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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Two Easy Sides and an Obsession

Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower

Two Easy Sides and an Obsession
by Victoria Challancin

How did we cooks manage before we started roasting vegetables?  And when, exactly, did this simple cooking technique enter our lives?  I can barely remember a time when I wasn't tossing every possible vegetable available with a touch of olive oil, perhaps garlic, salt, and pepper, and popping it into a very hot oven to caramelize, soften, and finally arrive at the table in all its concentrated-flavor glory.  And now, using this technique is practically an obsession.  An obsession that works with almost every cuisine.  I simply change up the flavor principles to work with whatever cuisine I am preparing. 

Roasting is simple--and it brings out the natural sweetness of vegetables, while often lending a hint of nuttiness.  And it is fast.

My Basic Recipe for Roasting Just About Any Vegetable:

          Preheat oven to 420 degrees F.

  • Cut vegetables into pieces of about 1 inch or if long in shape, into hearty sticks.  You don't want your vegetables in tiny pieces for this technique as the roasting will naturally cause them to shrink.  You also want them to be able to be eaten in one bite, hence you don't want them too large either.
  • Some vegetables that work well for roasting:  potatoes, beets, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, onions, tomatoes, garlic, bell peppers
  • Either place your vegetable directly on a baking sheet or in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil.  Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  
  • Additional flavors to add:  smoked paprika, chopped herbs (hearty herbs like rosemary work particularly well), chile flakes, curry powder, za'atar, sumac, dukkah
  • Spread the vegetables out so that they are in a single layer, without overlapping pieces
  • Roast for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on size and density of vegetables, stirring once halfway through roasting process.  If roasting a medley of vegetables, start the denser vegetables first, adding the softer, faster-cooking vegetables after about 15 to 20 minutes
  • Remove from oven and serve
  • Optional drizzles:  Balsamic vinegar, honey, agave nectar, vinaigrette, grated Parmesan cheese, citrus zest, chopped nuts and herbs (lighter herbs such as basil, cilantro, tarragon, parsley)
  • Other final additions:  chermoula, harissa, ras el hanout, garam masala, dukkah, Italian salsa verde, tapenade, olivado,gremolata, pesto, Mexican salsa (any type)

 The cauliflower, before roasting

Recipe:  Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower
(Recipe from February 2013 Bon Appètit Magazine)

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 medium red onion, sliced
2 thyme sprigs
4 unpeeled garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place all ingredients except cheese on a baking sheet.  Toss to mix.  Roast, tossing occasionally, until almost tender 35-40 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese, toss to combine, and roast until tender, 10 to 12 minutes longer.

 Another easy side dish is Colcannon, my nod to St. Patrick's Day.  Colcannon is one of several well-known Irish sides, along with Champ, its near cousin.  In fact, the Brits, in general, have several popular dishes which mix cabbage or kale and potatoes and/or turnips or Swede (rutabaga to Americans).
Thoroughly British Side Dishes

  • Champ--an Irish dish of mashed potatoes with chopped scallions that have been scalded by pouring boiling water or milk over them and then added to the potatoes
  • Colcannon--another Irish dish that is basically Champ with the addition of cooked cabbage or kale
  • Bubble and Squeak--the English weigh in with this dish, which is basically a shallow-fried leftover vegetables, often from a Sunday roast dinner.  Chopped vegetables and possibly meat are fried in a pan together with mashed potatoes or smashed roasted potatoes until brown on all sides.
  • Rumbledethumps--a Scottish dish from the Borders; similar to Colcannon, it contains potatoes, cabbage, and onion, sometimes with the addition of leftover meat.  Onion and cabbage are sauteed in butter and then mashed with cooked potatoes.  They are placed in a baking dish ad topped with cheese, usually cheddar, and baked until golden
  • Neeps and Tatties--this traditional Scottish accompaniment to Haggis, is made by boiling  and mashing potatoes and turnips separately with milk and butter
Cook's Notes:  In last week's class we made Colcannon with cabbage and spinach, because I had no kale due to a recent freeze.  We topped it with pats of butter in the traditional way.  I chose a recipe from Simply Recipes as a guideline, but variations are endless:  add bacon, leeks, parsnips, turnips, or chives, to the basic potato mash.  Green cabbage, Napa cabbage, Savoy cabbage, kale, chard, spinach, or any leafy green can be used.  It is nice to mix one of the darker greens with the lighter cabbage just for a more dramatic look.  I also added freshly ground black pepper.

Recipe:  Colcannon
(Recipe slightly adapted from

2 1/4 lbs (1 kilo) of potatoes, preferably russet, peeled and cut into large chunks
5 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus additional butter for serving
3 lightly packed cups of chopped kale, cabbage, chard, or other leafy green (I used 3 cups of green cabbage and also 1 cup of chopped spinach)
3 green onions, green and white parts included, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup milk or cream

Put the potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water by a least an inch.  Add 2 tablespoons of salt, and bring to a boil.  Boil until the potatoes are fork tender (15 to 20 minutes).  Drain in a colander.

Return the pot to the stove and set over medium-high heat.  Melt the butter in the pot and once it is hot, add the greens.  Cook the greens for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they are wilted and have given off some of their water.  Add the green onions and cook 1 minute more.

Pour in the milk or cream, mix well, and add the potatoes.  Reduce the heat to medium.  Use a fork or potato/bean masher and mash the potatoes, mixing them with the greens.  Add salt to taste and serve hot, with a knob of butter in the center.

Parting Shot: 
Orchids...from my friends

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Like life and love, recipes are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using photos or text.  Thanks!


janet @ the taste space said...

I am not familiar with the British sides you mention but now I know how funny the names are. Thanks for sharing. :)

Eha said...

Oh, what a delightful post, even tho' I don't really quite share your obsession! Not that I don't appreciate it, but a degree of thriftiness ensues when putting on the oven for one!! Yes, steaming and stirfrying vegetables does need extra care with flavours, but :) ! And a lovely Sunday morning memory of the times I have actually cooked the 'British' sides at times - mostly colcannon in my case! But 'rumbledethumps' seems like something out of 'Alice in Wonderland' or 'Hogwarts': hmm, what a lesson!!! Are you sure - someone had a wonderful sense of humour there . . .

Victoria Challancin said...

Rumbledethumps is definitely real! Just ask any Scot. But it does sound a bit like Jabberwocky or at least the Hogwarts

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I adore roasted vegetables and every time I do them, I need to add in some sweet red onions-they caramelise so beautifully! Sometimes I just do a tray of onions as I adore them so :) said...

I only roast these days and what a treat they are....

Hotly Spiced said...

I love roasting vegetables but I don't roast as many varieties as you do - I need to be more adventurous. And the British were so good at not letting anything go to waste by using up things by combining them with mashed potato and the old had become new. xx

Joan Nova said...

I don't know whether it's through food blogs and the worldwide obsession with all things food or the globalization that occurred in the past decade(s) or so, but it's all good. I, too, only roast most vegetables. If it's something that needs liquid stove top, I only use broth. No mas agua! It only leeches flavor and nutrients. :)

Nancy said...

I often wish I could go back in time to see the moment when humans discovered cooking techniques -- wouldn't that be fun? Roasting is one of my favorite ways of cooking vegetables. Your cauliflower and potatoes look so good!

Sawsan@chef in disguise said...

You have a gift for teaching Victoria.
You break up any process into easy clear steps and I just love your tips and advice
I love roasting vegetables, the transformation they go through in the oven is magical

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

I love roasted vegetables...we have roasted sliced potatoes and asparagus last night. Tonight it's roasted cauliflower. Don't mind having the oven on as it is still so cold.

Victoria of Flavors of the Sun said...

Karen--I, too, made roasted veggies last night, but for vegetarian tacos. It is supposed to be 88F here today--rare for this time of year.