Root Vegetable Recipes

Roots in terra cottaMy default preparation for the cold-sweetened winter roots still thriving in the kitchen garden is to cut them into similar-sized pieces, brush them with olive oil, sprinkle on a little salt and roast them. The resulting softly caramelized chunks of turnip, parsnip, carrot, beet and celery root are delicious warm as a side dish to grains, beans or meat or at room temperature as a salad, perhaps with cider vinaigrette. But there are other ways to prepare these tasty roots and lately, inspired by recipes I’ve noticed in magazines and newspapers, I’ve been experimenting with gratins, soups and mashes, all delicious and not much more work than simple roasting.

In the December 2015 Food and Wine, chef Carla Hall shared a recipe she called Ombré Potato and Root Vegetable Gratin. The ombré of the title refers to the French term for graduated shades or colors. In this gratin, layers of red beets, orange sweet potatoes, yellow potatoes and white turnips bake in a cream and Parmesan cheese sauce. Servings of the finished gratin are as lovely as they are delicious. I used butternut squash instead of sweet potatoes; the orange color was right and the flavor was just as sweet. To slice the vegetables I used a mandoline for one batch and a food processor with thin slicing blade for another batch. Each worked well. The cream makes this dish quite rich though, so I’ll make it for special occasions rather than for everyday.

Ombre prep

Ombre assembling

Ombre serving

Ombré Potato and Root Vegetable Gratin

Unsalted butter, for greasing

2 cups heavy cream

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 small shallot, minced

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 3/4 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (5 ounces)

1 pound red beets, peeled and sliced on a mandoline 1/16 inch thick

1 pound sweet potatoes or garnet yams, peeled and sliced on a mandoline 1/16 inch thick

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced on a mandoline 1/16 inch thick

1 pound turnips, peeled and sliced on a mandoline 1/16 inch thick

Preheat the oven to 375°. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk the cream with the garlic, shallot, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir in 1 cup of the grated cheese.

In a large bowl, gently toss the beets with one-fourth of the cream mixture. Arrange the beets in the baking dish in 
an even layer, overlapping them slightly. Scrape any remaining cream from the bowl over the beets. Repeat this process with the sweet potatoes, Yukon Golds and turnips, using one-fourth of the cream mixture for each vegetable. Press a sheet of parchment paper on top of the turnips, then cover the dish tightly with foil.

Bake the gratin for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Uncover and top with the remaining 
3/4 cup of cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes longer, until golden on top. Transfer the gratin to a rack and let cool for at least 
15 minutes before serving.

In The New York Times the other day a Winter Vegetable Soup With Turnips, Carrots, Potatoes and Leeks caught my attention. Created by Martha Rose Shulman for her Recipes for Health column, it looked like a great way to combine the flavors of winter roots with the sweetness of leeks. And the recipe couldn’t be easier. Cut up all the vegetables and put them in a pot with some garlic, parsley, thyme and some water, simmer until the vegetables are soft then put the mixture through a food mill. The result is a smooth, flavorful soup. Next time I make it I will use less water than the recipe asks for because I like a thicker soup and I may use fewer leeks so the sweetness of the other vegetables comes through more strongly. The soup is delicious with the crème fraîche but also good without it.

Roots for soup

Roots in food mill

Roots soup

Winter Vegetable Soup With Turnips, Carrots, Potatoes and Leeks

3 large leeks (1 to 1 1/2 pounds), white parts only, cleaned and sliced 1/2 inch thick

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 large carrots (10 ounces), diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 large or 2 medium turnips (10 ounces), peeled and diced

1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and diced

A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf and a few sprigs each thyme and parsley

Salt and black pepper

¼ cup crème fraîche, more to taste

Chopped fresh parsley or tarragon, for garnish

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, combine the leeks, garlic, carrots, celery, turnips, potatoes, bouquet garni, 1 1/2 quarts water, 2 to 3 teaspoons salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 40 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft.

Pass the soup through the coarse blade of a food mill (or purée using a blender or an immersion blender).

Return soup to the pot and whisk in 1/4 cup crème fraîche (or more, to taste). Heat through, taste and adjust seasonings (be generous with salt and pepper). To serve, garnish each bowl with a spoonful of crème fraîche and a sprinkle of parsley or tarragon.

Finally, there are mashes, like mashed potatoes but made with roots or winter squash instead. I’ve been making lots of mashes this winter. Root Mash with Wine-braised Shallots from Yotam Ottolenghi and Delicata Squash, Potato and Celery Root Puree from Alice Waters are two, and now the February Food and Wine magazine offers a recipe for another, a winter squash and root vegetable mash from Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire, England. It combines carrots, rutabaga, butternut squash, parsnips and celery root, all my winter favorites. It’s meant to accompany braised short ribs but the other night I served it with grilled pork. The little bit of juice from the meat is a great flavor addition but the mash is just as tasty on its own. The technique—cutting the roots into half-inch pieces, sautéing them in butter until soft, then adding a little honey, and finally adding a little water—really concentrates the flavor of the vegetables. It also creates a lovely mixed texture; the softer vegetables, the parsnips and squash, melt into the mash while the firmer carrots, celery root and rutabaga soften but keep their shapes. I cut the honey down to just a tablespoon because the winter roots from my kitchen garden are so sweet already, especially the parsnips. The honey does add another flavor but I think the roots are sweet enough on their own. With or without honey, I’ll definitely make this mash again.

Roots mash in pot

Roots mash on plate


5 tablespoons unsalted butter  

1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 pound rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 pound celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

6 garlic cloves, crushed

3 thyme sprigs

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus more for garnish

Kosher salt


In a large saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Add the vegetables, garlic, thyme and bay leaves and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, 10 minutes. Stir in the honey, cover and cook until softened, 15 minutes. Add 1 cup of water, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed, 20 minutes longer. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Stir in the remaining 1 Tablespoon of butter and mash with a fork until chunky. Fold in the 1 Tablespoon of parsley and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

One final treat of this experiment with roots is the surprisingly pretty colors they add to the plate. Pinks and oranges and yellows are welcome during these grayer months, not quite daffodils and tulips but close.







Seed Ordering 2016

Just after the New Year my friend Diane asked me if I’d finished my seed orders yet.   I laughed and said I hadn’t even begun. The fun of the holiday weeks had filled up any garden planning time.

But I knew I needed to get started and that the first step, before I’d let myself open even one of the 2016 catalogs piling up on my desk, was to organize and inventory my seeds. After arranging the seed packets alphabetically in shallow cardboard boxes, I peered into each packet and jotted down what I had enough of for another year and what I’d run out of and needed to replace. This bit of organization always gives me the illusion that all I need to do next is order the seeds I’ve run out of and I’ll be done. It should be that quick and easy, but it rarely is.

Seed boxes on desk

In addition to noting what I needed to replace,  I found myself jotting down phrases like “a new red beet,” “another broccoli,” “a yellow carrot this year and a better red carrot,” “a new sweet corn” “a bolt-resistant variety of fennel,” “a new red pepper,” “a new orange or yellow tomato.” It’s not that I’d run out of these seeds, but it was time for some change. And seed catalogs with their enticing descriptions and photographs offered lots of possibilities for change, maybe too many possibilities. At least the list of changes wasn’t too long.

On first reading, every variety looks great and it’s lovely imagining all of them growing in my kitchen garden, but knowing I should choose only one or maybe two or at most three varieties I reread the descriptions paying attention to the details wrapped in the tempting prose. Flavor and texture, appearance and color, size, days to maturity/harvest, heirloom, open-pollinated or hybrid, germination needs, disease resistance, cold or heat tolerance, preparation or serving suggestions all vie for attention.

Seed catalogs on desk

I started with beets, narrowing down Territorial Seed Company’s sixteen offerings to five candidates—Boro, Merlin, Cylindra, Lutz and Avalanche—and comparing them to beet descriptions in Fedco, Johnny’s, Pinetree and Adaptive. Boro has a slight edge over Merlin because I’m worried that Merlin, touted in Johnny’s for its sweetness, might be too sweet, and Boro’s “sumptuous, thick leaves” remind me of how much I like beet greens. Then there’s Cylindra, an heirloom with “bold, earthy flavor” and unusual shape that might be fun to try though Johnny’s catalog description notes that: “roots tend to push up out of the ground as they grow” and that for smoother shoulders hilling is a good idea. Would I get around to that? I’ve grown Lutz before for its winter-keeping qualities and liked it. Maybe it’s time to grow it again. And then, just to slow down the decision making process a bit more, there’s a white beet, AAS winner Avalanche, something completely new. I grow golden beets now, and white might be a nice addition to create a color trio. After nearly half an hour, I was ready to move on to broccoli.

So this is why it takes so long to complete seed orders. But it’s such a pleasant way to spend some January days. After several afternoons working through my list and through all my catalogs, I finally made my orders. And it’s still only mid-January.

The new entries are: Boro, Lutz and Avalanche for beets, a sprouting broccoli called Summer Purple, Yellowstone and Atomic Red carrots, Honey Select sweet corn, Preludio fennel and Mantovano fennel, Lipstick red pepper, and for orange tomatoes, two heirlooms, Persimmon and Valencia. These new varieties will arrive with all the other seeds that I ordered. The new garden year has begun.