Monday, October 30, 2006

In this twisted market of year round asparagus in which we shop, it's so very easy to get lazy and ignore the root vegetables and hard squash that's brimming over on the green grocer's shelves as the days get shorter. Parsnips, Beets, Turnips, Celeriac (Celery Root) and Parsley Root are sure to surprise most American palates with their subtlety and/or depth depending on how they are used.
I tend to mix these vegetables with each other, or with the more everyday potatoes and carrots. Roasting, as with all vegetables, tends to deepen and sweeten the flavors. Pureeing them seems to shift the focus onto aroma and texture.
Gurfren Sue reminds me that the greens of the beets and turnips you buy are a great bonus and should always be saved. I love balsamic beet greens with roasted beets or sautéed turnip greens in root vegetable purees.

Roasted Carrots and Parsnips with Lemon and Marjoram
Set a baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and preheat it to 450*. Choose slim carrots and parsnips if possible. Peel them, split lengthwise and quarter if necessary. I find most parsnips need their center woody core cut out, but if they are small and tender enough, you might get by leaving the center in. Toss the prepped vegetables lightly with oil, salt, pepper and chopped marjoram. Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and pour parsnips and carrots onto the hot sheet. Distribute them evenly over the pan, do not crowd the pan. Return to the oven and roast until they are tender. Sprinkle the vegetables with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and serve warm.

Fettuccini with Roasted Beets, Pancetta and Cream
Inspired by an over order of beets when I was a chef at Rosemarie's in Tribeca, NYC
Preheat oven to 350*. Clean beets well and wrap them individually in foil and bake until a skewer passes easily through the beet. This will take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on size and freshness of your beets. When done, remove them from the oven and let them cool in their aluminum foil party dresses.
When cool, cut away the tops and bottoms and remove the peel. Cut into small 1/4 inch dice. Set aside. This can easily be done a day ahead.
Thinly slice small onions and dice pancetta, about equal portions. In a warm skillet begin to brown the pancetta. (Big Mary says you may substitute bacon, but she'll think less of you) Meanwhile begin to bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When the pancetta has begun to release its fat, add the onions and sauté them with the pancetta. Keep the heat moderate. When the onions are caramelizing slightly and the pancetta has crisp edges, increase the heat, splash some white wine into the pan, deglaze and add some beet cubes. When the wine has reduced, add a generous pour of heavy cream. (Do not attempt this dish while attempting to get back into that swimming suit for the holidays in La Isla Mujeres.) Raise the heat to a simmer and gently stir. The beets should shed a glorious magenta color to the cream as it bubbles and gently thickens. When it has, give it a few grinds of fresh black pepper and lower the heat.
Drop the fettucine (and you know it should be fresh, not dried...) in the boiling water, stir well, and pour yourself a glass of that white wine. You see now, why we never cook with the bad stuff. It should only take a few minutes for the pasta to float to the top, which means it's done. Drain it, toss it with that mind blowing sauce, generously sprinkle it with freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

I'm starting to see another trend in these recipes. They are Damn Fattening! Even though I've never been known to break into a cold sweat at the thought of cheese with butter and a touch of cream, I know there is a huge sea of my fans that are a little more cautious about throwing their waistlines to the wind. So, moderation my pretties. But, I have to admit I love how it all plays into a natural cycle of harvest, eating and the seasons. I really don't believe its all coincidence that these harvest vegetables pair so soothingly with the aforementioned trinity of butter, cream and cheese. Our great grandpappies and mommies were getting ready to settle in for a long winter's struggle with the elements. At least my Germanic and Anglo relatives were. Those extra pounds in November would be sweet memories come March and April. So, in honor of those tired, poor, huddled masses... yearning to eat cream...
I offer these last ideas.

Yukon Gold and Celeriac Gratin
Follow any proud, indulgent French recipe for potato gratin. Substitute thinly sliced peeled celeriac for 1/3 of the potato. If you feel indulgent, throw some truffle butter or oil, or even truffle shavings into the mix. (If you use all three, invite Big Mary for dinner) You'll love this, and amazingly it even lightens the dish.

Autumn Root Vegetable Puree
This is just an encouragement to lighten your mashed potatoes by including some other vegetables into the mix. Parsnips, Turnips, Parsley Root, Celeriac and Carrot are all great candidates for a mix in. Just remember to cook them separately and then mash together. You'll also find the lightened starch content a help with the aforementioned caloric issues. Think about using buttermilk instead of whole milk to add a refreshing tang to these purees. Then there's roasted garlic, horseradish, herbs, mustards, you get the idea. And remember, no food processors here. You'll end up with wallpaper paste.

OK my pretties, once again I've gone on too long. Next time I'm seeing visions of Brussels Sprouts done right and hard squash that’s NOT Acorn!
As always,
Contented Eating,
Big Mary

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