Baking flavor into vegetables

Turn taste up a notch with fresh spices and cooking techniques.

fauquier veggie stack

The normal rules for roasted vegetables need not apply. Turning a staple into a standout can be as simple as turning down the oven—or turning it off altogether.

When developing a new cauliflower dish, Colt Varney, executive chef at Denver-based DaVita HealthCare Partner’s corporate headquarters, ditched the super-high oven temperatures that many roasted-vegetable recipes call for. Instead, he found that roasting the florets for 15 minutes at just 350 F helps them become silky and creamy on the inside without burning or getting tough on the outside.

To pump up the flavor, Varney added sriracha and garlic. “When you combine the two, the flavor is so spicy and strong that you don’t need to add butter or cream,” he says.

The bold taste and slower roasted preparation have been a hit at DaVita. Varney serves the dish at its Vitality Station, which offers items with fewer than 500 calories, up to four times a week. “We do it so much now, I buy at least 12 cases of cauliflower a week,” he says.

Preserving texture also was the goal for Executive Chef James Wedderburn of Fauquier Health in Warrenton, Va., when developing a vegetable stack with eggplant, asparagus and squash for the hospital’s Bistro on the Hill restaurant. To avoid the eggplant becoming tough and waterlogged, Wedderburn salts the eggplant slices and weighs them down with a plate for at least 20 minutes before grilling them along with the other vegetables. This first step makes the eggplant tender and creamy, he says.

To play up the natural sweetness of the eggplant, summer squash and asparagus, Wedderburn makes a roasted red pepper and tomato vinaigrette. He purees the roasted red peppers and tomatoes with parsley, basil and chives. But instead of using the standard red- or white-wine vinegar, Wedderburn opts for rice-wine vinegar. Though it’s more often found in Asian-style dishes, Wedderburn likes the rice-wine vinegar for its lighter, cleaner and inherently sweeter flavor. “It goes well with the roasted peppers and tomatoes [in the vinaigrette], and since it’s on the sweet side you don’t need as much sugar,” he says.  

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