In many areas late Fall vegetables are still good at this time of the year. I like to cook and experiment a bit along with trying to understand a bit of the chemistry that goes on in the process. There have been more than a few failures, but also a bit of insight and a few successes. Rather than the conventional post I'm going to offer a few recipe outlines that are a bit unconventional - recipes that work with late Fall vegetables.
A somewhat larger than average recipe corner
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
I'm a big fan of sweet potatoes in many forms, but roasting makes them incredible - usually at least. The problem is they are variable and often are, well, not great. A bit of sweet potato research and experiment provided a technique that is much more reliable than regular roasting.
Sweet potatoes have a lot of starch and sugar in them. Depending on their age the starch to sugar ratio varies enormously. The great tasting ones, at least to my taste, have a lot of sugar in them that respond so well to the intense heat of roasting. They also happen to have an enzyme that breaks starches down to maltose (a sugar composed of two glucose molecules). The enzyme is most efficient between about 140° and 170° F. It is somewhat active at lower temperatures, which is why some sweet potatoes are sweeter than others. All you have to do is bring it up to a temperature between those values (above 170° destroys it).
This is where experimentation comes into effect. I sliced up several very different sweet potatoes and dropped them in a 150° F water bath. The right way to do this is an immersion circulator, but keeping a large pot of water at about 150° works well too. An hour worked well on all of them - just don't let it go above about 165° to stay away from trouble. Now just dry them off and roast them to get a wonderful caramelization in addition to the complex chemistry that comes from the Maillard Reaction (the wonderful reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars in the food that give hundreds of complex compounds and wonderful flavors and aromas).
Tricked out Roasted Sweet Potatoes
° 3 average or 2 very large (2 kilos total) sweet potatoes quartered and cut into half inchish slices
° 6 tbl extra virgin olive oil (you can use 3 tbl of just ok olive oil for roasting and 3 of a higher quality olive oil later)
° kosher salt and freshly ground black petter
° 1 tbl honey
° Drop the sweet potatoes in large saucepan and cover with water. Heat to 160°F, take off heat, cover and set aside for an hour. (this works well enough)
° put oven racks on the upper and lower middle positions and preheat the oven to 400°F
° drain the s.p. and place in a large bowl. Toss with 3 tbl of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
° spread the s.p. on two baking sheets and roast until brown - about 30 minutes. Flip them and roast 'til the backside is brown and all is tender.
° put them in a large bowl and toss with 3 tbl olive oil and the honey. serve!
Moisture is not your friend, but not where you might suspect. Many will tell you not to wash mushrooms - that they are clean enough with some rubbing and that the water will cause problems. I'm not that trusting and weighed some waterlogged mushrooms - they only picked up about 5% of their weight in water and that was confined mostly to the exposed surface.
There is a problem with water though .. Mushrooms like roasting at a somewhat lower temperature - about 350 - 375 F°. They stay below the boiling point of water until the water has evaporated - the energy from the oven is going into boiling water rather than roasting mushrooms. As you cook them a pool of water forms on the bottom of your (hopefully) rimmed roasting pan. The trick is to pour the excess liquid off about 15 minutes into the roasting process. You'll find they brown much better and the process is faster.
Faster and Browner Roasted Mushrooms
° 1 kilo (about 2 pounds) of cremini or button mushrooms. Wash and quarter them
° 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
° kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
° about a dozen springs of thyme or rosemary (both are *great*, but I wouldn't mix here)
° 2 tbl chopped fresh herbs - chives, parsley or whatever you like
° oven rack to the center position and preheat to 375°F
° toss mushrooms in the olive oil, salt and pepper
° spread evenly on a foil lined rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle the thyme or rosemary sprigs over the mushrooms
° roast for about 15 minutes and then drain off the mushroom liquid (you might want to keep it as it is flavorful)
° return to roasting until brown but tender - maybe 25 or 30 minutes more.
° place in a bowl and toss with herbs. serve
Carrots can be sweet to begin with and are wonderful with a bit of caramelization. The problem is they shrivel at the temperature needed to roast. Unlike mushrooms you want to hold some water in. The trick is to not peel them and par-boil them first (the same is true with parsnips, which can be spectacular roasted)
The recipe I give has a few non-standard ingredients. Try everything - carrots like spices. Toss them with olive oil and some sort of spice blend. Curries are a nice place to start.
Roasted Spiced Carrots
° 1 kilo medium carrots with the ends trimmed. Quarter lengthwise and cut into 2 or 3 inch segments
° kosher salt
° 1/4 cup crème fraîche
° 2 tbl harissa paste (a North African chili paste. Find it in speciality stores
° 1/2 tsp ground cumin
° 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
° 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
° 2 tbl freshly chopped cilantro
° oven rack in the center and preheat to 375°F
° put carrots in a large pot, cover with water and season heavily with salt. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until the carrots just start to become tender - 4 or 5 minutes. Drain and let dry - set aside.
° Season crème fraîche with a bit of salt and refrigerate until ready to use
° Combine harissa, cumin, pepper and olive oil in a large bowl. Season with a bit of salt. Set half aside in a small bowl. Add the carrots to the rest and toss the mixture. Spread evenly on a foil lined rimmed baking sheet and pop into the oven
° Roast until caramelized - about 40 to 45 minutes turning at about 25 minutes.
° Transfer to a large bowl and toss with cilantro
° spread the crème fraîche on a serving plate and artfully:-) arrange the carrots on top and drizzle the remaining harissa mixture over everything. serve
Finally a tool recommendation.
Roasting is wonderful, but there are times when you need a bit of portable and or local roasting. A torch is a lovely tool, but they can fall over with unfortunate results and and leave a torch taste. The later is more a product of burning the food with heat that was too intense rather than unburned gas products. Dave Arnold (an all out crazy guy and thinker about cooking) has a great gadget that addresses both of these problems - the Booker and Dax (named after his sons) Searzall. Think of it as a portable mini salamander for under a hundred bucks. It is a kickstarter project.