Monday, September 20, 2010

Roasting vegetables

I popped into Chapters the other day to get a birthday present for one of my spuds, and somehow I drifted over to the cookbook section. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a cool new cookbook! This one is from two guys named Frank (I know a guy who should be named Frank, so I call him that all the time) who own an Italian restaurant called The Frankies Spuntino. It's a lovely looking book (like a Bible!) with gilt page edges, nice line drawings, and even photos. The recipes look wonderful too!

I was interested in the little section on roasting vegetables. I had this Brussels sprouts recipe that I misplaced somewhere, and was looking for some advice on roasting times and temperatures. These guys have a little table in the the book with half a dozen roasting candidates and their specifics. Nice! I also wanted to do some beets, and they're there too. I felt kind of guilty about giving Brussels sprouts and beets a bad rap yesterday when I said they weren't the best things to add to a chicken stock (they aren't, but still). So this is kind of a redemption song.

Brussels sprouts, by the way, are a pretty recent addition to the world's vegetable repertoire. They appeared about 500 years ago when some savoy cabbage near Brussels mutated and started growing these little cabbages in it's leaf axils (this according to Vegetables of Canada by Munro and Small). They weren't always all that popular however, and were blamed in medieval times for causing "fetid humors" -- farts, I presume. It was so bad, they were even called "the devil's hell-ball" and I don't think you used the word "devil" lightly back then. So much for my redemption song. But onwards!

I chose some small beets for roasting. This is a nice option since the skins aren't ridiculously tough and you don't need to remove them. If you use older and bigger beets, the cooking time will almost double and you'll have to wait until they are cool enough to handle to peel the skins off.

Give the beets a scrub and trim the heads and tails. Then dry them off. They need a coating of olive oil to roast properly, but if they're wet the whole "oil and water don't mix" issue is going to make coating them with oil a big messy, ineffective hassle. Don't use the family heirloom tea towels for this, since beets are great at staining everything.

Once they're dry, give them a coating of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and add a splash of water (about 1/4 cup) to the pan.

Then cover them up and pop them in the oven at 350 for about 50 minutes. You can use a baking sheet if you don't have a roasting pan with a lid -- just cover tightly with foil before putting it in the oven. Part of the reason I liked the recipe in The Frankies  is the low roasting temp. You often see vegetable roasting recipies (well, I do) that recommend temps of 450 or even 475 for vegetables. This is past the smoke point of a good olive oil, so using it for those recipes would be pretty dodgy (and I wanted to use olive oil for these guys).

To prepare the devil's hell-balls, cut the stem end a bit so you can easily remove the outer layer of leaves. (This makes washing them unnecessary.) Leave enough stem though so that when you slice them in half they stay together.

Coat the sprouts in olive oil too and season with salt and pepper. When there are 25 minutes left on the beets, put the sprouts in the oven to keep them company.

And then voila! All done!

Serve up with an extra sprinkle of salt and/or pepper. The beets can benefit from a vinaigrette if you like, but I like them all earthy and plain. This would be great alongside a meat pie or some other hearty fare. Another great vegetable to try is cauliflower (brilliant roasted! It takes about 45 mins too).

Enjoy your hell-balls! Hopefully my colleagues at work tomorrow don't have to cope with any fetid humors from me.

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