Roasting Summer Vegetables

The beets, fennel, turnips, and onions that I planted in April and May are ready to harvest, creating a beautiful still life as I pile them into my garden basket.  They’d make a great centerpiece, but tempted as I am simply to admire this produce, I’m more tempted to cook it.  Roasting is a perfect way to enjoy the beauty of these vegetables but eat them too.

Part of the pleasure of roasting vegetables is arranging them in oven dishes.  Over the years, I’ve bought several pieces of clay cookware, mostly from The Spanish Table:  The round or rectangular shallow dishes called cazuelas and the deeper casseroles called cocotes are sturdy and reasonably priced, go from oven to table and can even be used on a stovetop gas flame.  Many also come with lids.  And their pretty terra cotta color is a perfect background for jewel-toned vegetables.

Purplette onions halved or quartered make a pretty pinwheel in a shallow round cazuela.  White spring turnips trimmed to leave some green stem then cut in quarters and fennel sliced lengthwise to reveal green and white cross sections both create lovely patterns against rectangular cazuelas.  And red and golden beets are gorgeous against the terra cotta.

After admiring the onions, turnips and fennel, I brush them lightly with olive oil, sprinkle on a little salt and put them, uncovered, in a hot oven, 425 or so.  I usually cover the beets, either with a lid or foil. Sometimes I’ll add a little olive oil to keep the beets from sticking or I’ll add a half-inch of water to the dish so the beets actually steam instead of roasting.  The onions, turnips and fennel are caramelized and soft in twenty to thirty minutes and the beets, depending in size, take anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour.

Roasting mutes the vibrant tones of raw vegetables, browning the edges and crisping the stems, but the trade-offs are sweet fragrances and the promise of intense flavors.  If I’m having a party, I’ll roughly chop the beets, return them to the cazuela and dress them with a little olive oil or vinaigrette and then lay out all these pretty dishes so people can create their own roasted vegetable designs on their plates.  If no company’s coming, Scott and I look forward to several days of roasted vegetables arranged in many ways.

For this last batch of roasted vegetables, I used some of the beets to make beet hummus, a favorite way to use roasted beets: We ate the turnips right away.  The next night, I tossed the rest of the beets with fresh radicchio and added some of the roasted onions and fennel for a hearty salad and a few days later mixed the remaining fennel and onions with sliced radishes for another salad. Roasted and soft, raw and crisp, they were all beautiful and delicious celebrations of summer’s bounty.