Root vegetables are synonymous with fall — well, some of them anyway. Carrots, sweet potatoes and beets get the most love and adoration. But what about some dark horses? I’m talking about turnips, rutabagas, parsnips and parsley root.
Sure, people can be skeptical of them. “They’ve never had them prepared deliciously for them,” says chef Richard Landau, whose plant-based portfolio he runs with his wife and pastry chef Kate Jacoby includes Washington’s Fancy Radish and Philadelphia’s Vedge. “They’re also seen as peasant food, like cabbage.”
Landau hopes chefs and home cooks can come around to the merits of these less-appreciated root vegetables, assuming they take the time to understand what preparations and flavors work best.
If you’re looking for ways to expand your cool-weather repertoire and incorporate these hidden gems into your everyday meals, here are some suggestions.
“It’s not the sexiest name ever,” Landau says. “It doesn’t make you run for it.”
But run you should, especially if you’ve eaten or even heard about Landau’s rutabaga fondue. He arrived at the idea gradually after coming to appreciate the vegetable’s rich, nutty flavor, especially after it was thinly sliced on a mandoline and roasted. He also played around with a rutabaga rarebit, the classic cheesy dish much loved in Wales.
Rutabaga is not starchy enough to form a mash on its own, Landau says, so if you want to go that route, combine it with potatoes. But rutabaga can make for an exceptionally smooth sauce, especially when run through a high-powered blender, such as a Vitamix. He suggests roasting or at least browning in a pan first before combining it with some kind of fat, flavoring (salt, pepper, etc.) and a rich vegetable stock for a vegan take on a hollandaise or bechamel.
As with most root vegetables, roasting is a natural for rutabaga. Landau says it takes especially well to Asian flavors, such as a mix of tamari and sesame oil. Rutabaga can also be braised or incorporated into soups. Try it in a caponata in lieu of the traditional eggplant.
Whatever you do, don’t drown it in other flavors. “You gotta let rutabaga be rutabaga,” Landau says.
“Turnips are the oddball root for me,” Landau says. What makes them tricky is their high water content. Because of the moisture, if you try to mash them on their own, you get a “very lean, weak, watery mess.” Mix with potatoes for best results, or try them in a riff on Irish colcannon made with bok choy.
As they get older, turnips get more astringent, Landau says. Look for turnips with smooth skins rather than wrinkly ones to ensure freshness.
Landau is especially fond of Tokyo turnips, which are small, tender, juicy and sweet. Glaze, roast or saute them. They’re mild enough to be eaten raw, too.
Purple-top turnips are more likely to take on that bitter, almost horseradish-like flavor, according to Landau. He recommends salt-roasting them. If you don’t want to burn through enough salt to fully cover them, fold them with a still hefty amount of salt into a foil packet. Landau says that strategy draws the moisture out of the turnips and cuts down on the bitterness. Serve them drizzled with olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar. Thinly sliced turnips can also stand in for the cod in the whipped potato dish the French call brandade.
So often, they’re lumped in with carrots, but parsnips have a unique identity. They manage to be both sweet and spicy. “Parsnips are my least favorite of all the roots,” confesses Landau, but he knows they just “scream” October and November.
Parsnips can be treated similarly to carrots. Try them glazed or roasted (Landau says they’re very forgiving if over-roasted). Naturally, the two pair well together. One of my favorite fall dishes is a carrot, parsnip and sweet potato tagine, perked up with ginger and lots of soft onions. Parsnip-carrot latkes? You bet.
Landau calls the flavor “incredible,” like a combination of carrot, parsley and parsnip. Parsley root is grown more for its root than its leaves, which are a little different from the herbs you typically buy at the store. You can eat parsley root raw or cooked, in which case it can caramelize like parsnips, he says. While Landau emphasizes how much better root vegetables are when they’re fresh, he thinks it’s especially important for parsley root. If age is in question, you might want to blanch it first.
Simply roast parsley root with a neutral oil, salt and pepper. Landau also likes it with Moroccan spices (ginger, cinnamon, cumin, etc.) as well as Asian pantry staples, such as soy sauce and sesame seeds.
Like parsnips, this root is high in starch, which makes for smooth and creamy soups without needing a lot of fat.
Food 52 says parsley root can take the place of celeriac, carrots, parsnips and turnips in recipes that call for them. Our own Olga Massov says her mom always puts it in chicken soup.
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