Oven-Roasted Root Vegetables

Like fruits, which improve by concentrating their flavors with a bit of oven drying, commercial vegetables can slim down and improve their flavor by losing a bit of their irrigation water. I recommend root vegetables, which are full of starches and sugars (since things like fennel, which I have seen treated this way, just get tough and boring)—the exception to the rule being pumpkin or any of the hard squashes such as hubbard, acorn, butternut, or turban.

You can use celery root, onions, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, beets, sweet potatoes (yams), potatoes, salsify, swedes (rutabagas), parsnip, and turnips.

For those with a wild streak, you can also forage and use the root stalks of bulrushes, cattails, spatterdock (water lily), pickerelweed, burdock, groundnut, and daylily.

Using a wood oven produces the most flavorful results with these vegetables. So flavorful, in fact, that customers at our café in Oakville would make an entire meal of them. Obviously, we did have a wood oven, and used wood as well as old grapevine roots to fuel it, but since almost no one in America has one at home, I suggest using a covered grill with the least smoke possible, although a little makes the vegetables taste better.

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Ingredients

  • 2 celery root, peeled, cut in six wedges each
  • 4 parsnips, peeled, and any core removed
  • 2 large Walla Walla Sweet, Vidalia, or Maui onions, peeled, quartered
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 16 small carrots, peeled, tops removed
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to‘325 degrees.

Put all the ingredients in a bowl, season, and toss together. Cover and leave 2 hours, tossing the vegetables together a couple of times to spread the marinade ingredients evenly around.

Put the vegetables in a baking pan, and cover and cook for 1 hour. Remove the cover and cook for another 1 to 2 hours, or until the vegetables are tender. If some finish before the others, remove them and put back in the bowl. If using a covered grill, put the vegetables on a metal baking sheet, and grill them on that.

Serve as they are, or with lemon juice and more olive oil.

Variations

When we made this dish for the 1992 anniversary of the Chappellet Vineyards in Napa, we tossed the hot vegetables with a little white truffle oil, put them on platters, and then covered the vegetables with a field of borage flowers and shredded red and yellow wild rose petals to complement the young Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon. Or you could serve the vegetables with garlic mayonnaise or Montpelier butter.

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