VEGGIES often get a hard time but there’s an easy way to transform them into nuggets of melt-in-your-mouth sweetness when you have a little time on your hands by simply roasting them. Full of Autumn colours, roasted veggies are about to take over from Summer salads, and Chef Gareth Mason explains why and shares a great Autumn recipe with us.
It’s a no-fuss way to transform pretty much all veggies into more complex and intensely flavoured versions of their fresh selves. In fact, with the right recipe, the humble roasted vegetable can even break the internet, like the one we have for you below.
Many agree that roasting is a tastier way to receive the benefits of all that plant power. Though dry-roasting veggies does not greatly impact their nutrition counts, it’s true that some nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes may diminish in any heating process — but roasting is still considered a better cooking option to keep them intact than, say, boiling. In the case of carrots, cooking actually promotes the body’s better absorption of their health-boosting carotenoids.
But, let’s face it, most people simply crave the much-improved flavour that comes from roasting vegetables. In the oven, they develop a sweet, nutty, toasty flavour, with lightly browned, crispy skins surrounding tender, honeyed flesh. And it turns out that there is a specific science behind their more concentrated, sweeter flavours.
In essence, roasted vegetables’ enhanced sweetness emerges from the caramelization process. Chef Gareth Mason, from Manchester, Group Executive for Retreat Restaurant’s & owner of Next Level Events & Private dining, explains that a dry-heat cooking method like roasting brings out vegetables’ natural sugars, ultimately unleashing hundreds of new aromatic compounds that offer up a feast of deeper flavours.
But, for true cooking nerds, things can get pretty complex as Chef Mason explains, “The caramelization describes sugar’s oxidation, which is a type of non-enzymatic browning reaction that creates nutty flavour and brown colour as volatile chemicals are released, producing the characteristic caramel flavour. During the cooking process, water releases from the vegetables in the form of steam, and sugars break down.”
“The caramelization process shouldn’t be confused with the Maillard Reaction, which also creates a browning effect but is related instead to the breaking down of proteins — you’ll witness this reaction when grilling a steak or toasting bread.”
Chef Mason adds, “Different sugars caramelize under certain temperatures. For sucrose and glucose, that’s about 160 degrees Celsius, while fructose requires 110 degrees Celsius. And, though roasting can improve almost any vegetable’s flavour, the best candidates for caramelization are sugar-rich, low-acid veggies, like carrots and onions.”
Full of Autumn colours, roasted veggies are about to take over from Summer salads, but before we get into the serious stew and winter warmer season why not try the recipe below from Chef Mason, Beetroot Gnocchi with caramelized onions and goats cheese.
For the Gnocchi
½ cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/4 cup flour
½ tsp pepper
2 tbs olive oil
For the toppings
2 white onions sliced into ¼ inch strips
2 tbs unsalted butter
¼ cup balsamic
2 tbs honesy
2 cups arugula
3 oz goats cheese
1/2 cup of creme fraiche
2 cloves of garlic
First up preheat your oven to 205 centigrade, give your beets a good scrub before tossing in a dash of olive oil and roasting for about an hour until tender along with your garlic cloves.
Whilst they’re roasting begin caramelizing your onions, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add your onions, stir every 5-10 mins to coat for about 45 minutes, be sure to scrape the pan to keep all the sweet sticky goodness.
Once caramelized deglaze the pan with red wine vinegar scape one last time and cover and set aside to keep warm
Remove your beets keeping the garlic separate and puree them in a blender until smooth, you need just ½ cup so the rest can be saved in the freezer for next time.
In a bowl mix, your puree, ricotta, parmesan, egg, lemon zest, salt and pepper, mix together and gradually add flour stirring gently to combine.
Once you have your dough roll out into a long sausage and cut into 1inch pieces.
Gently fry your gnocchi in small batches in a touch of olive oil for 1-2 minutes each side.
Then it’s just a case of putting everything together blitz your garlic into your creme fraiche and heat over low heat, whisk up your balsamic and honey over medium-high heat until syrupy then top gnocchi with onions arugula and crumbled goats cheese, pour on your sauce and drizzled with your sweet syrup reduction and enjoy.
Seriously simple but mega impressive and full of earthy roasted veg flavour.