Return to Your Roots
The fall harvest is overflowing with options for vegetables to take root on your menu and move out of a supporting role to become the stars of the plate. Consider the unnoticed and the underused, the pale and colorful, the beautifully shaped and the downright homely - all deserve a place on today’s table. Although often overlooked, they’re not difficult to work with; in fact they’re well-rounded team players. We checked in with three experts who have been, well, rooting for them for years, to provide the lowdown on how to prepare and serve these autumnal treasures.
What are your favorite root vegetables, especially the less-used ones?
“Beets are wonderful, and vegetables like kohlrabi, parsnips and dikhon are versatile,” says Katherine Polenz, educator at the Culinary Institute of America and writer of the cookbook Vegetarian Cooking at Home.
“Beets,” agrees Elizabeth Povinka, President and CEO of Produce for Better Health Foundation, “and they’re making their way onto menus in increasing numbers.”
Andrea Chesman, James Beard award-winning cookbook author, also weighs in with beets, “especially the golden ones that don’t stain your hands or turn everything a garish purple.” She also praises salsify, known as the oyster plant in Colonial days, which is “buttery, sweet, with an amazing flavor,” and rutabagas, a milder, sweeter turnip.
Your predictions for the next big player?
“Celeriac, it’s mild and can be used to make beautiful, creamy purees; shredded or sliced thin in a mustard vinaigrette; or grilled. It doesn’t look appealing – fuzzy, with root tendrils – but it’s one of the most versatile vegetables in the group.” Polenz
“Radishes could be the next Brussels sprouts. Celeriac and parsnips are also up and coming.” Povinka
What are the best ways to cook root vegetables?
“Steam, boil, braise into a stew or sauté, but my favorite method is to dice into uniform, ½-inch cubes, swish with an oil and roast. Slower cooking releases their sweet, nutty flavors and they’ll look like jewels when they’re done, pretty and colorful. They’re also excellent with a drizzle of maple syrup, molasses, balsamic vinegar or glaze, for a sweet, caramelized flavor.” Chesman
“Puree for use in soups or roast; only radishes are better eaten raw.” Povinka
“An easy way to introduce root vegetables is to blend them into mashed potatoes. If you grill, blanch them first or they won’t become tender; some exposure to water is needed.” Polenz
What are some creative ways to use these vegetables?
“Mash rutabagas into potatoes; use celery root for a bisque, salsify in a chowder or make a creamy leek and root vegetable soup; bake as part of an entrée; and make them the centerpiece of a warm winter salad, such as goat cheese and beet salad or endive, pear and walnut salad.” Chesman
“Puree, emulsified with cream or butter to make a beautiful sauce, and use underneath foods. Some of the most innovative chefs are now pickling or fermenting them; add to a hamburger plate or a jardinière salad, sprinkle on as a topping.” Polenz