By Catharine L. Kaufman
We're done for now with the light and dainty fresh veggies that enlivened and refreshed our palates throughout spring and summer. It's time to transition into the down and dirty root vegetables of fall.
Here's a primer to help you dig your way through the shoals of tap roots, tubers and bulbs to get the best out of these energy-packed, hearty storage organs. As a bonus, there's a quiz at the end of this two-parter coming next week, to see if you've been paying attention.
The albino carrot
Parsnips, although a close cousin to the carrot, are paler in appearance, higher in fiber, richer in vitamins and minerals, especially potassium, have a more pronounced flavor, and are rarely eaten raw.
Like carrots, parsnips are native to Eurasia and have been enjoyed since ancient times, particularly by the Romans who believed the root was an aphrodisiac.
Until the potato arrived in the New World, the parsnip was the staple food that added a pungent flavor and thickness to assorted dishes. Then by the mid-19th century in the United States, the parsnip was replaced by the popular spud, and took a hiatus from cultivation.
Today parsnips have returned to the A-list of veggies and are the preferred root over carrots and potatoes by many nouveau chefs. Small tender ones can be grated in salads, roasted with assorted roots, steamed and fried into latkes, incorporated into soups and chowders with chestnuts, carrots, ginger, artichokes and winter squashes, paired with kale and other deep leafy greens or pureed as a side dish with chicken, fish or lamb.
Parsnips pair well with basil, thyme, tarragon and dill, and when picking parsnips, avoid over-sized ones that tend to have a woody, bitter core.
High rent root district
Celery root, aka celeriac, is a bulbous, knobby celery derivative resembling a misshapened turnip that has caught the attention of top chefs around the globe for its distinct celery flavor and creamy texture. This special celery variety was developed by gardeners during the Renaissance period, and unlike typical roots, which store large quantities of starch, celery root contains only 5 percent of starch by weight.
Celeriac is a little more labor intensive than other roots as its tough, furrowed skin needs to be sliced off with a paring knife before shredding it raw into a salad, steaming, roasting, tossing in soups or stews, casseroles or gratins, or mashing with other roots for an updated version of mashed potatoes.
This hybrid root is used extensively in French cuisine as a celery remoulade or elegantly paired with artichoke hearts or crepes.
Smaller bulbs are tastier than the larger, woodier roots, which are better for roasting or stewing. Celeriac is also hearty and can be stored for three months in a cool place.
The stinky root
The rutabaga is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. As a hybrid crucifer, this gaseous root becomes quite odorous when cooked so it might be more appealing to munch it raw or toss it in salads.
The skin hue ranges from tan to violet while the flesh is a golden or creamy color. This zero-fat, low-caloric root is loaded with vitamins A, C, calcium and iron, while the leaves can be eaten as a calcium rich leafy vegetable. Like potatoes, rutabagas can be added to soups and stews, roasted, mashed, boiled or baked with a dollop of your favorite topping.
One word of rutabaga warning – it is a cyanoglucoside-containing food that first releases cyanide when cooked, then detoxifies into thiocyanate, which could potentially affect the functioning of the thyroid gland. Standing advice — eat in moderation.
One of our most beloved comfort foods has been reinvented into one of my favorite side dishes — celery-root mashed potatoes. Your family will really dig it.
Mashed Celery Root and Potatoes
2 pounds (4 medium) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut in 2-inch chunks
1 celery root, about 1/2 pound, skin sliced off, cut into 2-inch chunks
4 tablespoons sweet butter (or if you are cholesterol-conscious do half butter and half extra virgin olive oil)
3/4 cup half and half cream (or buttermilk)
1/3 cup vegetable or chicken broth
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh minced chives
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, melt the butter (and oil if you wish) over medium heat. Add the root veggies and cook until tender. Add the potatoes, garlic and broth, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are tender and the liquid is absorbed.
Mash the mixture gently, add the cream, chives and season to taste with salt and pepper. Enjoy immediately.