You can roast rather than boil

You can roast rather than boil

I have to credit cookbook author and television host Ina Garten with sharing something that has changed the way we cook many things at our house: roast, rather than boil. It makes an enormous difference in flavor and color preservation and can be applied to most things you would normally cook in hot water.

You’ll need sheet pans to do this, so there’s plenty of room for everything to roast properly. If you use a casserole dish, your food will steam and get mushy, rather than coming out browned and delicious. For the same reason, leave the pan uncovered while cooking.

If you’re making something that needs precooked chicken, like chicken salad or soup, roast it first, on the bone and with the skin.

Drizzle chicken breasts with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and slide them into the oven at 375 F for 30-40 minutes. Let them rest and cool before removing the skin and bones and cubing or shredding. The chicken will remain moist and flavorful, whereas boiling can actually cause it to become easily overcooked and dry.

I don’t think I’ll ever boil shrimp for shrimp cocktail again, as oven roasting them is easier and tastier. Spread large shrimp out on a baking sheet in a single layer, douse with olive oil, salt and pepper and Old Bay seasoning if you like, and roast them for about eight to 10 minutes at 400 F. Allow them to cool and serve with cocktail sauce.

The same trick applies to vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, potatoes of all kinds, squash and beets are transformed by this cooking method. It’s the same olive oil, salt and pepper prep for everything.

Roasting potatoes to mash or for soup adds a further layer of flavor. The firmer the vegetable, the longer cooking time it will need. At 400 F, start checking the broccoli and cauliflower after about 12 minutes. Cubed potatoes, parsnips and the like will need about 40-45 minutes.

As long as they’re spread out without crowding, you can throw several kinds of vegetables in at staggered times and let the oven do the work of preparing a side dish of veggies for you. It’s an easier job than blanching in boiling water, shocking in ice water, draining and finishing.

Start with potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots or parsnips. Once they’ve begun to soften, add broccoli or cauliflower to the pan. After that comes tomatoes, onions or green peppers. Finally, you can roast greens like kale in the last five minutes or so.

The most important thing is to cut each vegetable to the same size so they cook at the same rate. You want the end product to be tender and very slightly browned. Give things a stir about midway through the cooking time.

Here’s Ina Garten’s recipe for roasted leek and potato soup:

ROASTED LEEK AND POTATO SOUP

Servings: 8

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed

4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts

1/4 cup olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper

3 cups arugula

1/2 cup dry white wine

6 cups chicken stock

3/4 cup heavy cream

8 ounces sour cream

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 F. Spread the leeks and potatoes out on a baking sheet in one layer. Add olive oil, one teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast until tender, about 40 minutes, stirring twice during cooking. Add the arugula and cook a further 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and add 1/4 cup of the wine, scraping up any browned bits.

In batches, puree the vegetables with some of the chicken stock and the liquid from the pan. Transfer the puree to a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven and add the remaining stock to make a thick soup. Add the cream and sour cream, then whisk in the remaining wine and Parmesan. Serve hot.