There Is Never A Good Reason Not To Roast

“To the woman with no maid, entertaining at dinner is the ultimate test of skill.” Page 19, from the chapter, “The Servantless House” from the book, The Art of Cooking&Serving published in 1932 by Procter&Gamble. Procter&Gamble! The company that brings us Pringles and Crisco put out a book on how to cope without maids.

The book, in fact, was published as a thinly disguised marketing pitch for Crisco.  The clue? Every recipe calls for Crisco, while the chapter, “Deep Fat Frying”, ever so paternalistically reminds the Crisco user that, “Frying is the one phase of cooking where the average housewife still has a lot to learn.”

But back to the servantless house … Not only do I not have help, I did not (until recently) have a helpful dishwasher. I live in New York City where the automatic dishwasher is a luxury and an in-house washer/dyer, a status symbol. But despite my servantless house, I love cooking for friends. The only problem – I am a terrible multi-tasker, I want everyone in the kitchen with me and I would rather talk than remember to turn on the rice.  (Interestingly, there is a word for people that have an actual fear of cooking – mageirocophobia. It often takes the form of fear of cooking for large numbers, due to a feeling of panic over recipes, ingredients, cooking methods or all of the above.)

Whatever your issue, there is a solution: roast. It is quite difficult to ruin anything roasted – especially vegetables. So with ten mouths to feed, my main course was to be a prune and olive chicken dish (marinated overnight, roasted the next eve), and vegetables. Roasting is winter’s answer to grilling, only better. Sweeter.

Don’t skimp on oven time. Roast until your vegetables cry for mercy. And if you go too far, caramelizing them beyond recognition, simply dim the lights. With some, (broccoli, cauliflower, beets) I add a touch of olive or coconut oil. Sometimes some herbs. But with squash I add nothing. Just salt. Occasionally nutmeg, but always salt and never oil. Don’t overcrowd the vegetables as you want them to brown, not steam. (Not enough room in the pan and the moisture won’t have room to evaporate.)

I never peel the vegetables, as the skin (and any minor traces of dirt) adds flavor – and the dirt gets cooked, so it’s clean dirt. The skin on squash also provides a beautiful contrast to the orange flesh and adds fiber. Only exception is butternut squash (whose skin is tough) but with the others (acorn, delicata), don’t do it. Leave it on. It softens so much you won’t think “skin” when you chew it.

An interesting thing about roasting orange vegetables, ie. those high in beta-carotene/Vitamin A (carrots and squash for example) – the cooking breaks down the plant tissue and releases the beta carotene making it easier for your body to absorb.

Above is “romanesco broccoli”, a close cousin of cauliflower, equally hardy yet far more tender. I bought it at the farmers market a month ago, forgot I had it, retrieved it from hiding, picked off one or two brown bits and and added it to the pan.

The only thing that didn’t get roasted was the kale. It was brought to a vivid green on the stove top, with a touch of coconut oil, salt, a splash of water and two minutes of cooking, max – so don’t walk away. The coconut oil adds a hint of sweet to greens that can occasionally have a touch of bitter.

And that was it. Roasted chicken and roasted vegs, wine in the glasses, friends at the table.

The end of the “Forward” of Procter&Gamble’s delightfully condescending antiquity reads, “That she may find in it (meaning, the book), the help and inspiration she needs for her complex task of homemaking, is our earnest wish.”

Your experience with roasting vegs?  Favorite twists? Any you’ve tried roasting that you won’t try again?

Related Posts
How to Roast Vegetables on The Stove Top (A How To)

Ask Not What You Can Do For Your Kale
(Why The Hype Over Kale)

What Happens When Mouths Meet (Musings On The Importance of Sharing Food)
Last Time You Had This Nutrient Was In Breast Milk (The Nutritional Power Of Coconut)

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  • debbiejl

    I tried roasting kale to make kale chips and thought it was horrible!

    I love roasting vegetables and onions too, oftentimes with a little olive oil, garlic, and salt. They’re fabulous tasting!

  • Nancy

    To make great kale chips you need a dehydrator.

    I totally love roasting a whole onion in with whatever I have on hand.

  • Glo

    I always thought the longer you cook/roast vegetables, the more nutrients they lose?
    thanks for your input.

    • Michelle

      I thought you might ask this (grin) — with the less starchy vegs such as broccoli or zucchini that don’t require a huge amount of cooking to make the starch edible, then I do feel there is a bit of a trade-off between nutrients and the caramelized taste of roasting (sometimes the trade off though is worth it…) With root vegetables that are very starchy such as potatoes, parsnips etc, then a fair bit of cooking is required to convert the starch to sugar and make them digestible. Same with vegs like squash, where your body requires the starches to be fully converted to sugar before the nutrients can be used.

  • Theresa

    I’ve made great kale chips in the oven—just do it slowly (~20min) at a lower temp (~350F) with olive oil, sea salt and pepper!!

  • Cindy

    This is hilarious! I can’t believe how un-PC a co like P&G now sounds 70 years later!

  • Juliana

    Loooove roasted root vegetables. Last night we made a medley: orange beets, parsnip, celeriac, turnip, rutabaga and carrots, with smashed garlic cloves, rosemary and sea salt. Mmmm delicious and goes with just about everything. The colors were gorgeous. Sometimes I throw some curry powder on just for fun. Thanks Michele, I’m hungry again.

  • es4d

    The Gourmet Cookbook has this wonderful recipe for roasted veggies: Sweet Potato, Carrot, Parsnips (biased cut) that my x sister-in-law made for Thanksgiving one year. it was wonderful, however something was missing from the recipe. DUH! Garlic!!! i added whole cloves of garlic to the pan and roast until the garlic is sweet, soft and yummy! 1/4c H2O, sage + rosemary, s&p. Done and Done!
    there are few things in the world that cannot be improved with garlic.

    • Michelle

      Garlic is exceptional roasted!! I have roasted it and then used it as a spread on lightly toasted bread rounds. It loses all its harsh flavors and is pure sweetness!

  • es4d

    oh and favorite line:
    “and the dirt gets cooked, so it’s clean dirt.”
    LOVE this blog Michelle!

  • Juliana

    I am so grateful to read what you wrote here. I am new reading your blog. you seem like a doctor because the fear of cooking that you describe is exactly how I feel, I would not cross the door of the kitchen thinking I would have to call iether the fire dept or poison control at the table.
    But I guess with these tips I will confront my fear, take courage and go to the grocery store for some vegetales for testing. Thanks!

    • Michelle

      Do it! Honestly, there is far less to fear in a kitchen than there is crossing a street! Don’t be intimidated by the ingredients. The biggest tip I can give is to start by cooking something simple and then- most important of all – taste your cooking!! Taste it several times throughout the cooking process. If you like what you taste, others will too. If you don’t, play some more with it – add some salt, add some herbs, cook it some more etc. The joy others will get from you cooking for them, will FAR outweigh, any imperfections with the end results.

  • Three-Cookies

    Love this post. I do have one comment. You wrote “and the dirt gets cooked, so it’s clean dirt.”

    If the vege is organic then nothing wrong with eating roasted dirt:) If its not, and if you don’t peel either, pesticides and other chemicals may remain.

    Also with some root vegetables (like potatoes) over time fungus develops on the skin and this can be harmful. So for vegetables that have been sitting in the cellar for a long time (many months I presume) its probably better to peel

    • Michelle

      Ok, I’ll give you “scrub” :) But try not to remove 100% of the peel unless you REALLY have to, since so much flavor, texture and nutrients resides in the skin.

  • Wendy (Healthy Girl’s Kitchen)

    I laughed until I cried!

    Roasting is the bomb! And I entertain almost every Friday night, there’s usually alot of veggies being roasted along with the challah that’s being baked. Magic.

  • Stephen McArthur

    How I remember my mother cooking with Crisco…it was the magic cooking ingredient (perhaps “cooking enabler” is more apt) of the 1950s I believe. Fried chicken, fried pork chops, fried french toast (sometimes in bacon fat, instead), fried Spam, fried chicken cutlets, fried potatoes, fried minute steaks. As an only child, I spent alot of time in the kitchen with my mother and she would let me spoon out the Crisco from those big containers it came in. It reminded me of the Pond’s Cold Cream my mother put on her face every night. Thanks for the memories, and also for the great roasting tips!!!! I am new to your “blog” and love it so far. I share it with my wife. We both love cooking well and joyfully, and getting dirty in the kitchen!

  • jMack

    Love this blog – so full of good information.
    Had roasted vegetables for a dinner party last weekend (along with a stuffed roasted pork loin). I never roast vegetables without including at least one head of fennel. And leeks! If there’s any left over, chop them up and throw them in quinoa for a quick easy dish.

    • Michelle

      Fennel! It’s “quite good” when raw (thinly sliced with some parma cheese and thin slices of apple – yum), but is elevated to “SUBLIME” when roasted!

  • Jess Mahler

    Any suggestions for roasting fruit along with the veggies? Also, if Kale chips are so easy to make then why are they so darn expensive? I tried making them and they were awful…

    • Michelle

      I’ve sauteed apples, pears, peaches but have actually never roasted them. Would imagine they would be excellent though, but the less juicy ones (apples, pears) could dry out easily. A popular roasted dessert is cored apples stuffed with oatmeal crumble.

      I think one of the main reasons we see fruits less frequently roasted than say vegetables, is that vegs have a higher starch content even when ripe, so the roasting turns the starch to sugar. With fruit, once its ripe the starch has already been largely converted to sugar, hence no need to cook it to make it sweet.

      • Lauren C.

        I like roasting apple slices (not too small or they overcook) with red onions and pork (chops, loin, etc.). Yum!

        And Michelle, thanks for another wonderful post!

      • Yvonne Hellyar

        Hi there. I live in South Africa and we don’t seem to get a lot of these veggies. Kale,orange beets, rutabaga, even fennel is very scarce.I like to roast full peeled apples for dessert. Core them and stuff them with fruit mince, add a bit of sugar and spices and bake @ 180 for about 30 mins. Yum. Serve with cream and don’t count the calories :)
        I love your blog and am learning a lot from you.

  • Jess Mahler

    aahhhh…ok…makes sense… I thought you mentioned prunes with chicken? did you or am I insane?

    • Michelle

      Yes, you’re right! So I guess technically they were getting roasted, (though they were already dehydrated plums!) With all the chicken juices etc, they stayed super moist.

  • Jess Mahler

    hhhmmmmm….sounds so good. You rock woman! My mom used to serve me warm prunes when I was little…for breakfast….before I knew that prunes were funny. I love your blog…maybe sometime you could do a piece on memories. Just a thought.

  • paige

    Love your blog!! What is the prune and olive chicken recipe?

  • Barbara Chicco

    Roasted vegetables are always so delicious! Our favorites are: brussel sprouts (sometimes with a bit of bacon, sometimes with chestnuts, sometimes solo); carrots, parsnips and fennel; asparagus; green beans and mushrooms; cauliflower roasted til it is nutty brown, so so good! My basic treatment is some olive oil, kosher salt and fresh pepper, sometimes herbs, sometimes not. I have also roasted halved cherry tomatoes when they get a tad wrinkly and when they are cooled I add them to salad, quite yummy. Roast anything, it’s always edible. Thank you so much Michelle for this very enjoyable website/blog, we loved your recent lentil stew!

    • Michelle

      Oh I’m so glad you liked the lentil stew! I made so much of it that I froze half and will still be eating it until springtime. Tomatoes are great roasted- no question. Last summer I picked so many at a local farm that I roasted 5 pounds of them and froze them to have them for sauce all year!

  • Jacquelyn Hoag

    Wow, kale chips have certainly gotten popular! So, will add my version. Some of the tougher stems I did cut out…..but if tender, they make a good “handle”….I brushed one side with olive oil, put dry side down on cookie sheet and bake at 425* for just a few minutes…till they begin to turn golden/tan/brown. You might get all of 3 on a sheet! Sprinkle with sea salt….and lift to platter. Kids love em! …Big kids too.
    As for prunes roasting with meat and veggies…dip into Marlena de Blasi’s fabulous memoirs of cooking in Italy….All Americans should have a dose of either French or Italian country cooking. Our European ancestry skills and tastes are fizzling out….thanks to a barrage of stuff from Proctor & Gamble….
    Or, Mexico and anywhere south of the border.

  • Natalie

    this is such a lovely post! with all the colorful vegetables, singed just a little. roasted veggies are my favorite way to eat them. that romanesco broccoli is gorgeous too. my favorite dinner last week included maple-roasted butternut squash and roasted brussel sprouts… heaven!

  • ctb

    Vintage cookbook collector here = ) If you haven’t read ‘Perfection Salad’ & ‘Something From The Oven’ by Laura Shapiro, I highly recommend them for anyone interested in America’s cooking history. Both books are entertaining & fascinating in their details.

    Lovely photos! Green beans are my fave to roast – homegrown Rattlesnake pole beans, to be exact – they are so sweet. Summer squash & asparagus are awesome as well. Don’t care for roasted broccoli/cauliflower, however – IMO too bitter & cabbage-y = P

    Definitely scrub my veggies – never know what might be on there – & I hate biting into a chunk of sand…..

    • Michelle

      Definitely don’t make a meal of the dirt – and I draw the line at chunks! So for sure, rinse your vegs well pre roasting, but if there is some dirt that’s wedged into the crevasses of the skin (of say carrots for example), that’s the stuff I suggest ignoring!

  • LaraChick

    I remember my Southern mom cooking with crisco in the 70s, too…i used to use it also. The book “The Help” reminded many of another use for crisco – to heal diaper rash!!

    I made this last night: and can now say that I prefer your recommendation. Also I only use chicken thighs to cook with – more flavor, more iron, and side bonus: cheaper!

  • 6512 and growing

    I’m a total roasting fiend. Roasting zucchini completely changed my relationship with it. And tomatoes? If you have to cook tomatoes (for pasta sauce, or pizza sauce) there is no other way. Even my kids will devour roasted beets, which otherwise get pushed to the side of the plate in a sad rejected slump of purple.

  • Marcee ….. Illinois

    Wonderful lookin veggies!! Servants??? HA-no. Our mum never-ever would do that. Neighbors did though. Growing up, being the first born, I did it ALL, taught myself. Entertaining wasn’t difficult. Love baking, cooking. Today @ 50+ no maid/servants. Have never had ANY type of dishwasher. I’m a do-it-yourself-gal!!

    LOVE the subject Michelle. Comments are highly entertaining.

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  • Rivki Locker (Ordinary Blogger)

    The only reason I don’t cry when I cover up my gas grill for the winter is that I know I can roast vegetables all winter long. I roast all different types of veggies, and I use the same formula you do.
    But I have to ask – are you serious about leaving on the dirt? Can I really do that or will I kill off my family and guests? Seems a bit scary…. Please confirm before I go poisoning all my loved ones. (And if that was a joke, I’m SO embarrassed and please forgive my dense-ness!)

    • Michelle

      By all means, remove the obvious bits of dirt ie. rinse and lightly scrub the outside of say carrots or beets if there is obvious dirt, but I am such a big advocate of leaving skins on (for flavor, texture and nutrients), that a tiny bit of dirt in the crevasses of the skin will not hurt you in the least – especially when those tiny bits of dirt are roasted at 350 degrees for an hour!

      In general, I think people get more concerned about dirt and bacteria than they need to – I am totally apposed to antibacterial soap for ex (which only creates STRONGER strains of “soap” resistant bacteria!) I am, though, a big proponent of washing with basic soap and warm water.

  • CM Doran

    Wow….I love this….great ideas…but no one mentioned cranberries! They are not just for Thanksgiving…I love them in a beef roast, with carrots, parsnips, mushrooms…what ever else you like…I’ve even tried just a bit of cocoa with this mix…not bad.

    Your pictures are poetry…very well done

  • michelle

    I’ve been oven roasting sweet potato “chips” in a hot oven putting them on a rack in a shallowpan so they brown both sides. Delightful!
    I love that Romanesqua veggie too! its a fractal work of art! love your blog..thanks

    • Michelle

      I only “discovered” romanesco in the last year or so and only ever see it at my farmers market (not at the stores), but it’s worth trying to hunt down as it is so unique in its shape – it looks very much like sea coral.

  • jay

    We roast veggies every other week or so in the winter. Not that they go bad, but when we start to tire of eating them every meal, they get pureed with white wine and shaved parma for the best ravioli filling imaginable. Boil ravioli briefly to cook, saute garlic and sage in butter, add pine nuts to toast and wilt spinach (or kale!) mix with those precious pillows for dinner perfection.

  • Agent Scully

    Take a head of garlic. Slice of the top just a bit. Place on a foil piece. Season with salt, pepper and oil. Cover with foil. Roast in the oven (400 degrees for 35 minutes). Cool slightly. Turn garlic head upside down over a bowl. Squeeze until all cloves pop out. Usind a fork mash with cheese, oil, pepper, salt, whatever you like. Use as spread on toasted bread. Delicious!

  • Flor

    Love roasted vegetables! Never roasted any myself. Thanks for the inspiration! I know what I will attempting today!