Roasted Vegetables and My Obsession with 安納芋

Orange sweet potatoes, ubiquitous in the US, are often nowhere to be found in Ishikawa. Depending on where you are in the prefecture, you can usually locate some in one brief part of late winter in the local-vegetable section of the grocery store with the Noto- and Kaga Yasai (heirloom vegetables from Noto  [northern Ishikawa] and Kaga [central-southern Ishikawa]). This March,  I found some “Kabocha Imo” (“kabocha squash potato,” かぼちゃ芋), a Noto Yasai, at Marue, and I also found a large bag of annôimo (安納芋) in the basement grocery stores in the department store M’ZA. Orange sweet potatoes are not as cheap as I remember them being back home during my student days, but they’re every bit as delicious.

As you may know, in grad school, my “dinner for one” meal was often a half or whole large sweet potato, poked with a fork, wrapped in foil and baked in the oven for ~30 minutes. I remember the bitter defeat of taking out underdone potatoes–unlike Japanese satsumaimo, these cook more slowly even if they are the same size. Because the orange sweet potatoes in Ishikawa are quite small, they will cook beautifully at in your oven range wrapped in tin foil and baked at 250°C for 20-30 minutes.

I’m personally more into the complex and deep flavors of mixed roasted vegetables these days. This recipe is endlessly versatile and incredibly easy–the roasting takes time but is fairly hands-off.

Sweet potato, kabocha, asaparus, carrot, salt, pepper, and sesame oil.

To ensure your vegetables cook properly, cut them all to about the same size, particularly harder root vegetables like potatoes. Generally, you should try to have one layer of vegetables, but Japanese ovens are tiny, so I’m going confess that I think that it’s fine to have “layers” in the roasting dish, too, as long as you have enough room to toss the vegetables during the process and have the pieces cut small.

Orange sweet potatoes, sweet potatoes, new potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, salt, pepper, paprika. And yes, I need to scour that pan and get better lighting.

My favorite vegetables are listed under “Ingredients,” but I’ve also written a list of other vegetables you can use, depending on your preferences. I like to season mine with paprika, salt, and pepper, because the paprika adds a punch to the sweetness of the vegetables, but I’ve included other flavor profiles and would be pleased to hear your suggestions.

Roasted Vegetables

Serves 3-5 as a side dish
Time: 60 minutes
Prep time: 20 minutes
Roasting time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

You can really use whatever ratios of vegetables you like, as long as they are in total no more than about 800 cm3 (if you are using a 20x20x4 cm dish): 800 mL (4 Japanese cups) by volume (a bit less than 3.5 US cups by volume).

Oil: I like olive oil (orîbu oiru, オリーブオイル) or sesame oil (goma abura, ごま油)

2 small orange sweet potatoes (annôimo, 安納芋)
1 large (Japanese) sweet potato (satsumaimo, サツマイモ)
8-10 small new potatoes (shinjagaimo, 新じゃがいも)
1/8 kabocha squash (kabocha, かぼちゃ, 南瓜)
1/2 onion (tamanegi, 玉ねぎ)
1/2 head of broccoli (burokori, ブロコリ)
1/8 – 1/4 head of cauliflower (karifurawâ, カリフラワー)

Substitutions/Other Ingredient Suggestions
1 medium carrot (ninjin, にんじん)
1 medium potato (jagaimo, じゃがいも)
3-6 spears of asparagus (asupara, アスパラ)
1 bell pepper (pîman, ピーマン)

Recommended Seasoning Combinations
If using olive oil 1:
Sea salt (arajio, 粗塩)
Pepper (koshô, 胡椒)
Paprika (papurika, パプリカ)

If using olive oil 2:
Sea salt (arajio, 粗塩)
Pepper (koshô, 胡椒)
Whole sprigs of fresh rosemary (rôzumarî, ローズマリー)
Oregano (oregano, オレガノ)
Thyme (taimu, タイム)

Optional: Top with grated Parmesan cheese

If using sesame oil:
Sea salt (arajio, 粗塩)
Top with sesame seeds (goma, ごま)
Optional: Top with thin “flavored” miso–sesame miso (goma miso, 胡麻味噌), plum miso (ume miso, 梅味噌), yuzu miso (yuzu miso, 柚味噌), etc.

Equipment
Colander (mizukiri bôru, 水切りボール)
1 large bowl
1 20×20-cm (8×8 in.) ceramic, metal or glass roasting pan
Tongs (tongu, トング)

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven range to 250º C.*
2. Wash all vegetables, drain well, and chop them to roughly the same size.
3. Place all vegetables in a large bowl. Drizzle with oil, add seasonings, and toss to coat.
4. Place vegetables in the roasting pan. Try to get a single even layer. (A double layer is okay, too, see notes above.)
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes, tossing with tongs once or twice. If you have a single layer; cook for about ~30 minutes and toss once half-way through. If you have a double layer, toss 2-3 times throughout, and cook for ~40 minutes.
6. When vegetables have become fork-tender and a bit caramelized, remove from oven, add any final toppings, and serve hot. Makes a great bento base.

For more on roasting see “How to Master Roasted Vegetables.”

Note

*My oven works best at 250º C. For an oven range, 210-250º C works well, though you may need to adjust the time. For a full-size US oven, 400º F (205º C) seems to be the norm.

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