Learning to live as a Locavore means learning to shift our eating habits with the seasons. As summer is to fresh greens, winter is to root vegetables and with a proper approach the cold outside does not mean a dearth of flavors inside.
For many people, potatoes are the limit of their root vegetable experience. Potatoes are fine, but there are many other edible roots that are just as tasty or more so, bring greater nutritional value, and are just easy to fix. Among them are rutabagas, turnips and parsnips, Old World staples that are unjustly neglected in modern America.
For me, winter weather includes looking forward to the pleasure of coming back in from the chilly outdoors to a cozy kitchen rich with aroma, along with the added bonus of being able to use the oven at essentially no cost since the heat generated results in reduced need to run the house’s furnace. Among the many meals that a winter oven can produce is a hearty platter of:
Roasted Root Vegetables
Ingredients: (serves 6 – 8, and leftovers keep well)
Two fist-sized rutabagas
Two fist -sized turnips
Six slender parsnips
Four fist-sized potatoes
18 medium mushrooms
One fist sized white or yellow onion
1/4 cup heart-healthy cooking oil, such as canola or olive
Salt, pepper, seasonings to taste
Heat half the oil in a medium skillet, to medium low.
While the oil begins to heat, peel the onion and rinse. Place in skillet, toss to cover with oil and sauté.
While the onion is cooking, wash the mushrooms thoroughly and pat dry.* As the onions become translucent, add the mushrooms and toss until covered. Simmer until cooked through, about ten to twelve minutes.
Set the oven to 350F.
Peel and rinse the root vegetables.
Cut each into approximately 1 1/2” by 1 1/2” chunks, keeping them relatively uniform.
Add the cut vegetables to an 10” x 16” or so ovenproof pan, preferably clear glass.
Add the remaining 1/8 cup oil and the sautéed mushrooms and onions, distributing them over the cut vegetables. Toss with a slotted spoon to cover all vegetable surfaces with oil.
Place in oven and roast, uncovered, for 30 minutes, tossing at 15 minutes and again at 30. Reduce heat to 325F and cook for another 20 minutes, tossing at ten minutes in. Check for doneness with a fork, which should penetrate the largest pieces with ease, and cook for another 10 minutes or so if needed. If done ahead of other meal ingredients, this dish can be lightly covered with tin foil and kept warm with a 225F oven for up to an hour or reheated in just a few minutes under the broiler, closely watched.
Remove from oven and season with a light hand; the ingredients each have their own distinctive taste that should not be obliterated. Dust with sea salt, add a smattering of fresh ground black pepper along with a scatter of parsley, a dash or two of basil and a scant sprinkle of thyme.
For the uninitiated, this will taste nothing like you anticipate. The slow baking brings out an unexpected sweetness combined with a rich roasted top-note and a long, complex finish. I eat them as they are, but some people prefer a light gravy topping or a dollop of sour cream. If you’ve never seen cooked rutabagas, they turn the most interesting shade of pale orange. Also, for those who have never tried turnips, take a bite of a raw slice and you’ll be shocked at the peppery sweetness and delightful crunch. Raw turnips, as thin circles or narrow strips, are great as a quick low calorie snack and an interesting addition to crudités.
Bon Appétit !
* Note: I always wash my mushrooms, even though most cookbooks and TV chefs will tell you not to. In the first place, washing produce is IMHO universally essential to decent cookery as it removes not just dirt but adherent chemicals and germs left by others who may have handled them. Secondly, fresh mushrooms are 99% water by weight so they can hardly become any more “watery” from washing; that is simply an Old Cook’s Tale. To prevent splatter from cooking in hot oil, either pat them mostly dry or introduce them to the pan while the oil is still cool.