- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

“When in doubt, serve roasted vegetables” is a philosophy I follow when entertaining.

Whether planning the menu for a cooking class or creating one for a dinner party at home, I find it irresistibly easy to pop a medley of seasonal vegetables in the oven and roast them until they’re crisp and golden outside, soft and tender beneath. The appeal is twofold: roasting vegetables brings out their natural sweetness, adding an extra depth of flavor, and the technique is so simple, it’s foolproof.

For a recent class, I was stumped by what sides to serve with an herb-rubbed beef tenderloin. At first, a potato gratin and haricots verts seemed like good accompaniments, but then I realized it would be simpler and more practical to roast an array of delicious produce, including potatoes, to garnish the meat.

It didn’t take long to put together a tempting assortment of carrots, fennel, shallots and baby redskin potatoes. This quartet was tossed with olive oil, then seasoned with salt, pepper and dried thyme. For the best results, I followed my usual guidelines.

All the vegetables were cut into thick slices or wedges because they shrink considerably while in a hot oven. They also were coated well with oil so they didn’t dry out while baking. Finally, every 10 minutes or so, I stirred the wedges and slices with a metal spatula to prevent them from sticking to the pan.

The results were predictably delicious. The class made more of a fuss over the side dish than the beef. When they learned that the vegetables could be roasted several hours in advance, then reheated at serving time, there were more smiles.

This combination of roasted vegetables is quite versatile. Use it as a glorious side not only to roast tenderloin of beef, but also to pan-seared lamb chops, baked ham or roast chicken. Don’t expect any leftovers.

Roasted fennel, carrots, shallots and baby redskins

5 to 6 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for oiling the baking sheet

2 medium fennel bulbs (1½ pounds), halved lengthwise, tough cores removed and halves cut, lengthwise, into ½ inch- thick wedges

1 pound small redskin potatoes (about 2 inches in diameter), scrubbed but not peeled, quartered

½ pound carrots, preferably large carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into ½ inch thick slices

6 medium shallots (about ½ pound), peeled and quartered lengthwise

Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 to 3 fresh thyme sprigs for garnish, optional

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush a large, rimmed baking sheet with enough olive oil to coat lightly.

Arrange fennel in a single layer on a third of the baking sheet, then arrange potatoes in a single layer on another third.

Finally, arrange the carrots and shallots in a single layer on the remaining third of the sheet.

Drizzle all vegetables with 5 tablespoons olive oil and toss them lightly to insure that they are coated on all sides with oil. If needed, toss with an additional tablespoon of olive oil. Season vegetables with 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and the dried thyme.

Roast vegetables until they are tender and golden brown around the edges, 40 to 50 minutes. Stir vegetables with a metal spatula every 10 minutes while roasting to loosen and prevent them from sticking to the pan. The vegetables can be roasted 4 hours ahead; leave in the roasting pan at cool room temperature. Reheat in a preheated 350-degree oven until warm, 10 to 15 minutes. If vegetables start to brown too much, cover loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil.

When done, transfer vegetables to a serving plate. Taste and season with more kosher salt (or if desired, with fleur de sel) and with pepper. Garnish the center of the plate with fresh thyme sprigs, if desired. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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