My 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.
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.
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.
ROOT VEGETABLE MASH
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
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.