September 25, 2009

Roasted Root Vegetables with Chicken

Root vegetables are hearty, nutritious, cheap as the dirt they're dug out of, and totally delicious. I am looking forward to experimenting with more root veggies (which are, more accurately, starches) and part of that experimentation was last night's supper.

Inarguably, the best way to sample the best possible taste of a root vegetable is to first taste it roasted and simply seasoned. The sugars in the starch caramelize and sweeten, and the vegetables become dark and golden on the outside, soft in the inside. By seasoning with only olive oil, salt, and pepper, you get to taste the real flavor the vegetable, rather than the herbs or seasonings you've added to them.

For this particular experiment, I went with a pretty simple array of veggies:

3 large Yukon Gold potatoes
3 small turnips
1 really massive parsnip
1/2 large onion
3 cloves of garlic, minced well.

Preheat your oven at 400 degrees.

To get started, give your vegetables a really thorough wash. Remember: these are roots, so expect soil to be basically ground into the flesh.

This parsnip is a monster. Here's Justin displaying its accessory possibilities:

Cut your vegetables really simply. Aim for them being basically the same size, so that they'll cook evenly. I didn't take photos of the cuts I used, but here's a rundown:

Cut off the tops of your turnips. Cut them across the top, through the middle. For very small turnips, just pop them into the pan as is. For large turnips, cut them again into quarters. For the parsnip, I cut off the top, sliced it very thickly (at least an inch thick) cut the top slices into halves, and left the narrow slices whole. For the potatoes, cut once across the width of the potato, then quarter each half. The onion was thickly sliced and the garlic was pretty standardly minced.

Once in the roasting pan, I LIBERALLY coated the vegetables with olive oil. This will keep your roots well lubricated against the pan, resisting sticking, and adds some really nice moisture while its baking. Onto that, I added salt and pepper.

Mix it all together really well so that each piece of food has plenty of oil and seasoning.

I covered the pan with foil to keep the steam in and to keep the veggies from browning too much and popped them in the oven for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, take the foil off, give the veggies a stir, and bake for 15 more minutes.

10 minutes before the roots were done, I added eight spears of asparagus with a touch of olive oil for those. Once they were done, I took the pan out of the oven and covered it with foil to rest. Freshly roasted veggies straight out of the oven are starchy napalm. Let them cool for a bit.

Now, for the chicken and pan sauce. I went simple for this, as well.

One chicken breast (for two people)
Olive oil
1-2c Chicken stock
1/2t Corn starch
1t dried parsley (or fresh pesto)

I cut the chicken breast in half to serve both me and Justin. Smother it with pepper and a bit of salt on both sides. Add some olive oil to a pan and get that sucker on the stove on medium heat. Let it brown for a few minutes and make sure to let a lot of delicious browned goodness gather up on the bottom of the pan, which means that you DON'T want to use a nonstick pan. Use a stainless steel pan for this, always always always. Your tongue will love you forever.

(I slashed the chicken at the thickest part before cooking so that I could get more salt and pepper onto it. Mostly pepper. God, I love pepper.) Also, it helps the chicken cook a hair faster, since there's more of the flesh exposed to heat.

Take the chicken out of the pan once its cooked and let it rest to redistribute the juices.

Add your stock to the pan and get all that crispy brown flavor mixed in. It's also a GREAT way to get your pan nice and clean. This is called "deglazing" and it's a delicious thing to do.

Jack the heat up to high and let it come to a boil. While it's boiling, make a slurry with corn starch. Just spoon some of the stock into a bowl with corn starch in it and mix it well. Add this mixture to your pan stock. Making the slurry first ensures that your corn starch doesn't clump up and will give you a smooth, shiny stock. You can do this will a beurre blanc (butter mixed with flour, uncooked) a roux (butter mixed with flour, cooked) or a slurry of flour, as well. Corn starch is flavorless and more absorbent than flour, so I like using that.

Let it thicken for a few minutes and reduce, still at a boil, and add some dried parsley or some pesto to your sauce just before serving.

Plate up, fool! Get spoonfuls of that pan sauce over your chicken and vegetables and enjoy some totally awesome, quite economical, food.

Oh, yeah... That's some deliciousness right there.

P.S. Turns out, turnips are kind of bitter and not my favorite. They're okay, but not great. Parsnips, however? OH MY GOD. They're SO delicious! They're like sweet plantains! It's amazing! I'm in love! MORE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!

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