January 20, 2014

It is said we eat with our eyes first. Our eyes are drawn to colorful foods first, so why not choose bright and flavorful roasted vegetables over starchy sides?

Winter is the perfect time to roast vegetables in the oven. Give your stovetop a break, and try a new way to prepare a delicious and healthful side dish.

Roasting gives vegetables a whole new life. The heat of the oven caramelizes the veggies and a drizzle of olive oil and a little salt add tons of flavor.

Roasted Kale Chips

Kale chips have become a trendy new snack. They have the same crunch as potato chips, but kale has many health benefits including reducing inflammation and lowering cholesterol. Kale is also jam-packed with antioxidants.

Some parents are so savvy they have been able to persuade their children to try kale chips with great success.

2 bunches of kale

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

fleur de sel or your favorite seasoning salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the leaves from the stems and wash the leaves well in a few changes of water. In small batches, spin the leaves dry in a salad spinner. This is very important. The leaves must be very dry or they will steam and not become crispy.

Toss the dry leaves with olive oil and use your hands to distribute the oil evenly.

Then, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay some of the leaves on top in a single layer. Make sure the leaves are all flat and not folded over or they won't crisp properly.

Pop the kale in the oven for 12 minutes. Set your timer and keep an eye on the kale, because if the chips burn, they'll be bitter.

Once the kale is out of the oven, season the chips with some fleur de sel or your favorite seasoning salt.

A more flavorful option: toss with teaspoon chili powder and teaspoon Kosher salt before roasting. Then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

One of Ina Garten's specialties is roasted vegetables. Her secret is roasting them at a high heat to not only cook, but to caramelize the vegetables. The addition of tiny pasta such as orzo turns the roasted eggplant, peppers, and onions into a complete meal.

1 small eggplant, peeled and 3/4-inch diced

1 red bell pepper, 1-inch diced

1 yellow bell pepper, 1-inch diced

1 red onion, peeled and 1-inch diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup good olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 pound orzo or rice-shaped pasta

For the dressing:

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)

1/3 cup good olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To assemble:

4 scallions, minced (white and green parts)

1/4 cup pignolis (pine nuts), toasted

3/4 pound good feta, 1/2-inch diced (not crumbled)

15 fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne strips

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the eggplant, bell peppers, onion, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper on a large sheet pan. Roast for 40 minutes, until browned, turning once with a spatula.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 7 to 9 minutes, until tender. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta, scraping all the liquid and seasonings from the roasting pan into the pasta bowl.

For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and pour on the pasta and vegetables. Let cool to room temperature, then add the scallions, pignolis, feta, and basil. Check the seasonings, and serve at room temperature.

Oven-Roasted Asparagus

I have loved asparagus since I was a child, when my mom would hunt for wild asparagus in the ditches around Carroll.

I've found roasted asparagus is extremely easy and perfect for serving larger crowds. Instead of boiling water, I can spread out the asparagus on a sheet pan or two to roast.

1 bunch asparagus

4 Tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. After you wash the asparagus thoroughly, stack a bunch together and lop off the tough/thick bottom an inch or so.

Spread out the asparagus in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Pat it as dry as you can, as you don't want any water to "steam" the asparagus in the oven.

Begin by generously drizzling olive oil all over the asparagus and then sprinkle the asparagus generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Roast the asparagus for about 10 minutes. The secret here is for the oven to be very hot so the asparagus can begin to brown on the outside without overcooking and getting too flimsy. You want the finished asparagus to still have a bite to it.

Cutting Tip from Jane: Take one asparagus spear and bend it so it snaps naturally at the bottom half. Use this spear as your "guide" to tenderness. On the cutting board, line up the rest of the spears next to your guide and cut them to the same length.

The Best Broccoli of Your Life

Adam Roberts, The Amateur Gourmet, has a way to make kids love broccoli. He said, "If parents made this broccoli for their kids, kids wouldn't hate broccoli. They'd beg for it."

Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables. I prefer fresh broccoli that's been steamed over the frozen variety, however, I'd happily choose roasted broccoli any day of the week.

In the oven, magic happens. The broccoli tops become golden and slightly crispy.

2 large bunches broccoli

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Take 4 to 5 pounds of broccoli (about two large bunches), cut into florets (but relatively big ones). If you wash the florets, dry them completely.

Place the broccoli on a cookie sheet. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Now add 4 garlic cloves that are peeled and sliced and toss them in too.

Roast broccoli in the oven 20 to 25 minutes, until crisp-tender and the tips of some of the florets are browned. If you wish, shake the pan around a bit, but that's not necessary.

To add extra texture and flavor: zest a lemon over the broccoli, squeeze the lemon juice over the broccoli, add 1 1/2 tablespoons more olive oil, 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, and 1/3 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower

Cauliflower is the perfect winter go-to side dish. Roasted cauliflower topped with grated Parmesan will add spark to any ordinary dinner.

1 head cauliflower

1 medium onion, sliced (optional)

4 thyme springs

4 unpeeled garlic cloves

3 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut 1 head cauliflower into florets; toss on a large rimmed baking sheet with onion, thyme sprigs, 4 garlic cloves, and olive oil; season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast; tossing occasionally, until almost tender about 35-40 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, toss to combine, and roast until cauliflower is tender, 10-12 minutes longer.