I’m not good with crossroads. I tend to stand there for an awful long time, dazed and confused, hesitant. The options play themselves out relentlessly in my mind, circling back and forth, and back again. It gets dizzying. There’s something about the visceral aspect of cooking- my hands in the dough, the smells of a simmering sauce, holding a vegetable under running water- that pulls me slowly out of my mind. There’s the comfort of watching something undergo transformation- easily, with just the slightest prodding, in a short window of time- that leaves me feeling empowered, grounded.
Lately, I’ve been roasting a lot. Maybe I’m overcompensating for the two years in Beersheba when we only had a little toaster oven (a batch of cookies would take forever), or maybe it’s the fact that the vegetables emerge warm and tinged with gold, a thing not to be underestimated in this last stretch of winter. Tamar Adler, whose incredibly gorgeous book I’m reading at the moment, likes to roast all her vegetables at once when she gets home from the market, setting herself up for the week. I love how she breezes through this so effortlessly, with such grace, and I love the line-up of glass jars in her fridge. When I come home from the market, I usually use up the tender, fresh things first- baby spinach, just-picked mushrooms, a fresh piece of fish; roasting the sturdier root vegetables seems less urgent. I usually go on a roasting rampage when I have a bunch of vegetables relinquishing their firm grip on life, softening up, unraveling. Once I’m roasting one vegetable, I’ll look for others to stick into the oven as well- three lingering carrots, a head of garlic, a wrinkled tomato that I’ll cut into fat quarters. Roasting gives everything a second life, and if you’re starting with things that aren’t at the peak of flavor, it turns them into better versions of themselves, the heat leaving them golden at the edges, their sweet perfumes intensifying, insides almost caving.
I turn to roasting when I feel uninspired, or not sure where to start dinner. I glance around for whichever vegetable is nearest to sinking into despair, and then I wash it, slice it- usually just in half, but sometimes cubed or pared down to miniature versions of itself- and lay it out to dry, while I crank up the oven. Next, I take out my sheet pans, line them with parchment, pile the vegetables in the center of each, give them a nice drizzle of olive oil, a few grinds of salt and pepper, give it all a toss and spread them out in a single layer. I add branches of herbs, and into the scorching hot oven they go.
(Ahem. Did you notice? No dirty dishes.)
The vegetables roasting away, their fragrance wafting through the house, is usually enough to propel me into dinner: a pot of pasta can be tossed with roasted cherry tomatoes; add some herbs, a heavy drizzle of olive oil, Parmesan and you have one of the best meals for late summer. For the other half of the year, this pasta with butternut squash and greens is pretty wonderful. If you’ve decided to go ahead and defrost that salmon filet, the roasted vegetables can be relegated to half of your dinner plate. Or have your roasted vegetables star in a big, grain-centric salad.
Also, do you know how many trays of vegetables fit into my oven in one go? And how the vegetables come out soft, and yielding, caramelized on its surfaces, and sweet? Obviously, I’m a little obsessed.
Lately, we’ve been loving roasted Brussels sprouts. (How incredibly gorgeous are they?!) They are so delicious right out of the oven, doused with lemon juice, olive oil and a hefty shaving of Parmesan, that we eat them right off the pan. In fact, we’re lucky if they make it to the dinner table.
So, think of this as a nudge towards your oven, and its ability to turn vegetables into golden, caramelized versions of themselves. And if you need a place to start, start here.
P.S. For last night’s dinner, I sliced a cabbage into thick slices, like this, which had them looking like plants from another galaxy. I laid them out on a roasting pan, where they received a hearty drizzle of olive oil, grinds of salt and pepper, and a sprinkle of fennel seeds. Twenty minutes later, I placed a large turkey sausage coiled lazily over it all, doused the whole thing with some more olive oil, salt and pepper, and thirty minutes later we had dinner. The sausage was crisp and juicy, its juices spilling onto the cabbage slices, gorgeously browned in spots, faintly aromatic from the fennel seeds. We lit some candles, opened a bottle of chilled white wine, and settled in.
This morning: placing the dish of leftovers on the counter, I lifted the foil, and pinched off pieces with my fingers, the layers charred in spots, translucent in others, their veins visible. Soft, tender, sweet.
Golden Brussels Sprouts
Inspired by this recipe by Ina Garten via The Amateur Gourmet
This is also our hands-down favorite way to eat broccoli. For a side dish for two, we usually roast one head of broccoli broken into florets.
2 lb Brussels sprouts
salt + pepper
1 lemon (for zest and juice)
Cut your Brussels sprouts in half, swish them around in a big bowl of water, and lay them out to dry on a clean kitchen towel. Let them dry as long as possible, so that they’ll be nice and crisp.
Preheat your oven to 425F/220C.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, and place the Brussels sprouts in the center. Drizzle the sprouts with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Spread the vegetables out evenly in one layer, cut-side down. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until crisp and golden in spots.
Remove from the oven, and shower with: a little olive oil, the zest of a lemon, the juice of half a lemon, and freshly grated Parmesan.
Enjoy straight from the pan, piping hot, standing against the counter; warm as a side dish with dinner, or at room temperature if the evening is long and dinner is late.