll get lovely and soft from roasting. If you have a wide 8” chef’s knife – use the side to whack the garlic and the peel will come right off. (This is so satisfying to do!)
2) Once all the veggies are chopped just put them on a baking sheet and sprinkle about a tablespoon of sea salt over the veggies – I never measure here. You can then drizzle with olive oil – again, I never measure but I’d say a few tablespoons should do the trick. You don’t want lots of olive oil – just enough to lightly coat all the veggies so they get the flavor and also so they don’t stick to the baking sheet. Use your hands to mix everything together…
3) Put the baking sheet of veggies into a 425F oven for about 30-40 minutes – half-way through I usually take them out to give them a little shake and flip with a spatula. I’ve noticed that ovens can vary a lot so after about 20-30 minutes keep an eye on them the first time you make them to learn just how long it takes to get the veggies just right. You’ll know when they are ready because they’ll have crispy golden edges but inside they’ll be soft and delicate. To check for softness use a fork and poke one of the thickest vegetables – if the fork goes in easily they are ready!
A quick word on the vegetables:
This is a fun method for cooking lots of different and interesting vegetables so definitely get creative here!
Parsnips, if you’re not familiar with them, look like carrots but they are white. Their flavor is slightly spicy and fragrant – it’s very unique – you have to try ‘em! I just prepare them as I would carrots – peel them and chop!
Fennel is a white looking bulb with long green fronds attached that look like dill. Fennel has a fantastic licorice flavor that mellows when roasted. I love to enjoy fennel uncooked as well – it’s great in salads. To prepare fennel you’ll only use the bulb so chop off all of the fronds from the base of the bulb. (You can save the fronds for garnishing.) You’ll also want to chop off the bottom of the bulb and remove the outer-most pieces of the bulb. Chop in half, remove the tough core, and slice to your desired size and shape.
Leeks look like huge over-sized green onions with much tougher green tops. They have a very gentle onion flavor and are fantastic roasted. Sometimes I’ll roast just a few leeks and sprinkle them over salad with some goat cheese – really yummy! To prepare leeks you’ll want to chop off the dark green tops – you’re only going to eat the white and really light green parts – the rest is very tough. You’ll also want to chop off the little roots at the bottom of the leeks. At this point you can either chop the leeks into 2 inch disks or you can cut them lenth-wise and then chop them into your desired size. Either way though you’ll want to soak them or run them under water to make sure that all the grit and dirt is removed. Because these grow in loose soil they almost always have dirt hidden in their layers. One method I’ve seen used is to chop them as you’ll want to use them and then just put them in a big bowl full of water to soak for a few minutes – shake them around a little with your hand and the dirt will sink to the bottom.
Cremini mushrooms are just baby portabellas. Either portabellas or creminis can be used here. I’d recommend cutting them a little larger than the size of the potatoes just because they will cook faster. Also, make sure that you do not wash or soak mushrooms! They will soak up tons of water and make for some soggy roasted veggies. To prepare mushrooms you’ll just need a damp kitchen towel and then you just gently brush off any dirt that way…