By Alan Lugton, Cookery Manager
Nothing so dramatically changes the taste and texture of a vegetable than roasting it in a hot oven. The dry heat entices the natural sugars to be released and the hot oil caramelises them on the surface, leaving a tasty, golden brown, caramel coating.
Done well and you have the perfect addition to your meal and will leave guests wanting more, however get it wrong and you may find that they never leave the plate but are instead discretely hidden beneath the cutlery at the end of the meal.
Roasting, whether it is meat or vegetables, generally involves placing food in a hot oven to bake. However, unlike baking, roasting uses oil or another medium to aid the cooking process for a crispy, crunchy finish. When roasting vegetables, firmer ones are best.
Cooking with oil
As roasting uses high heats it is important to consider which oil is best to use. Everyone accepts that olive oil is generally healthy – however at 195oC (its smoke point) virgin and extra virgin olive oil begin to break down as does its flavour, aroma and nutritional content – becoming bitter and unsuitable for consumption. If using olive oil for roasting or frying try extra light or pomace which can withstand higher heats.
Most of the vegetables you will roast – especially root vegetables – will be cooked at between 200oC and 220oC so you need to think about which oil is right for you. Oils such as sunflower, grapeseed and rapeseed are all easy to find and are great for high heats.
Now you have the right oil for your dish you need cook it properly. Don’t just throw the vegetables into a pool of cold oil and chuck them in the oven. If you are using oil in a roasting tray ensure the oil is preheated and very hot, then add the vegetables and move them around until the edges are seared – this will create a seal and stop them absorbing too much oil.
For a healthier option place your prepared vegetables in a large bowl and pour over a little oil. Then with your hands mix them up so that they are evenly coated, then drain off any excess oil. Place them into a preheated roasting tin (watch out – they will sizzle) and move around until sealed, then place in a very hot oven.
Vegetables require their own space when roasting. This allows the steam to be released and the dry heat of the oven to crisp the outside. If you put too many in a roasting tray they will essentially steam themselves and the oil will form a greasy unpleasant, outer coat.
If you are adding herbs, spices, seasoning or honey to roasted vegetables it is best to add this ¾ of the way through cooking while you are turning them. These ingredients can’t cope for too long in a hot oven and will char giving them a bitter taste.