En español | My daughter's found a website that offers free screen savers featuring beautiful seasonal produce. Every month there's a new one. When she turns on her computer in the winter, a rustic still life of knobby root vegetables comes to life. It's a beautiful scene, but also a stark reminder that, in the words of my late father, "pickin's are pretty slim"!
But there are plenty of root vegetables, which are good for you, inexpensive and easy to cook (and if you don't feel like peeling, seeding and cutting up winter squash, most produce departments carry it already peeled and cut).
During fall and winter I roast a big pan or two nearly every weekend, which my husband, David, and I enjoy throughout the week. Once the veggies are roasted, it's no problem finding uses for them. Rather than eat lettuce-based salads, for example, we frequently drizzle vinaigrette over warm roasted root vegetables for a winter salad. We love them for lunch, too, alongside a hearty grain like brown rice, barley or some of the ones newer to supermarket shelves, such as faro or freekeh. And if we don't eat the veggies right away, we can turn them into soup.
How you roast root vegetables depends on your oven. If your heating element is above the oven floor, start with a cold oven. When the vegetables go in, turn on the oven, which means that the heating element is in preheat mode the entire time the vegetables are roasting. Not only do the vegetables cook quickly, they also (more importantly) brown quickly.
Every oven and every roasting pan is different, so cooking times may vary. Understand the principle — you're using the oven element like a big stovetop burner to cook and brown the vegetables as quickly as possible. If you're using an especially thin pan, your vegetables may brown more quickly. If so, turn them sooner than the suggested 20 minutes.
When you turn them at the 20-minute point, certain vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, may stick a little. (The vegetable cooking spray helps.) If so, don't worry. Just continue turning the other vegetables. By the time you're done with the others, the steam will have loosened them, and they'll be ready.
If your heating element is below the oven floor, the vegetables don't brown as well, so just preheat the oven to a blistering 450 degrees and shove them in.
Since I leave the vegetables in their natural shape as much as possible (they roast better and look better that way), it's difficult to measure the eight cups accurately. I find that a generously filled 2-quart (8-cup) Pyrex measuring cup works well. If you don't have one, just make sure there are enough vegetables to fit in a single layer on the baking sheet.
It will be wonderful when spring's new produce arrives, but in the meantime I'm content with my gnarly root vegetables.