On frazzled days, one way to save time when making dinner is to put food in the oven and pretty much forget about it until it’s done. Many vegetables respond beautifully to this treatment, especially if flavored a little. I have a large clay Spanish cazuela about 14″ in diameter that I use for these impromptu roasts because I’m convinced that the clay improves the flavor, but you can use your standard 9X13 pan if you prefer. I am using a lot of sweet potatoes right now because I dug a lot of them recently, but I’ll include suggestions for substitutions. The idea is to use what you have and like.
You will need:
for the vegetables: 4 medium/large sweet potatoes cut in 1″ chunks (I scrub them well and leave the peel on), or a medium-sized winter squash peeled and cubed, or 6 large carrots scrubbed well and cut in 1/2″ chunks, or some combination of the above. I used sweet potatoes.
For the greens: 1 bunch of kale cleaned and cut in 1″ slices crosswise, or half a small green or red cabbage cut in thin slices, or 3/4 pound of sturdy leafy greens cleaned and cut in 1″ slices, to total about 3/4 pound. I used half Tuscan kale and half sliced green cabbage.
For the seasoning:
a handful of bacon, bacon ends, or pancetta, cut in little cubes. I used the tail end of a bacon slab.
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of Korean gochujang paste (see below) or a teaspoon of Tabasco or other red chili sauce, or a teaspoon of red pepper flakes
about half a teaspoon of salt, or to taste
1/2 cup good stock or water
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare the vegetables and toss them in the cazuela or pan. Mix the seasoning ingredients and pour over the vegetables, tossing with your hands to distribute. Try to end up with the chunky stuff mostly on top and the green stuff mostly on the bottom. Put the cazuela in the oven. Half an hour later turn the veggies with a spatula, and if the bottom seems dry and things are starting to stick, add a little more stock or water. Again, try to keep the greens mostly below the other stuff, where they won’t dry out. After an hour, check the vegetables for doneness. You don’t want them crisp for this dish; they need to be cooked through, a little soft, and well impregnated with the seasoning ingredients. When done, drizzle a tablespoon or so of your best olive oil over all, bring to the table in the cazuela, and eat with a crusty baguette or toasted whole-wheat bread, as you prefer. It couldn’t be easier or healthier.
You can leave out the bacon or pancetta and have a vegan/vegetarian meal. I don’t recommend it, because the pork has a wonderful alchemy with the sweet winter vegetables and the chili paste, and creates a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.
Now and then we find an ingredient that represents the Platonic ideal of its kind. For me, the Korean chili paste gochujang is the seventh heaven of the chile pepper. There is nothing quite like its deep, intense, fermented flavor, unctuous texture, and exquisite mahogany color, and it has a special affinity with pork and a thousand uses outside of traditional Korean cooking. These days the only gochujang that I will use is the one from Mother-in-law’s Kimchee, which does have some sugar in it but no high-fructose corn syrup and is properly fermented and deep and delicious. If it isn’t available in your area, you can order it online. I like the original one, called “concentrated” on the label.
I talk a lot about making dietary and lifestyle changes slowly and one at a time. This is a great time to start thinking about eating more green leafy vegetables. Salads are great, but cold weather is a perfect time to incorporate more cooked greens as main dishes, side dishes, or soups. If you garden, kale and cabbage will help get you through the winter. If you forage, dock, chicory, and dandelion greens are among the few wild foods available in winter in our area (plan to mix them with milder greens from the garden or store.) If you buy at the store, Tuscan kale is everywhere, and since there is no better leafy green, go for it. I do recommend sticking to organic greens wherever possible. If you always have garlic, olive oil, and a little good bacon or pancetta in the house you are always ready to make a lovely dish of saute’ed greens, and there are lots of variations. Check out my “greens” category on this blog for more recipes. I know I have said this before, but I’ll keep saying it: don’t undercook them. The thicker tougher greens like curly kale are acutely unpleasant to eat when undercooked and tough, so taste before sending to the table, and if chewing requires a ruminant level of effort, cook five minutes longer and taste again. Mark Bittman is now galaxy-famous as the author of many authoritative cookbooks, but few people are aware that his first effort was a little gem called “Leafy Greens.” You can still find it second-hand, and it’s worth tracking down. Read it and use it, and your family’s health will benefit.