The gnarly beauties of fall
Unsung heroes include kohlrabi, parsnips, celeriac
Unsung heroes: Parsnips are cut into sticks, then braised in apple cider and gilded with bacon for an irresistible side dish. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
Not just the darlings of the new age bistros — Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and butternut. I've been cooking them all fall. Instead, I'm ready to tackle the unsung heroes — kohlrabi, parsnips, turnips and celery root. The gnarly and the unknown.
Think braise, roast, mash, fry and glaze — indoor cooking techniques to go with hearty vegetables. Render out sweetness, coax in flavor, tenderize and palletize.
Take celery root, also known as celeriac, for example. This veggie looks like a root you'd give a swift kick to on a hike in the forest. Employ a sharp knife to remove all the knobby peel and you'll reveal a creamy white and superdelicious flesh ideal for mashing, roasting, frittering and braising in brothy soups and stews. Shredded and served raw, it makes a crunchy, hauntingly delicious slaw or salad topper. Since it tends to oxidize upon cutting, toss the raw flesh with lemon juice to prevent browning. No problem if it's destined to be cooked — it'll take on a lovely golden hue when mashed or roasted.
We've been enjoying kohlrabi in our home for years — my kids think it tastes like the stalks of broccoli with a sweeter finish. Others say it's similar in flavor to rutabaga and turnip. I love it peeled and shredded raw in slaw. Boiled or steamed until tender and slathered in butter, it single-handedly dismissed veggie boredom. I love its crunch and sweetness in soups and stews. When it comes with beautiful leafy tops, I chop those leaves and stir-fry them with teriyaki. Simple goodness.
Love of parsnips is inherited from my father. He always sneaks more than his share out of the stewpot or roasting pan. I posit that his sweet tooth gets the better of him, for this pale golden root proves incredibly sweet — especially when slow-roasted or braised. They also make a fabulous mash. (I like to pair them 50/50 with carrots.) Leftover mashed can be transformed into fried fritters. Here, I've braised them in apple cider and gilded them with bacon. Totally irresistible — even for the uninitiated.
Other cold-weather veggies we look forward to exploring in our warm kitchen confines include fennel (braised in broth or shredded into salads) and endive (stir-fried with caramelized onions). I'm doubling every batch of mashed rutabaga (seasoned with butter and black pepper) I make this season — there's never enough. Oh and beets, I've got tons of recipes for beets. I'd better get cooking now!
Bacon braised parsnips
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
3 slices apple-wood-smoked bacon, diced
1 pound fresh parsnips, trimmed, peeled
1 cup unfiltered apple cider
1 to 2 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove and reserve crisp bacon.
2. Meanwhile, cut parsnips into sticks about 2 inches long and 1/4-by-1/4 inch. Add parsnip sticks to bacon fat in skillet. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until parsnips are golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add cider and syrup. Boil hard over high heat until pan juices reduce to a glaze, about 4 minutes.
3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve garnished with crisp bacon.
Per serving: 102 calories, 2 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 21 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 275 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Celery root mash with brown butter sage
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Servings: 6 to 8, about 6 cups
Note: You can also add 1 cup of richly golden sauteed sweet onions to the mashed mixture if desired. Serve this mash with grilled and roasted meat and poultry.
2 large celery roots (celeriac), about 2 1/2 pounds total, scrubbed clean
1 large (12 ounces) russet potato, peeled, cut into large chunks
3 large cloves garlic, halved
2 to 4 tablespoons softened butter
½ cup half-and-half, heated
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Crispy brown butter sage, see recipe below
1. Trim ends off celery roots. Set the bulb cut side down on the cutting board. Use a very sharp knife to remove all the peel. Cut the peeled bulbs into 1/2-inch-thick slices; cut the slices into 1/2-inch pieces.
2. Put celery root, potato and garlic into large saucepan. Cover with salted water. Heat to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, partly covered, until vegetables are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Pour off all water; return pan to low heat. Mash vegetables while adding butter and hot half-and-half until nearly smooth. Season with salt, usually about ½ teaspoon and pepper to taste. Serve topped with brown butter sage.
Per serving: 119 calories, 5 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 13 mg cholesterol, 17 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 240 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
Crispy brown butter sage
Serve over just about any cooked winter vegetable — such as mashed potatoes, crushed rutabaga, or tender carrots. It's also marvelous on cooked pasta. Melt 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring, until butter is just starting to turn golden brown. Add 1/2 cup loosely packed large sage leaves and a generous sprinkle of salt. Cook, stirring, until butter is about the color of cinnamon, 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Sage will crisp as mixture cools. Use warm.
Makes: 1/4 cup