Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fruits of the Earth: Or how I learned to love root vegetables Part II

Ah beets....your astonishing magenta color has always attracted me, but your taste- half sugar, half earth has always left me rather perplexed. And wouldn't you know it, the dominant vegetable in my bag o' roots was BEETS. It was as if the universe (or the farmer) was determined to make me face this obstacle head on once and for all. This was a tough one for me. Borscht was the first thing that came to mind but I've never cared for that soup, and every other recipe I came across left the beets so unadorned that I wasn't sure I could face them. Then I found my solution- Beet Ravioli!

What do parents do when they cant get their kids to eat something healthy? They mix it in with something tasty so it goes down easy. Im certainly not above this sort of trickery when it comes to Jeff and I, so the idea of pureeing beets, putting them into pasta, and then making said pasta into ravioli seemed like it could work. Maybe this is cheating, but hey, its a start right?

I ended up following this recipe for Roasted Beet Ravioli stuffed with Goat Cheese and Ricotta (courtesy of Martha Stewart), but omitted the mint. Look at that amazing color! Jeff said it looked like playdough. My fingers were stained bright pink for a good part of the day after making this, so dont wear any light or precious clothing during this process.

I must apologize for the appearance of my ravioli. Though I have made fresh pasta many times, I have never made ravioli, and without the proper attachments, I sort of had to wing it. They came out a bit chewy, (and the magenta color faded to pink during cooking ) but the flavor was excellent. There was but a ghost of a taste of beets-just a nice earthy undertone, and the goat cheese and ricotta filling had just the right tang. We served the ravioli with a bit of olive oil, grated Romano, some freshly ground black pepper, and a drop of truffle oil. I think any sauce more strong tasting than that, would hide this dish's delicate taste.

I now have about two cups of roasted beet puree left in the fridge, but dont worry, I have plans for it. I have been wanting to make a beet chocolate cake for some time....stay tuned!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fruits of the Earth: Or how I learned to love root vegetables Part I

Do you try to eat seasonally but often find yourself stumped when winter rolls around? Do the mounds of creamy white parsnips and purple beets at the farmers market intrigue you, but you can only imagine them ending up in endless muddy colored stews? Does the persistent oder of dirt that hangs around winter roots put you off? Yep, that was me, but I was so inspired by these storage organs of the plant world, that in a burst of optimistic fervor, I bought one of those dauntingly huge $5 bags of mixed root vegetables at the market, figuring that the guilt and shame of leaving them to rot in my fridge would force me to find ways of incorporating each and every last mysterious little tuber into my meals. In other words, I was so afraid of root veggies, that I deliberately backed myself into a corner and gave myself no option of escape. It was eat that bag or starve. And here's the clincher, everything I made had to taste good! Now there's a new years resolution!

I decided to narrow things down a bit by eating by color. First up, the whites: parsnips, potatoes, and sunchokes.

Parsnips were more popular in medieval times than today, later developing a reputation as animal food. Despite their pallid appearance, they contain carotenoids, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium, and are also rich in fiber.

Luckily for this experiment, a good friend had just lent me a wonderful book called 50 Chowders by Jasper White. Right there on page 178 was a recipe for Parsnip Chowder (I had no idea that New England has a grand tradition of non-seafood based chowders known as Farmhouse Chowders!).

For those of you that have never had them before, raw parsnips have a flavor not unlike carrots. A bit less sweet (unless they are allowed to remain in the ground throughout the winter) and a bit more spicey, but very similar indeed. They cook down into a surprisingly creamy texture with a lovely buttery color.

Here is the recipe I used from Mr. White's book:

3oz meaty salt pork, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice (I used a tbs of bacon grease that Ihad in the fridge instead)
2tbs unsalted butter
1 large onion, cut into 3/4 inch dice
1 lb parsnips, peeled and sliced into rounds (thin-about 1/3 inch-toward the top and thicker toward the bottom
1 lb Yukon gold, Maine, PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch dice
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (I only used about 1/4 cup)
(I also added in a few sunchokes that I had in my bag o roots)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over low heat and add the diced salt pork. Once it has rendered a few tbs of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the pork is crisp and golden brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cracklings to a small ovenproof dish, leaving the fat in the pot, and reserve until later.
2. Add the butter and onion to the pot and saute, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for 6 to 8 minutes, until the onion is tender but not browned.
3. Add the parsnips, potatoes, and stock, turn up the heat, bring to a boil, and cook vigorously for about 12 minutes. Reduce the heat to low.
4. Remove 2 cups of the chowder from the pot and puree in a food mill held over the pot so it falls directly back into the chowder, or puree in a food processor, then return it to the chowder. Let the chowder simmer slowly for another 5 minutes; the broth should look silky-smooth. Remove from heat, stir in the cream, and season with salt and pepper.

White instructs that the chowder should be left at room temperature for up to an hour before reheating and serving, to allow the favors to meld, but hunger was overtaking me and I skipped that step.

The result was a thick creamy soup with chunks of potato and parsnip that were soft enough to pleasantly dissolve on the tongue. I found the flavor to be a bit sugary for my taste, but for those of you with more of a sweet tooth, this might be right up your alley. Except for the cream this is a rather low-fat dish, but it has all the comfort-food appeal of a thick clam chowder. Jeff, who had been mountain biking all day, just about wolfed it down.

Am I into parsnips now? Will I eye them with lust next time I see them at the market? Probably not...but next time I see their pale shapes in a bag of roots, I'll know just what to do with them.