Done right, roasting elevates humble root vegetables to something really special. Given a hot oven and enough time, they become buttery tender, lightly charred, and caramelized — a perfect combination. When you steam vegetables, you might want them to have a little snap, but that’s not what you want from a roasting pan. Leave crisp, crunchy vegetables behind when you turn to this homey technique.
First, the ingredients. You really want to include more than just roots. Carrots, onions, potatoes, parsnips, rutabaga, and golden beets are the obvious choices, but so are cauliflower florets, which become deliciously sweet, Brussels sprouts, and squashes. And add the last of the season’s zucchini, whose texture changes to something denser and less watery. Mushrooms, too, turn firm and meaty.
Now for the pan: You’d think, given the name of this cooking method, that a roasting pan would be the right choice for the job, but the high sides don’t do you any favors for cooking these small pieces. A better option is a half-sheet pan (literally half the size of the ones used in professional kitchens), which has low sides and won’t buckle or warp in the oven.
You need high heat (400 degrees) for the entire time and at least an hour and a half. Roots go in first, spread out in the pan, sprinkled with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Give them a 40-minute head start. Then add the softer vegetables, tucking them here and there all over the pan, so everything is snug but in a single layer. Everything goes back into the oven for close to an hour. The softer, non-root veggies are usually full of water, so they need to lose their liquid, which then has to evaporate in order for the vegetables to caramelize.
Of course you can do this on two separate sheet pans — one for the roots, the other for the softer vegetables — but there’s too much to keep track of and one pan will serve four nicely. It looks like a lot when it goes into the oven, but when the vegetables are cooked this long, there’s considerably less in the end.
Other tender vegetables you can add after the roots are partially cooked include strips of red bell pepper (peppers tend to take over, so use with restraint), sliced fennel (also strong but fine in modest amounts), butternut or Delicata (cut into thick slices; leave Delicata unpeeled), and small whole tomatoes (juicy morsels are nice in the mix).
Near the end of roasting, you can sprinkle everything with a little crushed red pepper or Aleppo pepper, or curry powder, balsamic or sherry vinegar, or another seasoning you like, but the first time you make them, let the vegetables sing by themselves with nothing but a garnish of fresh herbs. Serve them on a platter around a roast chicken or spoon them over a bowl of brown rice. Next day, reheat leftovers and top with a soft egg.
You’ll want to roast vegetables over and over, from the moment the leaves start piling up till the buds appear on the trees. By then you’ll want some crisp and crunchy again.