Getting back to my roots… root vegetables, that is

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche

“What are you going to write about this week?” asked my husband.

“Root vegetables.” I replied.

With a turned-up nose, he asked, “Root vegetables? In the springtime?”

I’ll admit, at first thought, root vegetables conjured up an image of crisp fall days with a pan of these underground vegetables roasting in the oven.

In reality, we eat root vegetables nearly every day. Some examples of root vegetables are potatoes, yams, beets, turnips, carrots, onions, garlic, horseradish, radishes, and ginger, just to name a few.

Roots have been shown to be some of the most nutrient-rich vegetables grown. Each root vegetable has its own list of health benefits, but they all share one common characteristic – they are grown underground.

Since they grow underground, they absorb a large amount of nutrients from the soil, and are excellent sources of highly concentrated antioxidants, Vitamins C, B and A as well as iron. Full of fiber and slow-burning carbohydrates to make you feel full, they also help regulate blood sugar levels and aid in keeping our digestive systems in good shape.
When you’re buying root vegetables, keep in mind that you’re looking for the hardest veggies you can find in the bin, without cuts or bruises. If you’re buying beets or any other root that comes with leafy greens, make sure the stems and leaves and firm and healthy. You can cook the greens and stems, too… I like to chop and sauté them with olive oil, garlic and a little onion. Throw in some bacon grease and the flavor is taken to another level, not to mention you have no waste factor.
Store your root vegetables in a cool, dark space. If you store them in the fridge, be sure they’re in a paper or plastic bag in the crisper. Left uncovered, they go bad too soon.

You can easily start your own root vegetable garden from leftover carrot tops, onion roots, and old potatoes with the funky little sprouts growing from them (also called “eyes”), or any other root veggie you have. I take fresh garlic cloves that have passed their peak freshness and start sprouting little green things, and stick them in dirt. Add some water and sunshine, and they’ll start to grow in just a few days.

The garlic will eventually grow a large, round flower that is made up of hundreds of little flowers… you can use those garlicky little blooms in your cooking. After the big flower blooms, gently pull it from the ground to reveal a clove of garlic you grew yourself! Each clove leaves behind a smaller clove that will continue growing for the next season. I stuck some old garlic cloves in a pot just last week, and they’ve already sprouted four inches.


Lucky for us, root vegetables are available year-round, although peak season for many of them is fall through spring. Roasting roots changes the flavor and adds a touch of sweetness to the vegetable.

Lately, I’ve gotten into the habit of chopping up carrots, onions, potatoes and yams, roughly the same size, tossing them with freshly minced garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and roasting them in the biggest pan I can fit in the oven. They are delicious as a side dish with lunch or dinner, served with eggs, or even used in tacos.

The last time I made a big pan of roasted root vegetables, I threw in some beets and radishes from the crisper. I loved the extra flavors added by the beets and radishes. Mr. Johns wasn’t a huge fan – but he also doesn’t love beets and radishes like I do. I’ve also taken to tossing my seasoned chicken pieces on top and roasting the meat and veggies for a delicious one pan meal.




My One Pan Roasted Roots and Chicken

(While there are many recipes out there for root veggies and chicken one-pan dishes, lots of them call for Brussels sprouts. I am the only person at our table that likes the little sprouts, so we omit that. They’re not roots, anyway!)

 

1 small white onion, chopped

4 Russet potatoes (baking size), unpeeled, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces, thick ends halved lengthwise

6-8 whole radishes

1-2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 beet, cut into 1-inch pieces

Note: Or use any combo of chopped roots you have available – just make sure it’s enough to fill a one-gallon zip-top bag.

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil

6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, or a handful sprigs of fresh thyme

3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, leaves only; split

3½ pounds bone-in, skin on chicken pieces (breasts, drumsticks and thighs)

salt and pepper

 

Place onion, potatoes, carrots, radishes, beets, whatever roots you chopped up along with 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, 2 teaspoons thyme leaves and 1 teaspoon rosemary in 1-gallon zip-top bag. Press out the air and seal; toss to coat.

Place the chicken, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, remaining 2 teaspoons thyme, remaining 1 teaspoon rosemary, salt and pepper in a separate 1-gallon zip top bag. Press out the air and seal; toss to coat.

Adjust the oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 475 degrees. Spread vegetables in a single layer in rimmed baking sheet, discarding any excess liquid and arranging Brussels sprouts in center and potatoes and carrots along the outside. Season vegetables with more salt and pepper if desired.

Place chicken skin-side up on top of vegetables, arranging breast pieces in the center and leg and thigh pieces around the perimeter of the sheet. Bake chicken until breasts are 160 degrees and drumsticks and thighs are 175 degrees, for about 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through baking.

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. If you want, return vegetables to oven and continue to bake until lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Toss the vegetables with the chicken “juice” in the pan, and transfer to platter with chicken.

Another note: You can refrigerate the chicken and veggies in the bags up to 24 hours before cooking, just be sure and flip the bag a couple times for even marinating.

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