Sauté your way into spring | Kitchen to Kitchen

Sidonie Maroon
Posted 5/3/23

Sautéing has a powerful mystique in the culinary world. Somehow, if you know how to cook with a little fat in an open pan, over a relatively high heat, allowing the food to brown and not burn …

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Sauté your way into spring | Kitchen to Kitchen


Sautéing has a powerful mystique in the culinary world. Somehow, if you know how to cook with a little fat in an open pan, over a relatively high heat, allowing the food to brown and not burn by occasionally flipping it with a spatula, or show-off style making the food jump into the air with wrist action, then you are chef material.

Sautéing, like all things once alluring, has become a chore. When I’m confronted with once again standing in front of a frying pan, and waiting for the onions to soften, I dream of a better way.

What is the purpose of sautéing? To sweeten and deepen flavor. The temperature within the cell walls of sautéing plants rises in a hot pan, causing complex sugars to break down into simple ones which we perceive as sweet. Through chemistry and physics, a sharp raw onion becomes a caramelized miracle. 

In bored laziness, which is my place for new ideas, I came up with oven sautéing. Can you really oven sauté? No more than you can air fry, but despite the fake terms, I like this method for its ease, and how it allows me to develop flavor while freeing up my time to get other parts of the meal ready. The clean up is easy, and with some thought, it’s an energy-efficient option. 

Why Does an Oven Work Better?

The oven brings heat evenly to all sides of the food, not just the bottom of a pan, so there’s less need to stir, and a convection oven is even better at distributing the heat. Lots of countertop ovens are energy efficient and have a convection option. 

How To Oven Sauté

425 F is best for an oven sauté. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment for easy cleanup. Start with a triad or quartet of vegetables, for example, the classic French mirepoix (meer-PWAH) flavor base made from onion, carrots and celery diced small, in the ratio of 2 parts onion to 1 part each celery and carrots. Add them all to the sheet in a single layer with a couple of tablespoons of oil and oven sauté for 20 minutes. Depending on your recipe, you can further deepen and sweeten the flavor with another 10 to 15 minutes. During this last period, stir them once or twice so the edges don’t burn.

Further Possibilities

Add wine, herbs, tomatoes, or meats to the sauté flavor base. Make taco fillings, pasta sauces, and casserole parts completely in the oven using this method. After the initial oven sauté is done, you can add seasoned ground meat to it and cook at the same temperature for 15 minutes. For a pasta sauce, add herbs, wine, and tomatoes and cook for another 15 minutes, or lower the heat, cover the tray, and simmer it until done. Try making big batches of sauté flavor bases and freeze in portions for all kinds of applications. 

Famous sauté bases to try in the oven

Cajun Holy Trinity: Onion, green bell pepper, and celery.

Italian Soffritto: A variation on mirepoix uses minced vegetables, and is cooked in olive oil.

Spanish Sofrito: tomatoes, onions, garlic, and other seasonal vegetables.

French Pinçage: French pinçage (pronounced pin-sahge) is mirepoix with added tomato paste.

German Suppengrün: Includes carrots, leeks, and celery root and herbs like parsley or thyme.

Spicy Tomato
Onion Sauce

Makes 1 ½ cups

A delicious bright pasta sauce with a sweet heat. Use it for pasta, on eggs or a multitude of yummy options.


2 medium large onions, chopped

2 Tablespoons fresh garlic, minced

¼ cup olive oil

14-ounce can of chopped tomatoes or the equivalent fresh peeled and seeded

¼ teaspoon chili flakes, or 2 medium hot chilies chopped and added to the onions

¼ teaspoon salt plus a pinch more to finish

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

¼ cup water


Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss onions, chilies if using, and garlic with the olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes. Stir and roast for another 10 minutes. Stir several times during the last 10 minutes so that nothing chars. A little char around the edges is OK.

Add the tomatoes with juice to the sheet, with the salt, chili flakes, and vinegar. Roast for 15 minutes.

Using a food processor, add the veggies. I lift the parchment and slide the veg off the paper into the processor. Add the water and pulse together several times. Puree until chunky smooth.

Serve on pasta or use as a side sauce.

(This recipe and more are available at Sidonie Maroon is culinary educator at The Food Co-op; Follow Sidonie on The Food Co-op’s Facebook group, Cooking with the Co-op.)