All sweetness under the skin Those pallid out-of-season vegetables can be much improved by a long spell in a slow oven, says Annie Bell

They can all come to the party - even the tomatoes usually shunned at this time of year for their lack of fragrance. And the aubergines, and the peppers. Not only will baking or roasting work wonders for the seasonal likes of beetroot, red and whi te onions and sweet potatoes, it affords an ideal treatment for the under-par, out-of-season vegetables, as well.

Tomatoes will endure long hours in a low oven, when their sweetness and flavour will slowly be drawn out until they are caramelised at the edges, skins wrinkled, sitting in a pool of sticky roasting juices. Having the patience of a fire-fly, I tend to set the timer for an hour and a half at a higher temperature, but rest assured: even really horrible, not-fit-for-a-salad tomatoes will respond to this approach.

I can date my conversion back to a meeting with a gardener in Provence. He is intent on relying as far as possible on the produce of his garden throughout the year. Spring will find him sowing, summer eating like a king, autumn madly preserving, drying and bottling, but come winter he will need all the imagination he can muster. His way of coping is to bake and roast any vegetables that lend themselves to it.

The stuffed vegetable items that line the posh deli counters are convenient enough for picnics, but I have my reservations. Starchy stuffings absorb vegetable juices as they cook; the result tends to be a flaccid vegetable casing and stodgy interior. I prefer to bake or roast vegetables and to embellish them afterwards.

For roasting tomatoes, and vegetables such as peppers, aubergines, fennel and sweet potatoes, the requisites are chunky sea salt, ground black pepper, a fruity olive oil and honey if you want to accentuate the sweetness. n If you are roasting a selectiontogether, consider tucking a whole head of garlic, its top sliced off to reveal the cloves, and a whole red chilli or two between them. Any juices you acquire during the process of cooking provide a matchless base for a dressing, with a depth of flavourthat could not be achieved any other way.

Beetroots bake in their own skin to a precocious sweetness that has more in common with a fruit than a vegetable. The answer is to take them down a peg or two with a splash of red wine vinegar - anoint them once baked and peeled, along with some olive oil, and leave them for 30 minutes, then mix in some snipped chives and chervil and serve with a fresh goat's cheese.

Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes go one step further, given long enough in the oven, if you slip off their skins they will be coated in a dark slice of caramel - a ginger-soy-sesame trio works a treat with these.

Does anyone bake their onions in the embers of a fire nowadays? To my mind, the suburban hearth fails in its appeal. In Honey from a Weed, Patience Gray describes a pre-spring festival in Catalonia "held in the open air under the almond trees in flower, and sometimes in the snow".

Onion shoots are roasted over vine cuttings, slipped from their burnt exterior and eaten with a sauce called Salvitxada: "2oz grilled almonds, 2 grilled cloves of garlic and 1 ungrilled, a pinch of paprika, a little chopped parsley and mint, salt, 1 grilled tomato, skinned, vinegar if you like, olive oil. Pound the above in a mortar, beginning with the almonds, and finally lubricate with a little olive oil; the sauce should not be thick."

Soups made with roasted vegetables are effortless: puree some roasted fennel and flat-cap mushrooms with vegetable stock and a spoon of creme fraiche, and serve it with some Vacherin Mont D'Or (the sort of cheese that makes a trip to the cheese shop worthwhile) in the centre.

On reflection, my gardener friend is probably not having nearly such a bad time of it after all.

Baked red onions with Sicilian crumbs Serves 4

Ingredients: 3lb (1.35kg) red onions 3tbs extra virgin olive oil 4 salted anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped 1 level tsp red chilli, minced 3oz (85g) white breadcrumbs finely grated zest of 1 lemon 1 heaped dsp capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped 6 mint leaves, finely chopped salt, pepper 3/4 oz (85-110g) unsalted butter Preparation: Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas 3 and bake the onions, unpeeled, for 1hr 15min. While they are cooking, heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the anchovies and chilli and mash into the oil, then add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until they are golden and crisp.

Then transfer them to a bowl and mix in the lemon zest, capers and mint.

When the onions are cooked, slice off one end of each, squeeze the inside from its skin, arrange in a dish and slice them open. Season and dot with butter, let this begin to melt, then scatter over the crumbs and serve.

Roasted tomatoes and aubergine with cannellini beans Serves 4

Ingredients: 1 aubergine 2lb (900g) tomatoes (6-7oz each)

2 red chillies 1/2 a head of garlic 1dsp clear honey 6tbs extra virgin oil salt, pepper 6oz (170g) cannellini beans, soaked overnight 15 saffron filaments 1dsp red wine vinegar 1 heaped tbs flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped Preparation: Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas 3. Cut aubergine into 2in rounds and quarter, cut a cone from each tomato to remove the core, and halve. Arrange aubergine, tomatoes, chillies and garlic in a roasting dish. Drizzle over the honey and olive oil and season. Roast for 1hr 30min, basting occasionally.

Discard the chillies, squeeze the garlic cloves from their casings and transfer the vegetables to a serving dish, leaving juices in the pan.

You need to cook the beans at the same time as the vegetables: put them in a flameproof casserole and cover with water by 2in. Do not add any salt. Bring the beans to the boil on top of the stove and skim off any surface foam. Cover the casserole and place in the oven for 1hr 30min or until beans are soft; drain and mix them in with the roasted vegetables.

Heat the saffron filaments in a spoon over a flame until they begin to darken, grind them in a pestle and mortar and blend with 1dsp boiling water. Blend this and the red wine vinegar with the roasting juices, adjust seasoning and pour over the vegetables and beans; scatter over the parsley. Serve warmish or at room temperature.

n Baked sweet potatoes with ginger and sesame seeds Serves 4

Ingredients: 2lb (900g) orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (approx 6oz/170g each)

groundnut oil for frying 2in piece of root ginger, skinned and cut into fine square strips 4tbs light sesame oil (or 2tbs each of dark sesame oil and groundnut oil)

1tbs light soy sauce salt 1 heaped tbs sesame seeds, toasted Preparation: Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas 3. Wash and dry the potatoes and bake them for 1hr 30min. While they are cooking, heat some oil in a frying pan and cook the ginger until the strips are dry and beginning to colour: remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. Combine the sesame oil and reserve.

When the potatoes are cooked, the skins should slip off easily. Thickly slice the flesh and arrange on a serving plate. Season with salt, pour the sesame-soy mixture over, and scatter over the sesame seeds and strips of ginger. Serve straight away.

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments