The Root of It All
Root vegetables are grown for their underground, edible roots. They are relatively easy to grow and are similar in their needs in the garden.
This category also includes: Bulbs (garlic, shallots, onions), Rhizomes (ginger, turmeric, lotus root), Tubers (sun chokes, potatoes), Taproots (jicama, salsify, radish, carrots), Tuberous roots (sweet potatoes, yams, cassava).
Root vegetables take over our kitchens all winter long. These are the hearty vegetables that flourish in the winter months, including carrots, salsify, turnips, rutabagas, beets, and parsnips. They taste particularly sweet during winter because the cold encourages the conversion of starch to sugar.
Beets: Many confessed beet haters change their tune when they taste a roasted beet. Their sweet flavor explodes when cooked properly. Yellow or red, the skin has a deep color that doesn’t change with cooking; just be sure to peel them after cooking. The leafy green tops are also edible, and taste wonderful when sautéed or stuffed into ravioli. They are particularly delicious with goat’s cheese or Puy lentils. Store beets in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
Salsify: This root is virtually unknown in the U.S., but the creamy white flesh is delicious boiled, washed, or used in soups and stews. It has an oyster-like taste when cooked and is sometimes known as “the oyster plant.” Peel the thick skin and cut it into short lengths. Salsify discolors very quickly, so plunge immediately into acidulated water after slicing. Simmer for 30 minutes until soft, drain, and sauté in butter. It’s in season June through February.
Parsnips: The sweet, earthy parsnip is underappreciated in the U.S. It can be eaten raw or cooked, but we love to mash it and serve it alongside roasted meats. It’s also wonderful in soups and stews. Available year-round, parsnips are at their peak in autumn and winter.
Turnips: This vegetable is often ignored by American foodies, but one bite of a perfectly roasted turnip will turn you into a believer. They have a wonderful sweet, earthy flavor that comes alive when cooked. You can also substitute them for potatoes for a flavorful mash—just peel them, cook them, and mash them with butter and milk. Peak turnip season is October through February. They can be refrigerated for up to two weeks or kept in a cool, dark place for up to two months. Choose those that smell sweet and have fresh green tops.
Rutabaga: Rutabaga is essentially a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. It is an oval shaped vegetable with a thin skin that is purple on the top and yellow on the bottom. The inner flesh is pale orange. The young leaves of a rutabaga can also be eaten, but as they get larger the leaves get chewier and coarse. A rutabaga typically weighs 2 - 3 pounds.
Jerusalem Artichokes: A Jerusalem artichoke or 'Sun choke' is a large, perennial sunflower. Like a potato, it produces edible tubers at the ends of its underground stems. Jerusalem artichokes can be eaten raw, steamed, fried, baked or mashed. They are easy to grow and don't need much attention to maintain.
Heirloom Radishes: Most people only know radishes as the white-and-red garnish on salads, but heirloom radishes have become more widely available, bringing an array of texture and color to the plate. One of our popular starter plates is a very French way to serve radishes: thinly sliced radishes served with anchovy butter and sea salt. Radishes are members of the mustard family and have mild, sweet, slightly bitter or peppery flavors depending on the variety. They come in all shapes and sizes, from red and white to even black. The most common is the Cherry Belle variety, a round, bright red radish with a white interior and a mild, slightly sweet flavor. The Watermelon variety has a vivid purple-pink interior, while the long, tubular French Breakfast radish has a pale red exterior and white interior with a mild, slightly sweet flavor. The Sparkler White Tip is a round, bright red radish with white tips and a mild flavor, while the White Icicle is a long, thin variety with a milky white color and a rich, spicy flavor.
Carrots: Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables in the world. They date as far back as the 200 AD and have played a role in just about every culinary style. They were originally grown for medicinal purposes and included in Ancient herbals, but as the years went by, the easygrowing carrot became a food staple. It is not surprising that this vegetable succeeds both in savory and sweet dishes as the carrot is complementary to spices and herbs. While some baby carrots were harvested early to avoid crowding, certain types have been bred to eat as baby carrots. One of our favorites is the Nantes variety. Originally from the Chantenay region of France, it’s great fresh or for canning. It’s considered the sweetest and most tender baby carrot, with red-orange flesh. Because of their delicate skin, baby carrots don’t need to be peeled and their small, beautiful shape doesn’t need much trimming, either. We serve baby carrots sautéed, braised, or roasted but we also love to pickle them; they look beautiful standing upright in glass jars. They also make a wonderful visual and textural addition to a crudité platter, served with dip.
Jicama: Jicama is a round root vegetable that is thought to have its orgins in Mexico and Central America. It is similar in texture to a turnip or a raw potato but tastes more like an apple or Asian pear. Jicama is a wonderful addition to salads, slaws, stir fried dishes and simply eaten with a squeeze of lime, a dash of salt and chili powder.
Ginger: The root of the ginger plant is used in several ways. It can be consumed fresh, pickled, cooked, dried or extracted into an oil. Ginger has been around for a long time. In ancient times, it was used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Today, it is still considered a vegetable with many health benefits including reducing pain, nausea and inflammation.