"Dirt Candy" Sweet, Slow Roasted Vegetables
"Dirt Candy" is my name for slow roasted vegetables, preferably root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and beets. In this recipe, "slow roasted" refers to the long roasting time in the oven, not to using a lower temperature. This cooking method results in a much more intense flavor that's also much sweeter without any added sugar or other sweeteners. Heat helps convert the natural starch in any vegetable to sugar, and the longer roasting time caramelizes that sugar on the surface of the veggies and also causes the pieces to shrink to nearly half their original volume, which really concentrates the flavors. The result tastes almost like candied roasted vegetables—which is why I call them dirt candy.
About the Name
I first heard the term "dirt candy" used to refer to vegetables in general when I watched episode 1108 of Chef Ming Tsai's popular public television cooking program Simply Ming. Chef Ming's guest was New York City chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Amanda Cohen, who explained that she named her acclaimed, multi award winning "upstart vegetarian restaurant" that serves "flavor-forward food" Dirt Candy because she thinks of veggies as "candy from the dirt".
Amanda Cohen's "Dirt Candy" Vegetable Cookbook
Try a few of Amanda Cohen's extraordinary vegetable recipes from her hip and chic Dirt Candy restaurant in Manhattan and you'll understand why she calls veggies "candy from the dirt". Her is probably unlike any other you've ever seen—part cookbook, part comic book-style graphic novel! There's much more in here than just Cohen's fabulous recipes, and what she shares is funny, educational, and fascinating. You'll learn more about vegetables and how to bring out their awesome deliciousness in revolutionary new ways than you could imagine, and enjoy every minute of it. One of my favorites—and I own a LOT of cookbooks! Dirt Candy: A Cookbook
My Inspiration for This Recipe
When I first started making my own oven roasted root vegetables I tried out recipes from several of my favorite Food Network chefs including Giada De Laurentiis, "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten and Wolfgang Puck, but none of them had that intense flavor and natural sweetness I was looking for. And since nearly every recipe for oven roasted vegetables called for them to be roasted in a single layer in shallow rimmed baking pans, I couldn't make enough for several meals at a time.
After reading everything I could on the subject, I finally came across my first clue in a post on The Wednesday Chef blog about how she changed the way she roasts her veggies to create what she considers "The World's Best Roasted Vegetables Ever". Among the key changes were increasing the amount of olive oil, dumping several layers of mixed veggies in a roasting pan rather than putting them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and extending the cooking time.
The idea of extending the roasting time made perfect sense to me, so although I didn't follow her recipe I did lengthen the cooking time for mine (which is so adaptable that it's more of a technique than a recipe, actually). This made a big improvement - but it still didn't produce the concentration of flavor and more caramelized surface I was looking for. So I kept experimenting with the time and temperature. Every time I increased the oven time I also cut the vegetables into larger chunks to allow for the increased shrinkage, since my husband and I both prefer the finished pieces to be roughly 3/4" chunks.
I discovered that a large pan full of roasted root vegetables needs to cook for at least 1 1/2 hours at 375 °F to 400 °F before it turns into what I consider "dirt candy". And when it I does, it's positively ambrosia.
This is one sweet, delicious treat that's actually healthy and nutritious. Enjoy!
"Dirt Candy" Slow Roasted Vegetables Recipe
Prep Time: 15-30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours 15 minutes
Serves: Number of servings depends on quantity of vegetables used and desired serving size
- Good quality olive oil, preferably cold-pressed extra-virgin
- Fresh herbs, preferably organic rosemary and/or thyme (dried herbs may be substituted in a pinch)
- Assorted fresh root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, jicama, preferably organic
- Onions and unpeeled garlic cloves (optional but highly recommended)
- Coarse kosher salt
- Place the oven rack 1/3 the way down from the broiler element and preheat the oven to 375 °F to 400 °F.
- Pour enough good quality olive oil into a 9x13" or 10x14" roasting pan to coat the bottom generously. If you are using dried rather than fresh herbs, rub them between your fingertips over the pan, stir them into the oil and let them infuse the oil for 15-20 minutes (or longer). You also can use purchased herb-infused olive oil if you don't have fresh herbs.
- Wash the root vegetables thoroughly and dry them, but do not peel them. Using a very sharp 8-inch chef's knife, cut more rounded root vegetables like beets, turnips and/or jicama into squarish 1 1/2-inch chunks. For tapered vegetables like carrots and/or parsnips, cut the wide top sections into 1 1/2-inch chunks. As the diameter of the vegetable tapers, cut the rest into longer sections so that all the pieces are similar in volume, despite their different shapes. Toss them into the roasting pan.
- If using onions, cut them into squarish 1-1/2" chunks and add to the roasting pan.
- If using garlic, break apart the cloves but don't peel them. Add to the pan.
- The pan should be filled about 2/3 full of vegetable chunks.
- If using fresh rosemary or thyme, distribute small sprigs evenly throughout the pan,
- Use both hands to "massage" the veggies so every piece is completely coated with a thin film of olive oil.
- Sprinkle a coarse kosher salt liberally over the entire surface and continue the "oil massage" so that the salt is evenly distributed throughout the contents of the pan.
- Roast for 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes, stirring well every 20-25 minutes with a non-stick safe spoon or spatula, until the pieces have shrunk to nearly half their original size and the surface of the veggies is nicely caramelized.
- Cool slightly in the pan and enjoy them warm, room temperature or cold, by themselves or in recipes or salads.
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Use Your Hands to Coat the Root Vegetables With Oil
When making "dirt candy" roasted root veggies, you'll get the best result if you use your hands to "massage" the oil over the vegetables to make sure that every surface of every chunk is coated with a film of it. If doing this with your hands really bothers you, you can wear thin surgical gloves, but I highly recommend "connecting" with your food directly when you cook.
As a bonus, after you wash your hands they will be moisturized, smooth and soft from spending some time covered with olive oil.
Tip: Save the Flavored Olive Oil!
If there's any olive oil left in the roasting pan after the vegetables have been roasted, pour it into a shallow dish and serve it with thick slices of French, Italian or sourdough bread for dipping. Yum!
© 2014 Margaret Schindel