When the weather starts to cool off, my body and soul begin to crave root vegetables in almost every meal in as many different combinations imaginable.
These bulky, clunky, sturdy vegetables have a history of being supporting vegetables buried deep in a stew or a soup. We all know how to cook and eat carrots, but there are so many other great roots that we don’t all know what the heck to do with. Lots of roots can be found in your local Whole Foods Market from some of your favorite growers. I like to buy all different sizes of these classic autumn treats to test my skills in the kitchen and on the dining room table. In my kitchen at home I have been working to isolate the flavors of these tasty roots and build them into as many meals as possible. The Radish family is always a staple in our house; we eat them the European way with butter and salt spread on a raw radish — a great snack any time of year. Black Spanish Radishes and Watermelon Radishes are great to wow your friends with beautiful variety and unusual spicy savory flavors not found in traditional red round radishes.
Moving into the rest of the root family, Tokyo Turnips or Purple Top Turnips are a fantastic roaster. I cut mine in fairly thin sections (about a ¼ inch), lay them out onto a cookie sheet, add some olive oil and sea salt and roast at about 400°F. They don’t take long to get all crispy-crunchy. If you are lucky enough to find a Macumber Turnip — a huge all-white turnip — you’ll find these roast to a bit of a softer turnip chip, with much milder flavor than a traditional turnip. Rutabagas are usually larger and have a distinct flavor that is really fantastic in stews. Rutabagas need friends — I have not had great luck isolating Rutabaga into their own dish. I think they are one of the more social roots and therefore need company. Adding Rutabaga to a potato mash or a stew with carrot to add to the sweetness is a great way to go. Parsnips are so much more flavorful than they get credit for. I usually try and find the smallest parsnips available. I cut them lengthwise and cook them in my grill pan on the stovetop along with some pork or a steak. Celery Root makes my favorite slaw; chunked or shredded and lightly braised them before you add your favorite slaw ingredients. I use some Japanese mayonnaise, my favorite smoked salt with some refrigerator pickles.
Where to find the best roots? Many local growers are producing great roots, and they store so well, therefore making eating local easy once the season is over — the roots will last well into the winter. Wherever you are, your local Whole Foods Market is sure to have a great selection of roots from your favorite farmer. Out here in New York City we get some of our favorite roots from Satur Farms out on Long Island. Great chefs growing great food is the secret to their success, and we appreciate them.
When selecting, choose firm roots. If they have the tops on, all the better because that means those roots are really fresh. Root tops are often trimmed for easier storage, so don’t worry if they don’t have them. Just make sure to avoid soft or wilted looking roots. Refrigerate when you get them home.
Fred has worked for Whole Foods Market in produce in stores setting cherry and strawberry displays, in the warehouse on a forklift moving pallets of carrots and broccoli, in the field inspecting orchards and packing houses, as a national buyer, and a regional produce coordinator, when he’s not in fresh snow perfecting the telemark turn or cooking and eating with friends.