Recently, somebody I know very well threw a party. This was a lovely party in a lovely setting, and there were lovely people in attendance. I'm not going to say too much because then this unnamed host will get in trouble with all the people he didn't invite, but I will say that he served a supermarket vegetable platter as well as an enormous amount of impressive and tasty catered food. He also ordered himself a giant birthday cake inscribed with the words: "Carlos*, you are an inspiration to us all." (*some identifying information may have been changed)
Anyway, much of the food at this party was devoured, including these little skewered brownies and even these cookies, but lo! The supermarket veggie platter went mostly untouched. This meant that after the party I inherited a UFO-sized mass of baby carrots, cruciferous florets, and cherry tomatoes that looked like reindeer noses and tasted pretty much like, reindeer noses.
We all come to a crossroads in our lives. This may happen when our children go off to college, or when we realize we've eaten one too many Take 5's from the Halloween bucket. My crossroads came when I looked at that crudité platter and realized I was a vegetable snob, plain and simple, and didn't want to spend all week munching crudités that had as much character as recycled Q-tips.
(If you're a food writer, cookbook author, or chef, skip the next paragraph. SKIP IT! You will not be enlightened. This is for everyone else out there. All the real people. All the the cooking-phobic men and women, in uniform and out, be they tightrope walkers, accountants, tae-bo instructors, jewelers, glassblowers, or jewelry-making, tae-bo instructing glassblowers. This next paragraph is for those who are not comfortable or familiar with the concept of roasted vegetables. The rest of you, take a hike.)
Dumping an entire tray of crudites straight from the supermarket onto a rectangular sheet pan, drizzling them with olive oil and a little vinegar, sprinkling them with salt, pepper, and a little thyme, and then roasting them in a hot oven makes them not only edible, but magically delicious. They go from Clark Kent to Superman and from Miss Piggy to Miss America, but with excellent spelling and a strong command not only of world geography but also of quantum physics.
They are, in the words of someone I may quite possibly be married to, an inspiration to us all.
Recipe for Basic Thyme-Roasted Supermarket Vegetable Platter
If you've never roasted vegetables before, this tried-and-true method just may change your winter cooking habits. Roasting at high heat caramelizes the vegetables' natural sugars, and causes them to collapse and sweeten. You want to give them a good stir every now and again, and keep them in the oven until they've got visible brown spots. You can substitute thick-cut fennel, onions, potatoes, parsnips, diced butternut squash, and a whole host of other vegetables with equally delicious results. Just keep the sizes fairly uniform, and use your judgment with the oil. You may need a little more, or less, than indicated.
Makes 4 to 6 servings, depending on starting quantity of vegetables
1 supermarket crudite platter (no celery, please)
2 to 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, or a little more
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Your goal is to roast the vegetables in a single layer, with some space in between each one. If you pile too much on one sheet pan, the veggies will steam rather than caramelize. This is bad.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, with the racks in the center and upper third of the oven. If necessary, divide vegetables between two rimmed baking sheets. (Do not spray, line, or otherwise coat the sheets.)
If using two sheets, use the larger amount of oil, vinegar, and salt above, and divide the quantities between the two sheet pans. Drizzle the veggies with oil and vinegar, sprinkle with the salt and freshly ground black pepper, and nestle a few thyme sprigs here and there. Shmoosh the oil and seasonings with clean hands to coat, then rearrange into a single layer.
Roast in the hot oven for about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring with a heatproof spatula or tongs halfway through and reversing the order of the sheet pans. You want the vegetables to become al dente and browned, and this may take a little more or less time depending on the size of the crudités and what vegetables you choose to roast. Also, the tomatoes will pop and shrink. This is perfectly normal, so do not be alarmed. Embrace them like you would a favorite cousin, or a doll. Do not overcook.