You know when your marriage is going down the pan, because you get home from work and your partner shouts “Dinner’s in the oven!”
You say “Great, what is it?”
(I think this is © The Mary Whitehouse Experience c.1990)
It’s that time of year when making cold, summery salads really doesn’t cut the mustard, not to mention comprising highly unseasonal produce. Consuming light, frilly layers of crunchy, cold, raw vegetables just sounds like onerous work after a wild, wet and windy walk and not particularly comforting either. On the contrary, cooking things in the oven and creating roasting hot meals is A Good Thing, conjuring images of log fires, cosy country pubs and steaming hot roast dinners (although, I hold no particular candle for roast dinners, but they do sound homely).
This left me with the question of how to create a lunch that’s not heavy and stodgy, i.e. ‘saladesque’, but with a hot, wintery front. In stepped roast vegetables. Lots and lots of hot roast vegetables, especially those ones where you’ve thrown caution to the wind and cooked them on the oven’s top temperature, embracing the high heat, reduced cooking times and sweet crispy edges that come with it. Small chunks of vegetables are just made for this treatment, as they don’t need the protracted, long, slow cooking times that large chunks of meat need for the heat to penetrate to the core of their mass. You can just chop things up, lob them in and wait until they’ve reached the desired level of crispy burntness.
There was a column in The Guardian by chef and blogger Ed Smith not too long ago where he commented that restaurant chefs have the confidence to burn things and we should too. It’s very true, because the disastrous levels of burnt where it’s all got to go in the bin are only achieved by long periods of concerted ignorance on the part of the cook. Like when I put some potatoes on the hob to cook for lunch and promptly fell asleep on the sofa for an hour, I returned to find a blackened pan. If you’re even vaguely keeping an eye on it, then you’re unlikely to ever find yourself in that scenario.
Roasted vegetables with crispy edges are one of the easiest things to start burning. You only have to do two things; check them periodically and turn them occasionally. You check them to decide when they’ve reached your desired level of burntness and because they’re going to darken on top first, it’s easy to see how they’re progressing. You need to turn them occasionally because if you don’t, they’ll probably stick to the pan and will cook unevenly. In the instance of a recipe such as this, you don’t have much to worry about going wrong, so throw caution to the wind and keep going, you can easily whip a chunk of veg out of the oven and taste it to check.
Charred roasted roots & spinach hot winter salad
By Gavin Wren
Uses a roasting tin
300g carrots, peeled and cubed into 1cm pieces
250g sweet potato, skin left on, cubed into 1cm pieces
300g swede, peeled and cubed into 1cm pieces
1 red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
100g baby spinach leaves
A small handful dill fronds
2 tablespoons chopped mint
25g sunflower seeds
15g pumpkin seeds
15g pine nuts
0.5 lemon, juice only
1 tablespoon chilli oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Place the carrots, sweet potato, swede, red onion, garlic and 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a roasting tin and give them a really good mix around, making sure that the garlic is evenly spread around and all the vegetables are coated in oil on all sides.
Place in the oven for 15 minutes then use a spatula to loosen them all off the bottom of the pan and turn them. Cook for another 15 minutes then check and turn again, but be careful, because they’ll have softened and start to stick now. From now on, cook for 5 minutes at a time, checking (but not turning) regularly and remove when suitably burned on the edges. I found about 40 minutes was good in my oven, however your oven may differ.
In a large salad bowl, place the spinach, dill, mint, seeds and nuts and mix them all together. When the veggies are cooked, add them to this bowl, plus the remaining oils and squeeze the lemon juice over the top, mix it thoroughly then serve immediately.