In the past year I’ve noticed lots of chatter on cooking blogs about baking tray, or sheet pan, dinners. Apparently these are in vogue now. Not to be insufferably smug about it, but I was ahead of this wave, having started making dinner this way at least 15 years ago. The idea is to bung everything for dinner on a baking tray and let it roast away in the oven while you do other things. Hopefully those other things will be more fun than folding laundry or vacuuming the living room, but hey, if you can do that at the same time as making dinner you’re ahead of the game. And if you can put your feet up and enjoy a chapter in the novel you’re reading and a glass of wine before dinner, all the better.
As this post demonstrates, the baking tray method is a great way to throw a meal together after a day of shopping or working.
I’ve traditionally made sheet pan dinners in the winter, surrounding the protein with a combination of root vegetables and bell peppers cut so that everything, including the meat, cooks in the same period of time. Sometimes I sear the protein first for caramelization, but not always. Hearty fresh herbs like rosemary and sage and lots of garlic add wonderful aroma and flavour. A generous amount of olive oil and maybe some balsamic vinegar keeps things moist, promotes browning and adds extra tastiness. I turn the vegetables about two-thirds of the way through the roasting time for even browning.
A couple of weeks ago I made a hybrid winter/spring dinner with potatoes and onion, pork chops and asparagus when my daughter and her husband came over. The asparagus went onto the tray last, since it takes the least time to roast.
Last night was the first time I used salmon, broadening my baking tray dinner scope into spring and summer meals. I used basil as the fresh herb, for that summery touch. Depending on what you’re cooking, everything can go in at the same time, or you can stage the addition of foods according to their cooking time.
I made extras of everything, so now I have left over roasted vegetables and salmon that I can use in cold salads. Easy cooking once, delicious eating twice: genius!
Salmon Baking Tray Dinner
Pre-heat the oven to 400℉ and line a large baking tray with parchment paper. Since I made an extra-large batch of potatoes I used two trays, but normally I would roast everything on one tray. Remember, baking time will depend on how big you cut the potatoes, the thickness of your salmon, and other factors. What follows is how I freestyled this dinner.
Wash and dry the amount of baby red or white potatoes that you need, then halve lengthwise. Most of mine tended to be about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick after cutting. Smash a few cloves of garlic, and toss the potatoes and garlic in a bowl with enough extra virgin olive oil to coat them but not be pooling in the bowl, and a good sprinkling of freshly ground pepper and some salt. Place cut side down on the baking tray and roast for about 25 to 30 minutes. At this point the cut side should be starting to brown.
In the meantime, prep your asparagus, by which I mean wash them and cut off the fibrous ends. Cut a zucchini into chunks, and toss them with some olive oil. Wash a bunch of tomatoes still on the vine. Set aside to dry. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and good balsamic vinegar over a filet of salmon leave on a dish until needed. For reference, mine was about an inch and a quarter at its thickest. Now you can relax until it’s time for the next stage.
When it’s time, turn the potatoes, and roughly tear some fresh basil over them. If you like you could drizzle on some balsamic vinegar at this point, but I didn’t. Place the asparagus, zucchini, tomatoes and salmon (scraping any marinade left in the dish over it) on the tray. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes. Pour some olive oil over the asparagus, then roll the asparagus around until well coated. Season everything with freshly ground pepper and salt (you’ll need to judge if the potatoes need more). Return the tray to the oven for about 15 minutes, then turn the zucchini and asparagus. Squeeze a bit of fresh lemon or lime juice over the asparagus now. I used a teaspoon to scoop up some of the olive oil/balsamic mixture and baste the salmon. Scatter some chopped basil over everything (or leave this until the end of the roasting time) and return the tray to the oven for another five minutes, or until the salmon is cooked through but still juicy. The tomatoes will be starting to split, the zucchini tender with some caramelization, and the asparagus cooked through but not soft. The potatoes will be beautifully browned and tender too.
If serving family style, transfer everything to a serving tray. Otherwise, fix yourself a plate. Let any leftovers cool and then refrigerate for use in cold salads or other lunch ideas the next day.