There's nothing like a CSA box to get you out of a rut-- and to get you to cook something and just eat really well. We had an abundance of vegetables this week compliments of the CSA basket that our friends Jocelyn and Miles sent over. Suddenly, I feel more connected with the earth and the seasons. Really.
Whole roasted asparagus, slices of fennel, yellow carrot fries, and whole roasted baby beets. You can't help but feel connected to the earth with all of the vegetables. For all of these vegies, there's a variety of cooking techniques that you can use, but nothing locks in and concentrates the flavors like a high heat roast. Apply the same roasting principles to all of them: season with kosher salt and pepper just before roasting, toss in some extra virgin olive oil, and then spread out in a single layer on a large sheet pan.
Ideally, the vegetables are spread out enough that they are hardly touching. You want the heat to be able to reach deep into your vegetables as quickly as possible, otherwise, you'll get more of a steamed effect. If they steam instead of roast, you'll lose the vibrant colors of your vegetables, and fail to carmelize the sugars which gives them a beautiful browned color and naturally some sweetness.
The aspargus looked so fresh that I took the time to peel the bottom 2-3 inches of the tough skin. That meant I had to trim off only about 1/4 inch off the bottom of each stalk. Glad I did that-- every inch of these was worth eating. I found that if Iay the stalk on a cutting board and peel it, turning the stalk with the non-peeling hand, that allows me to peel without breaking the stalk. Also, I need to keep a bowl of water handy to wash the peelings of my peeler frequently.
In the picture of the finished asparagus and fennel, note the vibrant green of the aspargus. They tasted every bit as good as they look.
For the fennel, nothing special except cutting them in about 1/4 inch slices, with the same kosher salt, white pepper, and EVO treatment. They were sweet and licorice-like, without any of the bitterness that one sometimes gets with fennel.
The beets were too perfect to chop, so I decided to roast them whole. I prefer to peel them before roasting, so that the precious beet juices form a crunchy sweet carmelization on the outside of the beet. All that gets lost if you opt to roast them and then peel them (or scrub them with a kitchen towel) after roasting. Also, after you peel them, don't wash them, as that will just introduce unwanted water into the whole situation, and you'll get steamed beets.
The stalks from the greens were actually kind of edible. They got a little burnt, but again the burnt sugars saved the day. Keeping the stems on from the beet greens also makes them much easier to peel-- of course you could lop off the stems just after peeling, but I think it makes for a pretty cool effect to keep them on.
How long do these vegetables take to cook? As long as it takes till they're done. Seriously. Set your oven to the highest temperature it will go to, and leave it there for 30-45 minutes. Then you're ready to roast. One might argue that this pre-heating is bad for the environment, and I don't have a great answer to that. Except to say that there's certainly some environmental benefit to getting the most out of the food in our kitchen, and making unprocessed foods much more attractive than foods from the center aisles.
We have a 10-year old Thermador range that has an analog temperature dial. The last number on the dial is "500", so I turn it past the 500, just before I can feel the broil mechanism click on. At this setting, the oven just stays on.
Check out the carrot fries to the right. See all those browned bits of extreme goodness? Yea! I thought they were parsnips at first, so I had planned on doing some parsnip fries, which I first started doing many Thanksgivings ago, inspired by one of those feel-good Thanksgiving spreads in Gourmet magazine. The tradition continues, now with these yellow carrot beauties. I'm curious to see if you can fool your kids into trying these, as they resemble french fries, and maybe your kids will even like them.