chewy carrot fries? no thanks
February 13, 2007 1:29 PM   Subscribe

I like to roast vegetables, but my technique needs help.

I want to make roasted root vegetables where each piece is tender but not mushy, slightly caramelized, savory and good. They should look like this.

I've been using mainly carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, yukon gold potatoes, red onion, ocassionally with mushrooms or fennel added later. I wash, peel, and cut the veg into "fries" (1/2" x 3" or so) or 1-inch chunks, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper, spread out in a single-layer in a baking dish and roast in a 400-degree oven till they seem done, an hour or so. Sometimes I stir midway through.

My results have been less than great -- the pieces are often chewy, dried out, or not fully soft. What am I doing wrong? Not enough oil? Wrong shape? Wrong oven temp? More stirring? Please help.
posted by libraryhead to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
It is somewhat of a pain for a home cook but most restaurants will blanch root veggies before roasting them. Simply boil them until they start to get tender and then put them in a hot oven to crisp up the outside. If you want to stick to just roasting them turn the heat of the oven down to 300 degrees and roast them longer. At high heat root veggies will have a dry and tough exterior long before they are cooked through. Also make sure that you spray them with enough oil so that the exterior will stay moist until they are almost done.
posted by calumet43 at 1:43 PM on February 13, 2007

You should do higher temp, bigger pieces, shorter cooking time. Ovens vary greatly but it sounds like everything turns out too dry. I usually cook potatos for like 35 minutes.
posted by shownomercy at 1:44 PM on February 13, 2007

You didn't indicate whether or not you cover them, but if you don't, do! It makes all the difference. Loosely cover in foil if using a baking sheet, or use the cover that came with your dish.
posted by iconomy at 1:46 PM on February 13, 2007

Ooops - cover for half the time, is what I meant to say. I cover the first half, leave open the second half.
posted by iconomy at 1:47 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

The caption on the photo you show says a total of 40 minutes, with the potatoes and parsnips in for the whole 40 minutes but the mushrooms no more than 25 minutes.

Your oven temperature sounds about right.
posted by kika at 1:51 PM on February 13, 2007

Roasted carrots

2 pounds baby carrots (2 bags)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Toss carrots, oil, and salt in broiler-pan bottom. Spread into single layer and roast 12 minutes. Shake pan to toss carrots; continue roasting about 8 minutes longer, shaking pan twice more, until carrots are browned and tender.

From Cook's Illustrated. This recipe will delight you.
posted by kellygreen at 1:51 PM on February 13, 2007 [4 favorites]

Roasted beets

1 bunch beets , about 2 pounds, greens removed and reserved for another use, leaving a 1-inch beet top; beets washed thoroughly

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap beets in foil and place in small roasting pan. Roast until beets can easily be pierced with thin knife, about 1 hour for small to medium beets. Cool slightly and remove skins; serve.
posted by kellygreen at 2:00 PM on February 13, 2007

If you use a countertop convection oven like this, at about 400 deg., you will get perfect carmelization and very even cooking in around 30 min., and you will only need to use oil if you just happen to like the taste of it.
posted by jamjam at 2:07 PM on February 13, 2007

Easy roasted onions

6 medium yellow onions, unpeeled, halved crosswise
1 tablespoon olive oil
Table salt

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut small "x"s near the root and stem ends of the onion halves. Line a baking sheet with foil; rub foil with oil. Place onions cut side down on baking sheet. Roast until dark brown around bottom edge and tender when pierced with thin skewer or knife tip, about 30 minutes. Transfer pan to rack; let onions rest for 5 minutes before lifting off pan with metal spatula. Peel if desired, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

You will eat these every night. Again, from Cook's illustrated.
posted by kellygreen at 2:11 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Roasted cauliflower

1 medium head cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Curry powder
Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Trim outer leaves of cauliflower and cut stem flush with bottom. Cut head into 8 equal wedges so that core and florets remain intact. Place wedges cut side down on foil-rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with curry powder, salt and pepper; gently rub to evenly distribute oil and seasonings. Gently flip cauliflower and season other cut side with remaining 2 tablespoons oil, salt, and pepper.

2. Cover baking sheet tightly with foil and cook for 10 minutes. Remove foil and continue to roast until bottoms of cauliflower pieces are golden, 8 to 12 minutes. Remove sheet from oven, and, using spatula, carefully flip wedges. Return sheet to oven and continue to roast until cauliflower is golden all over, 8 to 12 minutes longer. Serve immediately with plain yogurt.

This will expand your list of roasted vegetables. This is another recipe from Cook's Illustrated. Even those who don't typically eat cauliflower will enjoy this dish.
posted by kellygreen at 2:16 PM on February 13, 2007

I always have good luck with this recipe for Rustic Roasted Veggies. The veggies are drizzled with a tiny bit of olive oil which keeps them from drying out, then seasoned with fennel, dill, oregano, sea salt, whatever you want. /yum
posted by Brittanie at 2:28 PM on February 13, 2007

I do brussel sprouts at 350 for 1 hour, turning every 15 minutes. I use frozen sprouts. Light olive oil & plenty of seasoned salt. Same for onions, garlic, sweet & white potatoes. They seem to do well if the pan is about 4/5 full - not too crowded, not too loose. I don't cover them.
posted by theora55 at 2:30 PM on February 13, 2007

You should probably baste them more often, same as doing roast potatoes, roast turkey or roast anything really. Basting stops the top surface from drying out. I also second the blanching. This makes roast potatoes and parnsips much better (soft inside, crispy outside), so I'm sure it would help with other roast vegetables.
posted by Joh at 2:40 PM on February 13, 2007

Best answer: Get an oven thermometer! I was having a hard time baking/roasting (nothing was coming out right)- it turned out that my oven was a good 75+ degrees higher than the temperature on the dial! Once I was using the correct temperature everything started coming together. (And if you're really at 400 degrees, an hour sounds like too long to me.)

I stir veggies 2-4 times while roasting, and I make sure the first stir is 10-15 minutes after they go in, any longer and they tend to stick to the pan. My results are better when I line the pan with parchment paper, especially when I'm using an old pan. I never blanch and never cover. Are you using enough olive oil?
posted by robinpME at 4:02 PM on February 13, 2007

There's a lot of good advice above. There's one that I don't see however: how do you cut your veggies?

Size is really important to how the vegetables cook. Your pieces should all be approximately the same size and shape. Thin tapered edges will cook too fast and dry out or burn. So you have to compromise with the larger pieces and they come out under done. The solution is to make everything vaguely rectangular and not too much bigger than a walnut.

Taken to the extreme, this means "turning" your veg, a French technique, making them all little footballs about an inch in diameter and no more than an inch and a half long. This looks really cool, but is very wasteful of product and takes a long time to do.

Stuff that cooks slower, like dense, waxy spuds, cut a bit smaller. Veg that cooks quicker, like parsnips, you cut a bit bigger. This rule works well for "hard" vegetables: carrots, turnip, parsnip, spuds, etc... but others, like mushrooms, and garlic, as you've discovered, need to be added later.

Finally, if you're ever lucky enough to have some leftover roast veg (I never seem to), they make a great soup base.
posted by bonehead at 5:08 PM on February 13, 2007

You should do higher temp, bigger pieces, shorter cooking time.

I agree with this.

Note that the roasted carrot recipe from kellygreen calls for a very hot oven (475 F) and WHOLE baby carrots. "French fry" pieces are not going to give you what you want because they dry out quickly.
posted by briank at 5:10 PM on February 13, 2007

I seem to have the best luck with roasted veggies when I stick with one or two kinds at a time. I think since they tend to cook at different rates, if you mix too many varieties, you're going to end up with some overdone inevitably (though it'd be really yummy and nutritious if it worked). You could address this, I'd think, by either varying the size of the veggies-cutting slower-cooking items smaller-or by adding things in stages, like a stir fry.

My two favorites are roasted cauliflower-cut into about 1/2' pieces, tossed with olive oil and minced garlic, not covered, roasted at 400 til golden (I can eat a head of cauliflower by myself this way) and
roasted garlic and green beans (the latter is probably one of my top three favorite foods ever-though you must eat Beano at the beginning or everyone will pay for the next 24 hours. A couple heads of garlic cloves, peeled-a pound or so of green beans, snapped, and an onion, cut into smallish chunks. Olive oil, salt and pepper, cooked at 400 til garlic is soft, covered w/foil at first. Both are really healthy dishes; unfortunately, I most love the garlic one with french bread and real butter, which does defeat the purpose a bit.
posted by purenitrous at 5:35 PM on February 13, 2007

an hour is way way way too long. I roast potatoes in about that size chunks for maybe 20 minutes.
posted by raf at 5:38 PM on February 13, 2007

Make sure you're not overcrowding your pan. You're going for caramelization (color = flavor, here), something that only occurs in the absence of water. If you cover your veggies (or anything roasted, for that matter) or crowd them, it's going to be much harder for the moisture on the surface of the veg to evaporate to allow browning to occur.

I'd also be careful about basting or stirring too much. If you do either (I'd stir/shake the pan once or twice), make sure you don't leave the oven door open in the process. Opening the door for just a few seconds can drop the temperature 25 degrees F, or more. Instead, take the pan out of the oven, shut the door, and then stir/baste/add other veg.
posted by chefscotticus at 9:47 PM on February 13, 2007

Also, as mentioned above, get an oven thermometer to check the true temp. Home ovens are notorious for running significantly off the intended temp.
posted by chefscotticus at 9:49 PM on February 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the recipes -- they sound great. Based on preliminary responses here, I roasted carrots and parsnips last night, cut in larger chunks, and with more oil than I had been using. In a burst of inspiration, I tried my Le Creuset brasier pan instead of the pyrex baking dish I had been using. Big improvement! They still were a little wizened, but actually cooked through for a change. I now suspect my oven is not getting hot enough. We moved in a few months ago, and I don't do that much baking, so I never thought to check the calibration.

I also realized I was conflating two techniques: for caramelization I want chunks, ample oil, and high heat; for oven fries I'll start with thinner pieces of potato or sweet potato, parcooked first.
posted by libraryhead at 7:06 AM on February 14, 2007

From the "America's Test Kitchen" people: "Great Grilled Vegetables (pdf) -- Here’s how to cut, season, and grill vegetables without precooking."

Also, you can find lots more ATK stuff via this Google search.
posted by NortonDC at 1:36 PM on February 14, 2007

hey, i just tried roasted cauliflower for the first time-- YUMMERS!
i used a combination of the two recipes above (cut in chunks, not wedges, no curry powder, baked covered then uncovered to caramelize the edges, at 475', until there were brown/black bits in the pan), and just ate some with a dab of butter and some more pepper. WOW.
posted by twistofrhyme at 3:36 PM on February 18, 2007

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