Happy November! It’s the day after Halloween and I hope yours was spooktacularly full of fun and sweet treats. And if you indulged – or even overindulged a bit – you may be looking for something to prepare today that is healthy (it’s all about the balance) but also flavorful. I’ve got something that will hit the spot: roasted vegetables. They sound so simple and plain, but don’t be deceived; they are delicious!
If you’ve been reading my blog for the last couple of months you know that I’ve had the privilege of making some great new friends at Melissa’s Produce, who have been most generous with opportunities to taste and cook with their produce, review two of their cookbooks and attend fantastic food and book events. Most recently I was able to be part of two events that were informational, inspirational, and just plain fun.
The first was a presentation on Cooking Techniques and Recipes with Olive Oil with authors Mary Platis of California Greek Girl and Laura Bashar of Family Spice. George Menzelos of arianna trading company was also there, and together they shared a wealth of information about olive oils, its uses, history, how to shop for and cook with it.
The second was the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2014, a huge produce show with hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of attendees from around the world. Exhibitors (like Melissa’s Produce!) shared beautiful displays, samples of every kind of produce and products that compliment produce, and ideas galore. Before going into the expo, we were treated to a talk on new trends in produce by our food guru at Melissa’s, Robert Schueller.
We got a sneak peek at the delicious products coming from Melissa’s – from new produce varieties like the Carolina Reaper, the new hottest chile pepper you can find (move over Scorpion, there’s a new Sheriff in town!), to Clean Snax (Almond, Coconut, Pumpkin and Cranberry) – gluten-free, bite-size squares sweetened with honey, accented with chia and flaxseed, and more.
The most important thing I gleaned from my experiences at these two events is the reinforcement of my belief that the best and freshest products make the best dishes, and they can be made simply. One of the dishes cooked at the olive oil event was a huge platter of gorgeous baby carrots that had been tossed in extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, then roasted and topped with a sprinkling of fresh thyme. I could have eaten those carrots all day, they were that good.
This makes me smile, because as a little girl I couldn’t stand cooked carrots…well, most vegetables, really, but especially cooked carrots. Remember how everyone would boil them until they were almost mush and had no flavor left? I would sit at the table, chewing and chewing…and chewing some more, before sort of choking them down. (I’m told that there was one especially lengthy dinner where I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until I finished my carrots; after that night my Gramma Omi never made them again when I was there.) What a shame we didn’t know about roasting vegetables then ~ dinners would have been much easier – and tastier – for sure.
Roasting vegetables that have been simply tossed in extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt, pepper and spices brings out their natural sweetness, and their slightly crispy, caramelized outer skin adds even more deliciousness. As part of salads, side dishes to main meals, or appetizers, roasted vegetables are a wonderful accompaniment to just about any dish. I even eat them as a snack. So, for this post, although it seems so very simple, I wanted to share a basic recipe for roasted vegetables (and you can even roast fruits this way) that will come in handy whenever you want something nutritious and easy that also offers amazing flavor.
We learned so much about olive oil – extra virgin olive oil, to be exact – at the cooking event. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans have been using olives and olive oil for thousands of years. Spain is the largest producer of olive oil, but it can be found all over the world; in fact several states (CA, TX, AZ, GA, OR) are some of the fastest growing producers. Olive oil is a good fat, like that found in avocados and nuts; it contains antioxidants and polyphenols that help us to stay healthy. When shopping for olive oil, don’t go by the “Best used by” date. Rather, look for a “Harvest Date” on the label (this can be tricky because there isn’t a standard place where all manufacturers put it). If it’s 12-18 months after that date when you’re looking at the bottle, don’t buy it – the antioxidants and polyphenols won’t be active anymore. When you purchase olive oil, unless you’re a big restaurant, buy in small quantities and store in your cupboard, away from heat and light. This will help keep it fresh and you’ll use it up before it has a chance to spoil.
Olive oils taste different depending on when they are harvested – and the color is different too, because of the level of ripeness of the olives when they are harvested. Cooking Techniques and Recipes with Olive Oil gives a great primer on olive oil production and harvesting, as well as tasting tips. We sampled three oils from different seasons and it was really interesting to taste the subtle differences in the products. Winter harvest olive oil is mellow and mild, excellent for soups, stews and braises.
In the spring, the oil tastes “grassy”, light and smooth. It’s excellent for using with fish – you can even poach in olive oil; there is an entire chapter in Mary and Laura’s book that tells you how and provides delicious recipes. Fall provides the main olive oil crop, and it’s when the oil has the highest levels of those important antioxidants and polyphenols. It has the strongest flavor, and is also excellent for braises and meats – it’s not the most popular variety here in the US because our palates are more accustomed to the milder harvests. (If your olive oil has a metallic taste, it’s rancid and should not be used.)
After learning so much about olive oils, and eating the wonderful dishes that were prepared with them – including those roasted baby carrots with fresh thyme – it was a great experience to attend the PMA Fresh Summit and see the fantastic displays of fresh produce, talk with so many people about cooking with their crops and products and go home with resources galore.
The highlight of the day was attending Robert Schueller’s presentation on New Trends in Produce, where we were introduced to all the wonderful new products coming from Melissa’s Produce. Watch for them in your favorite stores (or check Melissa’s website) in the coming months.
There are new additions and new packaging for their line of steamed vegetables, including French Style Cubed Beets in Balsamic Vinegar, Peeled White Potatoes and Garbanzo Beans (great for making your own hummus!).
There are the Clean Snax I mentioned before, so tasty and all-natural, packed with nutrient-rich chia and flaxseed and using honey to sweeten (no high-fructose corn syrup). Look fo them in the produce section of your store with the dried products.
If you like spice, you’re in luck; Hatch Chile, Tomato Habanero, Jalapeno and Tomatillo Salsas are coming your way! New fresh items include Candy Sweet and Christmas Crunch Grapes (so juicy and sweet), Mangosteens from Mexico, Kale Sprouts, Baby Brussels Sprouts, Butterkin Squash (what you get when you cross a pumpkin and a butternut squash), and again for you heat-seeking foodies, a new chile king is coming your way next summer: the Carolina Reaper, coming in at a whopping 2.2 million Scoville Units. (If you try them be sure to let me know how that goes for you – I’m not quite that daring!)
On the heels of the wonderful Melissa’s The Great Pepper Cookbook, (which I reviewed with my fellow Inland Empire Food Bloggers earlier this year), Melissa’s DYP’s: The Perfect Everyday Potato Cookbook will be out in November. I got a sneak peek at the book while at Fresh Summit and of course, it’s chock full of fabulous recipes that make the best use of Dutch Yellow Potatoes (get them from Melissa’s either raw or peeled and steamed) in both standard and innovative ways. I can’t wait to add it to my cookbook collection!
I had so much fun at these events! I love being able to meet people who are as passionate about food as I am, to learn and come away with new ideas and so much inspiration, and to share all of it with you. Enjoy this simple recipe for preparing roasted vegetables; remember that the beauty of food is how delicious it can be, whether prepared with many steps and ingredients, or with just a few. As Curnonsky (known as The Prince of Gastronomy in France) said, “La cuisine, c’est quand les choses ont le gout de ce qu’elles sont” ~ “Fine cooking is when the things you have cooked taste as they are.” Bon appetit!
- 8-9 carrots, washed and peeled
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- ½ tsp. Kosher Salt
- ⅛ tsp. freshly cracked pepper
- 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme
- Preheat your oven to 425F - or, if you have a convection setting, set it to convection roast at 400F.
- Line a baking sheet with heavy duty foil.
- Cut the carrots into matchsticks and place on the baking sheet.
- sprinkle with the Kosher Salt and pepper.
- Toss with clean hands (your best utensils!).
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Turn the carrots with a spatula and bake another 5-10 minutes, until carrots are tender and browning.
- Remove from the oven and toss with the fresh thyme.
- Serve and Enjoy!
Note: Melissa’s Produce hosted me at the Cooking Techniques and Recipes with Olive Oil and PMA Fresh Summit events, and supplied the produce and cookbook for these recipes. I was not compensated in any other way, and all the opinions expressed here are mine.