During the cold winter months, the produce selection at the grocery store and farmers market gets a little thin. Winter vegetables might feel a little boring, but with some imagination they can really come to life and shine on their own merits. This is the time to make soups, salads, sides and casseroles with the abundance of root vegetables available right now. Root vegetables are economical, too. Bought in bulk and stored cold in your darkened garage or basement, they should easily last through the winter.
Here’s something I’ve tried, and it’s the simplest recipe possible: slow-roasted root veggies. I got the idea from an article about famed Nordic chef René Redzepi. Place unscrubbed carrots, beets or sweet potatoes on the lowest rack of a low temperature oven for several hours. The low heat not only will help keep your house warm, but it also will slowly bring out these veggies’ natural sweetness. The result will look startling, like shriveled, blackened husks. But slice them open and smooth some butter into the creamy flesh, and you have something decadent enough to rival any dessert.
Of course, there are baked potatoes. I’ve learned these tips for the very best spuds. Skip the tin foil. Simply pierce the skin all around with a fork so steam can escape, then coat with a thin layer of oil. Place directly on the top rack of a 400°F oven for one hour. The oil will produce a nice crispy skin. To open, don’t use a knife. Stab along the top with a fork, then squeeze the potato open from the sides to get nicely broken up, crumbled flesh inside. Dress it as usual, or consider some different toppings, likekimchi, pesto, ranch or blue cheese dressing, caramelized onions, mushrooms, grilled corn, sun-dried tomatoes, guacamole, or crack an egg over skins and bake under the broiler. The possibilities are practically endless.
Another great way to use root vegetables is to incorporate them into mashed potatoes. They add an intriguing earthiness when mixed in a 1:3 ratio of root veggies to potatoes. This recipe from Cook’s Illustrated creates the perfect balance by sautéing carrots, parsnips, turnips, and celery root in butter before mashing them with Yukon Gold potatoes. Some chicken broth, half & half, salt & pepper, and chives finish this hearty side dish.
Root vegetable chips make delicious and fun snacks. Slice them thin (a mandolin is ideal), toss in olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then place in a food dehydrator or slow-roast in a low-temperature oven.
You can also use root veggies the same way you’d use potatoes in casseroles or gratins. There’s nothing more soothing than a hot, bubbling, cheesy mess of home baked comfort. And using root vegetables will make a more nutritionally complete meal with less starch and more vitamins and minerals. The best of both worlds!
Trying to go light? Toss roasted or thinly sliced raw root veggies into salads. Beets, turnips, fennel, celery root, jicama, carrots and parsnips all pair well with nuts and winter fruits like persimmons, apples and pomegranates to make brilliant salad combinations. I love making this refreshing salad with celery root, fennel, and apples in vinaigrette.
Got a blender? Roasted root veggies make the most wonderful winter soups. I love this Moorish inspiredroasted carrot soup with Dukkah spice and yogurt. This potato and yam soup with bacon and spinachis another one-pot winner. And I haven’t tried it yet, but this parsnip, yam, and watercress chowdermakes me want to curl up with a book in front of a fire.
For dessert, I can personally guarantee your family and friends won’t leave a bit of this delicious recipe my mom found: Sweet potato casserole. With half & half, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, coconut flakes and pecans, it is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. Great for potlucks, too.