Kitchen Focus

Roasted sweet potatoes with a maple glaze. Roasted pumpkin soup with a swirl of cream. Roasted acorn squash with cornbread stuffing. Roasted fingerling potatoes with garlic and rosemary. It all sounds wonderful, doesn't it? There's nothing like the coolness of the autumn season and the freshness of this season's finest produce to make a person want to crank up the oven and roast some vegetables.

While it's traditional to enjoy such culinary delights on days like Thanksgiving, there's no reason you can't include them in your less festive meals as well. They even can find their way into the middle of the week -- especially if you take advantage of some tips to make things move along a little quicker.

  • Since the key to great roasted vegetables is the caramelization that takes place in the oven, it's important to have a hot oven. If you're unsure of the internal temperature of your oven, place an oven thermometer (under $10 in most kitchen stores) in your oven to check the temperatures and verify its accuracy. Generally speaking, you are going to want to roast most vegetables between 400 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit (or between 200 and 260 degrees Centigrade).
  • While you can roast vegetables without oil, a thin coating of oil helps along the browning process and protects the moisture in the vegetables. Roasting without this important ingredient may mean dry vegetables. Oil can also bring a lot of flavor to the party -- try using special oils. For example, roasting sweet potatoes in chili oil results in a sweet and spicy combination that's hard to resist. Another favorite to try: baby red potatoes with rosemary-infused olive oil.
  • Shallow pans are a must for proper roasting! You want to be able to expose as much of the surface area of your vegetables to an even heat as possible. I prefer glass and ceramic baking dishes because of their even heating properties, but any shallow, oven-safe baking dish will do. Do yourself a favor and lightly spray the inside of the dish with cooking spray before adding your vegetables. It will help make cleanup easy.
  • Another key to proper roasting is the size of the vegetables you are roasting. In general, you will want to keep your pieces of vegetables about the same size. However, there are some exceptions. In general, pieces of sweet potatoes and yams will roast more quickly than the same size pieces of potatoes. So, if you're roasting the two together, cut the potatoes into slightly smaller sizes or blanche similar sized pieces for a few minutes before roasting.
  • If you find yourself in need of roasted vegetables later in the day, but fear you won't have the time to get to them then, try this: Toss your vegetable mix with the oil and seasonings of your choice and place in a shallow pan. Place in a cold oven and turn the oven to 500 degrees. Set your timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, toss the vegetables and place back in the oven for another 15 minutes. When the time is up, turn off the oven, but allow the vegetables to rest in the hot oven. Later, take them out and use in soups, stews, as a side dish, etc.
  • If you want to cut your roasting time even more, place your cut vegetables -- prior to oiling -- in a glass dish and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the vegetables in the microwave and cook for 10 minutes on the high power setting. Toss the vegetables with oil and seasonings of your choice and place in a shallow baking pan. Roast in the oven for 15-25 minutes or until soft and caramelized.

There you have it -- some of my favorite tips and rules for roasting vegetables. While other vegetables are also terrific roasted (tomatoes and peppers come to mind), there's something truly special about the root vegetables and squashes of autumn when you kiss them with a little oil and dry heat. Take the opportunity that the season is giving us to make something wonderful with these gifts for your kitchen.

Now, it wouldn't be quite fair to leave you for the month without sharing a recipe, would it? So, here's one of my absolute favorite roasted vegetable dishes. It's simple, has few ingredients and it simply wonderful by itself or added to any number of other stews or casseroles. Enjoy.

Spicy-Sweet Roasted Yams

  • 3 large yams -- washed and cut into 1-inch cubes (no peeling necessary)
  • 2 T. hot chile oil
  • 1 T. maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Toss the prepared yams with the oil, syrup and salt. Place in a shallow baking dish coated lightly with cooking spray. Roast in the preheated oven for 50 minutes, turning once about halfway through the roasting time. Makes a wonderful accompaniment to everything from grilled pork tenderloin to Grandma's Thanksgiving turkey!

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour
If there's a topic that you'd like to see covered in this column, let me know. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .