March 16, 2011

veggies in the oven

Growing up and watching my mother and my grandma prepare food, nothing was ever prepared in the oven. Vegetables were steamed, sauted, stir-fried, deep-fried, braised, cooked in a broth, but never in the oven. The oven was used by my aunts for baking cookies, fruit cakes, pineapple tarts (that people die for) and the most delectable chicken pot-pies.

What I have now, this kitchen that I cook and bake in, is the second kitchen I can call my own. Prior to this house in the United States, R and I lived in a tiny apartment in Hong Kong. It was a tiny little place we rented near to the university where we studied and worked (and met). The so-called kitchen was a very small room plunked right in the middle of our teensy apartment. It was about 40-square foot, and now that I think about it, our bathroom was even bigger than the kitchen, which contained the sink, a small fridge, the cooking range (no oven), two small cabinets for storage, and a washing machine too. Usually I am the lone person in there, cooking up a sweat; it had an accordion folding door that afforded me all the privacy (and focus!) I needed while I struggled to balance colanders of washed vegetables on barely-existing counter-tops (usually I used the top of the closed washing machine as my counter-top when cooking), stirring the other simmering pot (there were only two burners), reaching for condiments and all that. It had a small square window that allowed me to look out over to what was happening in the pet store next door. Mostly I see (and hear) dogs yelping while being manicured and shampooed.

Which makes me very grateful for the oven I have right now. It is nothing fancy or top of the line. In fact, since it's the same thing the previous (and first) owners of this house had installed, it should be about 20 years right now. But it still works, thank goodness! I love how it helps me prepare delicious vegetables without too much time and effort involved. No splattering oil, no skillets to scrub. No need to stand and flip, or stir. And honestly, I don't think any vegetables that came out of the oven, nicely roasted and served onto a platter with steam still billowing all around, had been rejected by any of my children. Never ever. I love how roasting vegetables in the oven intensify its flavor and free up hands and space for other components of the meal.

And really, there is no recipe, and therefore no limits. And I am not the only one who loves preparing veggies in the oven. This week I got some really good-looking asparagus from Trader Joe's and while checking out, we got talking about how to prepare the asparagus (oven-roasted) and how we also roast potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts in the oven, and how people fight over their yummy goodness.

Of course, variety is key, so not every meal in our house ends up with an oven-roasted veggie. There are many ways to cook, but today I am here to sing the praises of oven-cooked vegetables. I think when my children grow up they are definitely going to remember how their vegetables came out from the oven, hot and alluring.

The greatest virtue of veggies in the oven is its simplicity. Wash the vegetables, cut into chunks if necessary, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and whatever seasoning you fancy. (Sometimes I roast garlic cloves with the vegetables, which becomes really sweet, and we then eat the garlic with the vegetables.) Pop into the oven and roast to how you like your vegetables. Usually we like to see a few brown spots on our sprouts and cauliflower. For the asparagus I made last night, it only took about 12 minutes in a 350F oven. After it came out, I shaved some pecorino cheese over it.

Oven-roasted asparagus

Sometimes I cut up a few strips of bacon and toss it with the vegetables, leaving the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon to flavor the vegetables, making them even more irresistible. I have also roasted Brussels with lemon zest and black pepper, and sometimes I toss the vegetables with some chopped roasted nuts. I've also experimented with green beans roasted with a bit of sesame oil, and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Thankfully, my children do not say "yuck" to vegetables, and we endeavor to eat them in various ways, but veggies in the oven? -- they rock.

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