Josie never met a vegetable she liked.

My former sister-in-law abhored anything green. (Or yellow. Or orange.) She drowned broccoli in cream-of-mushroom soup, cream cheese and Ritz crackers. Her traditional holiday offering was a dish of carrots, zucchini and squash, drenched in swaths of cheddar cheese. She refused to eat a naked vegetable, and she gagged when she tried one boiled.

I learned to make a mean cheese sauce from Josie. But it turned vegetables — and cooking — into a chore. Who wants to tackle a béchamel (what cheese sauce really is) for every side dish? Who has that kind of time? (Or waistline?)

I can’t remember the first time I said, “forget it,” and just chucked my veggies in the oven with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. But it was a revelation … deeply flavored, caramelized nuggets that were delicious sans the goo. I remember thinking even Josie would love vegetables prepared this way.

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We’re now in the midst of a veggie revolution: Seed companies tout heirloom varieties; grocery chains stock a plethora of roots and greens; entire cookbooks devote their pages to simply prepared vegetable dishes.

My favorite treatment today is a roast/sauce combination: Caramelize carrots in a 400-degree oven, toss with cooked beets, add parsley and feta cheese, then douse everything in a lemon vinaigrette. The lemon juice brightens the deep, almost meaty flavor of the carrots and beets. The parsley adds mineral freshness and a welcome shot of green. The feta binds it all together with salty, silky goodness. Throw in some pine nuts or pomegranate seeds for crunch, and you have a meal in a bowl.

This technique can be used with any vegetable combination in any season. Try it with Yukon golds and sweet potatoes in the winter; with asparagus and sugar snap peas in the spring; with zucchini, eggplant and peppers in the summer. It’s fast, fresh and unexpected …

No cheese sauce needed.

Roasted Carrots & Beets

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  • 1 pound carrots
  • 3 medium beets (or half a package of precooked, pre-peeled beets. If you go this route, simply cut each beet into 8 wedges and add them to the carrots the last 10 minutes of cooking.)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 ounces feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts or pomegranate seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

beets dressed for ovenIf using fresh beets, cut off the greens and place the roots on a sheet of foil. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, then tightly seal the foil around the beets. Place in a pie tin and set aside.

Wash and peel the carrots. Cut them into 1 1/2-inch to 2-inch segments. Halve them if necessary so each segment is about 1/2-inch thick.

Place the carrots on a greased, rimmed baking sheet and toss with enough olive oil to coat them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place the carrots and the beets in the oven. Roast for 40 minutes to an hour, stirring the carrots every 10 minutes and watching them closely so they don’t burn. Remove both the carrots and the beets when you can easily slip a fork into them. (You may need to roast the beets longer than the carrots, depending on their size.)

Cool slightly, then carefully unwrap the beets. Slip off their skins and cut each beet into 8 wedges. Place the cut beets and carrots into a serving bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the 2 tablespoons olive oil and the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, then pour over the beets and carrots. Gently stir in the parsley, feta and pine nuts or pomegranate seeds (if using). Serve warm or cold.

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