Nothing makes my apartment smell like autumn the way a pan of roasting root vegetables does. The aroma fills my little kitchen and makes me think about falling leaves, apple picking and Thanksgiving. It also makes me think about dinner.
When it comes to minimal-effort, maximum-results cooking, roasting vegetables in the oven at a medium-high heat cannot be beat. This technique coaxes out sweetness while maintaining the integrity of the vegetables’ texture. Their flesh turns sweet and earthy, their exteriors caramelize, and the edges crisp slightly.
In fall and winter, my favorite combination is orange-fleshed red garnet yams, cubed butternut squash (the bagged, pre-cut kind is fine), chopped onion and whole garlic cloves. I’ll use three to four of the yams, one big butternut squash, two onions and 20 or so garlic cloves. Then I incorporate them into wholesome, tasty meals all week.
I toss the vegetables in good extra-virgin olive oil (the California Estate variety from Trader Joe’s is my go-to high-quality but cheap pick); season with liberal pinches of salt and pepper; and toss in a big handful of chopped fresh parsley. The whole thing goes into two rimmed baking sheets (not cookie sheets, which are completely flat and won’t contain the vegetables when they get shifted or stirred), and gets roasted at 425 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. I’ll stir the vegetables once or twice during roasting, to ensure they cook evenly.
Like the humble roast chicken from my last Solo-ish column, roasted root vegetables can serve as the basis for a week of hearty, wholesome meals, ideal for the solo cook. I like to make them one evening early in the week, keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator and then incorporate them into my meals for the rest of the week.
Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner? Just after roasting the veggies, I’ll quickly fry or scramble a couple of eggs and slide them atop a bowl full of the roasted roots for the quickest, easiest hash. Cooked, crumbled bacon is not required, but it is most certainly welcome.
Then, for lunch or dinner, I’ll stir some leftover roasted root vegetables into a bowl of cooked quinoa, and top it with nuts (pistachios or almonds, usually), for an easy and nutritious grain salad that is packed with fiber and a surprising amount of plant-based protein.
Having been so virtuous with my quinoa salad, I deserve a treat at this point. So I puree about a 3/4 cup of roasted root veggies and a few tablespoons of milk, using an immersion blender or a food processor, and heat it in a pot over medium heat. Then I stir in a generous handful or two of shredded cheddar cheese and fold in some cooked small-cut pasta, like elbow macaroni or penne. Just a little salt and pepper, maybe some sage, and this impromptu mac and cheese is ready to serve. I’ll either eat it stovetop style, all creamy and gooey; or I’ll scrape it into an oven-safe dish and stick it under the broiler set to high, just to brown and crisp the top.
By night four, my veggie supply may be running a little low, but this thumbnail recipe doesn’t require much: I’ll gently mash a small amount of root vegetables with the back of a fork, just to soften them slightly, and then do the same thing to about 1/4 cup cooked, drained black beans. Canned beans are fine — just make sure to rinse them well. I’ll stir the roasted vegetables and beans together, plus a little frozen spinach; season the mixture with salt and pepper; and maybe add a clove of minced garlic. Then I’ll form the mixture into a patty or two, and cook in hot olive oil in a nonstick pan, until crisp and firm on both sides. You could top the patties with cheese, but my favorite is caramelized onions. I like these burgers on a bun or atop of a pile of lightly dressed greens.
At the end of the week, if I still have any roasted vegetables left, I’ll puree them with vegetable or chicken broth, a handful of fresh herbs and a touch of half-and-half, to make a creamy root vegetable soup.
Did you try any of the recipe ideas in this post? Let me know in the comments!