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Roasting brings out deep flavors of vegetables

Mid-summer and vegetables are at the height of flavor and freshness.

That’s why farm stands and farmers markets are such great places to shop if you don’t have a garden of your own. Even the local grocery stores are stocking produce from area farms — it’s nice to know where your food comes from and to be comfortable that it was recently picked.

Of course, it’s also that time of year when the vegetables can get ahead of you. If you’re a gardener, if you have a neighbor who is, if you get overly excited at the farm market or if you’re getting a weekly delivery from your share in a nearby farm, it’s a time of abundance.

Maybe even overabundance.

So, have you run out of vegetable-prep ideas yet? How many ways can you slice and steam?

Birthday bounty

Last week, at my son’s birthday dinner, we had the usual seasonal variety of vegetables: zucchini, yellow summer squash, onions, garlic, carrots, green beans, broccoli, cherry tomatoes . . . That’s not counting all those greens — lettuce, chard, bok choi and kale. Luckily, our cauliflower, cabbage and regular tomatoes are late, because I don’t have time for them yet.

We’ve been steaming everything, sometimes plain, sometimes with herbs, sometimes with sauted onions and garlic.

We’ve been eating everything raw, chopped in salads with some fresh herbs and just the tiniest bit of olive oil and vinegar or lime. Things taste so good right now there’s no sense in masking the flavors with heavy dressings.

We never get sick of vegetables. But variety is good, and also my son loves mushrooms.
So I picked up some mushrooms at the market and decided to roast them with all the other vegetables. His birthday dinner of choice was salmon, so I figured I could do everything in one roasting pan.

Hidden flavors

Roasting vegetables brings out flavors you don’t get when steaming or sauteing — the sweeter, deeper flavors. The trick with roasting vegetables is timing — the harder the vegetable, the longer it needs to cook.

Get your oven hot — I set mine to 425 but anywhere between 400 and 450 works. Know your oven.
Cut larger vegetables into chunks or use them whole if they are small, like cherry tomatoes or string beans. I toss mine in olive oil with salt and herbs. This time of year it might be fresh thyme, chopped scallions, basil, fennel leaf, dill leaf, lemon balm, cilantro, sage, rosemary — whatever you like, whatever you have on hand. If you don’t have fresh herbs, use dried. You can’t go wrong with thyme and rosemary.

Roasting time

For roasting time, think about what will take the longest. Cut that up first, toss it in the oil and herbs, spread it on the roasting pan (a baking sheet works too) and while it’s starting to roast, work on the next-toughest vegetable. When you add that, work on the next, and so on, so that harder veggies — potatoes, onions, fennel bulb — cook the longest and softer veggies — tomatoes, summer squash, beans — cook the least.

For the birthday dinner, I started with whole mushrooms and chunks of onions and carrots, put them in the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes.

Then I cut up zucchini, summer squash and broccoli, tossed them in oil and herbs, and added them to the roasting pan.

Ten minutes later I pulled out the pan, pushed the veggies aside so I could oil the bottom, and placed the salmon fillets. Then I pushed the veggies back over them, added the cherry tomatoes and green beans, and put whole basil leaves on top.

Back in the oven for another 10-12 minutes, and dinner was ready.

Of course, with all our summer bounty, we had more than twice the vegetables we needed for dinner, but so what? For the next couple of days we ate cold roasted vegetables for lunch, either alone or on top of tossed greens.

“In & Out of the Kitchen,” a wide-ranging column about cooking, eating and buying food, is written by Gazette staffers. You can reach us at

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