Thinking back to the winter meals at my grandmother’s house, it seems like there was always a bowl of mashed turnips.  It was something like mashed potatoes but beige and watery – inevitably disappointing for any child. My grandmother was a practical farm cook who wasn’t prone to catching up with the latest trends in Good Housekeeping.   Roasting was for chickens, and vegetables were typically boiled.

Some traditions were meant to be improved; thank goodness!  These days when the arctic blast has taken out all but the hardiest of greens (although I still have hope for the resilient chard,) it’s a great time for experimenting with roasting roots and tubers.  Beets, rutabegas, carrots, turnips, sun chokes, celeriac, potatoes, onions and garlic are all available.  Unlike steamed or boiled vegetables where flavor and nutrition is lost in the cooking water, roasting concentrates flavors and brings out the sweetness that is naturally present in winter roots.

There are lots of recipes for roasting vegetables, and most are variations on a basic theme.   Prepare bite-sized chunks, toss in some kind of oil or fat, add seasonings and roast under high heat until tender.

Here is basic recipe for a medley of roots, with two different seasoning ideas.

  • 2.5 pounds of various root vegetables including carrots, turnips and beets.  Prep vegetables by washing, and removing the stem and root end.  Beets and turnips should be peeled, but carrots can usually be left unpeeled. Cut into ¾ inch chunks.   Cutting pieces into uniform sizes will ensure even cooking. Feel free to substitute other vegetables including brassicas like cauliflower or Brussels sprouts.
  • 1 large onion, or an equivalent amount of leeks or shallots, peeled and cut into ¾ inch wedges.
  • 4-10 cloves of garlic, cloves peeled.
  • 2 Tbsp. of olive oil, or a mixture of butter and olive oil if you prefer
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees and place a rack in the center.    Toss the cut vegetables and oil together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread seasoned veggies evenly on a baking sheet.  Roast for 45 minutes or until done, tossing 2-3 times until veggies are fork tender.  Remove from oven and serve.

Seasoning ideas and vegetable variations are plentiful; here are just a few of our favorites:

  • Fresh Herbs: Include 2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme during the roasting.  Remove the herbs prior to serving.
  • Toasted Cumin Vinaigrette: While veggies are roasting, toast 2 tsp. of whole cumin seed in a dry skillet. Chop or pound the seeds a bit to get them to crack.  Add cumin to 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice.  Add 1 tsp. fresh mint or cilantro leaves and toss with the vegetables after they are finished roasting.
  • Instead of olive oil use filtered bacon grease, tossing the veggies with 2 strips of chopped bacon after the roasting is complete.

Any of these combinations make a great side dish with meat, or as a vegetarian main dish with quinoa. Make extra and keep as an addition to salads for several days.