The Root of the Matter

by Mark R. Vogel

Root vegetables are plants prized for their edible roots or stems.  They include turnips, beets, radishes, carrots, rutabagas, salsify, parsnips, and celery root to name a few. Tubers, (potatoes or yams), and rhizomes (ginger), are technically underground stems, but for nomenclatural simplicity they are often subsumed under the rubric of root vegetables since they’re also subterranean.

Thanks to modern production methods and importation of produce from foreign countries, most root vegetables are available year round.  However, their peak season is the fall and in years past many were only available at that time.  But there’s a method to nature’s madness.  Root vegetables can be stored for extended periods of time.  Thus, their autumnal arrival ensured a reliable food supply for the winter.  Ages ago, people had root cellars to house their underground jewels through the cold months. 

When selecting root vegetables pick those that are firm, heavy for their size, and free of blemishes and soft spots.  If the greens are attached, as with carrots or beets, they should be fresh, stout, and bright green.  Remove the greens before storage since they sap moisture and vitamins from the root.  Store root vegetables in a dark, cool place.  For extended storage they can be placed in the refrigerator.  Rutabagas and turnips also prefer higher humidity. 

            One of the most common ways of cooking root vegetables is by boiling.  Boiling however, leaches flavor compounds, not to mention nutrients from the vegetable.  Nevertheless, it suffices as a quick and efficient method, particularly for making purees.  Why limit yourself to mashed potatoes?  Simply substitute turnips, carrots, or rutabagas for the potatoes in your favorite recipe. 

 

PARSNIP PUREE

 

1 lb. Parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped.

3 tablespoons horseradish

Half cup heavy cream

4 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper to taste

 

            Boil the parsnips until soft.  Drain the water and pulverize with a hand-masher or for an extra smooth puree, run them through a ricer.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.  Adjust the cream, butter, and horseradish to suit your particular taste. 

 

ROASTED RUTABAGAS & CARROTS

 

            Roasting is one of the best cooking methods for optimizing root vegetables’ flavor.  Unlike boiling, where water dilutes some of the vegetable’s flavor, roasting intensifies it. 

 

1 medium rutabaga, peeled and cut into medium to large dice

3 carrots, peeled and cut into medium to large dice

Olive oil as needed

Rosemary, chopped as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

 

            Pre heat the oven to 350.  Peel and chop the rutabaga and carrots to the same size.  Place in a baking dish.  Add the olive oil and stir to coat well.  Add the rosemary, salt and pepper, and stir again.  Roast for a half hour or until the vegetables are soft.  Obviously this will depend on the exact size that you cut them and the quirks of your particular oven. 

 

ROASTED BEET & GOAT CHEESE SALAD

 

2 beets

Olive oil as needed

4 oz. mixed greens

2 oz. goat cheese

Lemon juice as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

 

            Preheat the oven to 400.  Generously coat each beet with olive oil and individually wrap them in aluminum foil.  Bake for one hour or until soft.  Depending on the size of the beets this may take up to an hour and a half.  When done, allow them to cool, and then slice into rounds.  Mix the greens and goat cheese.  Apply olive oil, a few drops of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to the greens and beet slices.  Fan out the beets on one side of the plate and place the greens on the other. 

 

SAUTEED CELERY ROOT

 

            All root vegetables can be sautéed.  However, because of their density they must be cut into thin slices or a small dice.  If not, the exteriors will burn before the center is cooked.

 

1 lb. Celery root cut into small dice

Olive oil as needed

Butter as needed

Chopped parsley to taste

Salt and pepper to taste.

 

            Peel and cut the celery root into a small dice.  Heat a sauté pan and add a combination of olive oil and butter.  Sauté the celery root until soft, finishing with parsley, salt and pepper.  For another twist, deglaze the pan with a little bit of cognac and add a little cream at the very end.  Or, make glazed celery root.  Place the diced celery root in a sauté pan with butter and a teaspoon of sugar.  Add enough water to come halfway up the vegetable.  Simmer until the celery root is soft and the water and sugar have reduced to a syrupy glaze, about fifteen minutes.  Finish with herbs, salt and pepper.  You can substitute other root vegetables for the sautéed or glazed versions of the celery root or do combinations. 

 

 

 

 

Website Builder