By Anna Marie Trotman, Nutrition Consultant
Even though summer is sadly coming to end, we still have a couple of months left to enjoy locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Especially plentiful right now are those yummy root vegetables, but if you are like me you might want to make things a little easier in the kitchen. Roasting your meal can be a delicious way to accomplish that goal. If you roast a vegetable, you’ll eat ten times as much (most directly from the sheet-pan). I love roasted veggies, so let’s get cooking!
Roasted veggies are good for you and can be easy peasy! A sheet pan lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil, takes the concept of a one-pot meal and flips it onto a pan. It saves time and makes clean-up a snap! Start with your protein of choice, add vegetables, a healthy fat and flavoring then roast at high heat until everything is golden brown. Here’s how.
Choosing a Protein
Every satisfying sheet-pan meal will be built around a protein. Whether you decide on poultry, beef, pork, fish or tofu, you’ll want to start with about a ¼ pound or more per serving. When cooking poultry, keep in mind that dark meat takes longer to cook than white meat, and bone-in chicken longer than boneless. You can check roasting times online.
Choose vegetables that will complement your meal. Which kinds to use and how much of each, are up to you. Remember that vegetables cook down significantly under high temperatures, so always go for more. When working with vegetables, make sure they’re cut evenly. Give them plenty of space on the pan to encourage browning.
Dense vegetables like potatoes, radishes, or winter squashes take the longest to cook. Vegetables with higher moisture content can take less time. Roasting time will be longer if you want to caramelize vegetables with very high moisture content. Vegetables like zucchini and tomatoes in particular will take longer because the moisture needs to evaporate before browning can occur. Roasting at a high temperature (425°F to 450°F) can speed things up. There is a link at the end of this blog to help you with timing.
I tend to not use leafy vegetables, but if you do, know that they will cook fast, within about 3 to 10 minutes. If the leaves are thoroughly dry, they will turn crisp and brown. Kale and chard can become brittle and chiplike if you use enough oil. I recommend using an oil spritzer which helps to reduce the amount of fat.
Once you’ve chosen your main ingredients, you could, of course, leave well enough alone. Or you can get really creative with the seasonings, a rub, or lots and lots of fresh herbs. Lemon is great for fish. For carrots I like to add the juice of a freshly squeezed orange and just toss the rind onto the pan.
Fat encourages browning and helps evenly cook the ingredients on your sheet pan. Olive oil is the classic choice, but other oils and fats, like coconut oil, peanut oil, or leftover bacon grease add distinct flavors. For something more neutral, look to sunflower, avocado or grapeseed oils. Simply toss ingredients with enough fat so they are lightly coated.
Herbs and Spices
Sprigs of sturdy, branchy fresh herbs can stand up to lengthy cooking without burning. Thyme, lemon thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, bay leaves, tarragon and sage are all good choices; just throw them on the pan with the other ingredients. Dried herbs and herb mixes like Herbs de Provence are excellent added to a marinade, paste or rub. You can also roast garlic, better roast a couple of whole bulbs for garlic lovers. Avoid soft herbs like basil, chives, parsley, cilantro and mint, which can turn brown at high heat. They’re better as garnishes.
Cooking Your Meal
Different ingredients cook at different times. Start with the slowest-cooking ingredient, then add items ending with whatever cooks fastest. Pay attention to placement, both of your sheet pan and your ingredients. The closer the sheet pan is to the heat source, the crisper and browner everything will get. Similarly, ingredients at the pan’s edges cook faster than those in the middle. (Take note, too, that the more spread out the ingredients are, the more air will flow between them, browning them further.) For even cooking, place larger pieces at the edges and smaller pieces in the center, and make sure to rotate your sheet pan halfway through cooking.
If you find yourself seeking inspiration, here are a couple of meals that began with just the basics, and can evolve into something impressive in a few simple steps.
Pork Chops and Peaches: Roast 1-inch-thick pork chops surrounded by sliced peaches at 450 degrees for 12 to 18 minutes. You can sear pork chops on both sides under a broiler before adding peaches and then roast at 450 degrees for 12 to 18 minutes. Add a few new potatoes, some baby carrots and string beans.
Salmon and Cherry Tomatoes: Roast salmon filets with sliced roads of lemons and a little dill, surrounded by halved cherry tomatoes at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.
Chicken and Bell Peppers: Roast bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts on a bed of thinly sliced bell peppers, thinly sliced red onion and fresh oregano sprigs at 425 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Or you can marinate chicken breasts with some garlic, cumin, lemon zest and fresh oregano. Roast bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts on a bed of thinly sliced bell peppers, thinly sliced red onion and fresh oregano sprigs at 425 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
For a vegetarian option use marinated tofu and/or Portobello mushrooms instead of animal protein.
For some great recipes and roasting times check out Lizzie’s guide to roasting veggies. https://itsavegworldafterall.com/vegetable-roasting-times/