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To eat more veggies in the new year, roast them till they’re candy-sweet

Give carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes long enough in a hot oven to caramelize

Roasted winter vegetables.Sheryl Julian

How many years has it been that we resolved, January after January, to make the vegetable part of the plate larger and the meat or poultry side smaller? A decade or two, at least. We’re all making a little headway, but in the dead of winter it’s a hard promise to keep.

Roast those boring vegetables till they’re caramelized and taste like candy and the densest roots will become delicious. Cutting up the vegetables is your only prep work and don’t shortcut the cooking time. You need to give them long enough in a very hot oven to cook through and char a little at the edges. It’s time that hardly requires your attention, so be patient.


When you cut them, keep them in shapes that resemble the whole vegetables they came from. I see roasted vegetables on salad bars cut into tiny little squares so you can’t distinguish, say, between a carrot and a piece of butternut squash and a golden bell pepper. Slice carrots thickly on a diagonal. Chop mushroom caps once into two big pieces. Cleave a red onion into hefty wedges, section a cauliflower into large florets, and halve baby potatoes and cherry tomatoes.

For cooking, you need a large rimmed baking sheet. Called a “half sheet pan” in the trade, because it’s half the size of full sheet pans that go into professional ovens, it’s an essential piece of kitchen equipment. It measures about 18-by-13 inches (sometimes an inch smaller on both sides). It’s strong enough so it doesn’t buckle in the oven. You can also use a roasting pan, but the high sides will inhibit caramelization.

Sometimes you see instructions for blanching vegetables before roasting, which keeps the vegetables from shriveling in the oven as they cook through. Frankly, that’s a nuisance and another pot to clean. Instead, cluster hard vegetables in the center of the pan and cover them loosely with foil. This lets them steam a little as they start roasting. You remove the foil halfway through roasting.


Vegetables that can take high heat are arranged at the rim of the pan. Here, that’s mushrooms and onion wedges. In the empty rectangle in the center of the pan, you set cauliflower, potatoes, and carrots. Other hearty vegetables for the center might be celery root, sweet potato, parsnips, rutabaga, turnip, and winter squashes.

Then a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of salt and pepper. Don’t toss the vegetables yet because you spent all that time placing them where they belong. Cover the center with a rectangle of foil and send the dish into a hot oven. If you know your oven has hot spots — that is, if you bake something and it gets much browner on one side than the other — you might want to set your oven 25 degrees lower than the 450 oven I prefer. Don’t forget, you want some char on the vegetables.

Allow 1½ hours to get that very sweet taste. Start with 45 minutes under the foil. Once you remove it, you can turn the vegetables gently with a wide metal spatula; you want to move things around without smushing the pieces. Scatter cherry tomatoes here and there to add their juices to the tray. You need another 30 to 40 minutes uncovered to make them golden and tender.


To serve, add another drizzle of olive oil and a generous sprinkle of whatever fresh herbs look good in the market that day.

And that’s how you should shop: Buy vegetables that look good. Use this recipe as a guide and keep to the hearty-under-foil technique in the center of the pan. Serve roasted vegetables beside fish or poultry (more veg, less meat!) or spoon them over rice or another grain. One of these years, we’ll get the hang of it.

Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.