“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?
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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