When autumn's chill sets in, get out the roasting pan

The Baltimore Sun

Autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the changing leaves, the cool temperatures, decorating with pumpkins and having a wide variety of vegetables in season.

Root vegetables like squash, rutabagas, turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes and beets are all at their peak now. They not only are plentiful, but are powerhouses of nutrients.

Take beets, for instance. They are loaded with iron, potassium, calcium and zinc. I know beets don't make it on most lists of favorite foods, but I grew up eating them.

My mother made a simple pickled beet-and-onions dish that kept in the refrigerator. She would first boil the beets, meticulously cut them into uniform slices, then carefully put them in a Mason jar with slices of yellow onion. Afterward, she filled the jar with a sugar/vinegar mixture. I loved the crunch of the onions and the sweet, tangy flavor of the beets.

While I still love pickled beets, this time of year my favorite way to prepare them is to roast them.

It's so easy, and the results are delicious. Just scrub the beets, dry them, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with some kosher salt and pop them in the oven. The color deepens to a rich, ruby red, and they are sweeter than you ever imagined a beet could taste.

You'll discover that same sweetness when you roast other root vegetables because they are higher in sugar than other vegetables.

The health advantage to roasting is that it is basically a dry-heat cooking method. No water is used, so there is no loss of nutrients. The beauty is these veggies can be eaten hot from the oven or at room temperature. When the veggies are served together on a platter, they make a beautiful presentation.

This dish goes well with any simple roasted meat, such as chicken. Just remember to keep it simple. No gravies or sauces or elaborate ingredients.

I am offering one of my favorite roast-chicken recipes, which uses just five ingredients. How simple is that?

Just remember to make sure the bird is perfectly dry, on the outside and inside, before you put it in the oven. Any added water will cause the chicken to steam rather than roast - a good tip to remember whether you're roasting meat or vegetables.

Roasted root vegetables and a simple roasted chicken - a scrumptious homage to the flavors and colors of fall.

Sandra Pinckney, a former host of "Food Finds" on the Food Network, is now a contributor to "Daily Cafe" on Retirement Living TV, a Comcast Network channel for baby boomers.

roasted beets

(serves 4 to 6)

1 pound medium beets, scrubbed and dried (leave the tails and 1/2 inch of the tops intact)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Toss beets with the oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place on a sheet of aluminum foil. Fold aluminum foil up to enclose the beets in a little pouch. Place on a small baking sheet or pan and roast for about 45 minutes, until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife.

Remove from oven and let sit until no longer hot to the touch. Rub off skins and cut the beets into wedges.

Enjoy alone or add to other root vegetables for a colorful platter.

Per serving (based on 6 servings): : 42 calories, 1 gram protein, 2 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 5 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 136 milligrams sodium

Analysis by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.

roasted root vegetables

(serves 6)

1 large butternut squash (halved, seeded and peeled), cut into 3-by-1-inch pieces

3 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and cut lengthwise into 1/2 -inch-thick slices

2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into eighths

2 medium onions, peeled and cut into quarters (leave root end intact)

4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths (cut thickest pieces in half lengthwise)

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3-by-1-inch pieces

1 head of garlic (cloves separated and peeled, about 16 pieces)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (divided use), plus more for baking sheets

kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

6 fresh rosemary sprigs (divided use)

Place 2 baking sheets in the oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place cut vegetables, except for sweet potatoes, on a large platter. Toss with garlic cloves, about 1/4 cup of the olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Carefully remove baking sheets from oven and drizzle with olive oil. Divide the vegetables between the 2 sheets. Spread them out. Break up 4 rosemary sprigs and sprinkle on each pan of vegetables. Place both pans in the oven.

In a bowl, drizzle sweet potatoes with remaining oil, salt and pepper.

After 15 minutes, carefully remove baking pans from the oven. Divide sweet potatoes between the two pans. Stir to mix in.

Return pans to oven. Continue roasting vegetables until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally to make sure they evenly roast.

This should take an additional 45 minutes to 1 hour. Pour cooked vegetables onto a serving platter. Correct seasoning. Garnish with remaining rosemary sprigs. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Per serving: : 436 calories, 7 grams protein, 18 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 67 grams carbohydrate, 12 grams fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 105 milligrams sodium

Analysis provided by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.

my favorite roast chicken

(serves 6)

one 2- to 3-pound kosher or organic chicken

sprigs of fresh thyme

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well.

Carefully separate the skin from the breast and slide sprigs of fresh thyme inside. Salt and pepper the cavity.

Generously sprinkle salt over the bird, making a thin uniform coating. This will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin.

Roast in a saute or roasting pan about 1 hour or until juices run clear. Remove from oven and place on a platter.

Add butter to the juices in the roasting pan and baste the chicken with the mixture.

Let chicken rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Per serving:: 209 calories, 19 grams protein, 14 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 70 milligrams cholesterol, 833 milligrams sodium

Analysis by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.

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