Whenever I tell someone about a recipe, I often use the phrase, “Oh, it’s really easy….” without remembering that for people who don’t cook, “really easy” can be purely subjective. As a result, when I say something is really easy, I mean it’s really easy for me- it may be a bunch of steps but they’re all steps about which I’m confident or there may be a lot of chopping but I can remember what each ingredient is.
One of the best lessons I learned from my Grandmother was to take risks in the kitchen. If you liked something you ate somewhere, ask how it was made and try it yourself. Be creative and experiment the worst than happen is you don’t like what you’ve made and you end up eating pizza for a night. She backed this up, though, by also teaching me some basic techniques so that when I was experimenting I’d have a solid basis from which to be creative.
So, if I were to open a cooking school (read The School Of Essential Ingredients- in another life, that’s my dream), I’d start with what I consider Kitchen Basics, those techniques that give you the foundation from which to build flavors and textures and creativity. That would be the first few lessons. Then we’d spend the rest of the time pairing foods and seeing what we could do. Since I don’t have a cooking school and will probably not be holding cooking classes in my home (at least not until I get a new stove and oven), I’ll do it here. Every once in a while, I’ll write a Kitchen Basics post.
Today’s Kitchen Basics is a quick and easy (no, really, I promise) way to cook just about any vegetable you can find. There are lots of ways to cook veggies- popular in my husband’s home was boiling which is actually the least successful way. As the vegetable boils, lots of the nutrients are leaked out into the water. You can steam or par-boil (boil briefly) and then saute, both of which (if done correctly) retain the crispness and color of the veggie. If it’s summer or you live someplace warm or own a grill pan and a strong vent, you can grill most veggies. My favorite way, hands down, is to roast. It’s easy, takes one pan and almost no tending. Plus, the veggies stay crisp and get this nice, deep, rich flavor. Mmmmm.
A few points:
- You’ll need a good pan. For potatoes, broccoli, green beans, asparagus, and cauliflower, I use a shallow roasting pan. I actually can’t think of a vegetable for which I wouldn’t use it.
- The tenderness of the vegetable is a personal thing. I like mine to be tender but not too crisp whereas my husband likes them closer to raw. Play around with it to see what you like- more tender= longer in the oven.
- Roasted vegetables with get a nice brown to them- the tips of the broccoli and asparagus, for example, will be sort of crispy and crunchy and I love it. If you don’t like it, take them out a little bit sooner.
- While the veggies don’t have to be the exact same size, all pieces should be roughly the same so they’ll cook at the same rate. If it’s something like green beans, just trim the ends and you’re good to go but something like potatos which you’d peel (or not) and cut up, they need to be roughly even.
- A flat spatula is the easiest way to turn them.
- The basic idea is to toss the veggies in a little bit of oil, salt and pepper, lay them in one flat sheet (don’t overlap or pile them) and put them in the oven. Turn them once or twice and then enjoy. See? It really is easy, I promise. I’ll give an example below but the basic technique is the same.
- The oil can burn if you use too much so make sure you have your oven fan/vent going or else you’ll smoke out your kitchen.
- Some veggies benefit from a little extra, though all are great right out of the oven without any other prep- broccoli, for instance, is great roasted with a little bit of parm cheese sprinkled over.
Roasted Veggie Example: Asparagus
salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
This means to snap the ends off- the stems get more woody and tough towards the bottom. The best way I’ve found is to hold the top and bottom of the asparagus gently and bend- the stalk will naturally snap where the stem starts to get more tough. Or you can line them up so that the tops (the skinny, more flower-looking part) are even and cut off the ends about 1/3 of the way up so that they’re all the same length. Also, if your stalks are really thick, you may want to peel them down slightly. A note: Do NOT put asparagus ends or peels into the disposal. This is also true of celery and artichoke. They all get sort of stringy and will clog the drain. Just don’t do it.
Place the prepped asparagus on a sheet pan. Top with a bit of olive oil- probably 2-3 tablespoons, depending on the number of asparagus you have. You don’t want them swimming in it, just a nice little shine on each one. Sort of shake the pan to evenly distribute it. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 4-8 minutes, depending on the thickness. Taste and decide how you want them. I like them a bit more tender and crispy-topped than my husband who prefers them on the more crisp, less tender side. They are a great side dish- very easy! We had meatloaf and sweet potato with ours.