This post is in honor of my dear, dear friend Marit who is currently working in Cameroon where, apparently, they have a lot of root vegetables to eat.
Method 2??!! You exclaim. But, there was never a method 1! True, but only sort of. I consider my soup strategy to be a method of dealing with random root vegetables and therefore have moved to regard it as such and make this into method 2. All in favor?… Motion sustained. Now, moving on. The gradual appearance of buds on the pussy willows tells me that spring is tiptoeing in. However, at least in the Boston area any new little vegetable shoots know enough to keep their heads down for a while longer, and we’re not getting spring vegetables unless they’re shipped in from a distance. (Anyone noticed yet that I’m quite obsessed with the weather and the seasons? I think it’s a northerner thing – all the Norwegians and Minnesotans I know are similarly obsessed.) I imagine that when people grew most of their own food, and local food was simply the way of life, rather than an environmental/foodie movement, this time of year in Northern climates offered some of the most frustrating eating. The days are growing longer and warmer; the hope of new growth is in the air; but nothing is growing yet so we’re scraping the bottoms of our barrels and grubbing the root cellars to find the last of the storage vegetables to cook up.
This isn’t the case these days, and I’m certainly glad I’m not only eating meat and roots right now. But, in some ways I quite like relying on a lot of root vegetables through the winter. I find myself full of thankfulness to the plants for their work during the summer, storing so much goodness in their root and tuber systems, which then last and last, stored in a cool, dry place, and bring nourishment and warmth to our meals for many months.
There is such a wealth of interesting root vegetables out there, too. Break free of the carrot and potato root rut! Try them all! There are purple roots, and orange roots, and yellow roots, and white roots, and roots that look like bizarre, squashed little alien babies (that would be celery root/celeriac). I’ve eaten many a root without having the foggiest idea of what it is. But, when I approach a new root (or old one for that matter), there is a way of cooking them that I know I will always like: roasting. Pretty much all roots (because of their energy storage function, in fact) have an inherent sweetness to them, which roasting brings out with a fanfare of crispy browned potato chip outsides, and tender lightly caramelized insides. I know from experience that I can eventually get sick of eating roasted root vegetables, but it takes a loooooooooong time.
To roast virtually any root vegetable, preheat the oven to 425F. Peel your root vegetables, slice them in half and then cut them into approximately evenly sized pieces. The smaller the pieces, the faster they’ll cook, but bigger pieces feel heartier. Slice them as the spirit moves you. In a bowl, toss the vegetable pieces with a large splash of olive oil and salt and pepper (I love how the salt helps sweetness stand out). At this point you could also add a spice or two that you’re in the mood for – a dash of thyme, a sprinkle of rosemary or herbes de Provences, a pinch of cayenne or nutmeg. Spread the vegetables out on a baking pan and stick them in the oven. Roast them, stirring them a couple of times, until they’re soft when poked with a fork (I usually pull a piece out, blow on it, and bite it to see if it’s ready. I usually burn my tongue in the process.) and browned on the outside.
Once they’re done, you can serve them as an accompaniment to your main dish. Or, you can try different ways of putting them center stage. Cool them off, and make a salad of mixed greens, roasted root vegetables and toasted nuts with a vinaigrette. Top a pizza with tomato sauce, caramelized onions, roasted root vegetables, mozzarella, and dollops of ricotta (it’s good, trust me) – add a sprinkling of chopped black olives for little bursts of saltiness. Chop the roasted vegetables into small pieces, boil some pasta, and toss together the vegetables and hot pasta with a couple of cloves of fried garlic, a couple of raw egg yolks, a splash of heavy cream, and a hefty dose of grated parmesan for a root vegetable spaghetti a la carbonara (sprinkle with chopped, fried bacon or pancetta if desired, of course). Or make empanada dough, and fill the empanadas with chopped roasted root vegetables and goat cheese, for delicious little turnovers. Go to town!!!
Also, for your amusement (in reference to my new food photography exploits), take a look at my ridiculous photography set up. I really just need to invest in a tripod and a slightly snazzier camera!