Monday, October 27, 2008

Root season

I love root vegetables. There are so many ways to cook them that it's almost impossible to get bored. Sometimes (often, if you ask my husband, Dave) I get in a rut and cook the same thing over and over. I do that with sweet potatoes. I put them in the oven, ideally at a low temp like 325 or 350 and cook them for a few hours. It's hard to overcook them, it takes the guesswork out of timing everything to be ready at the same time, and they make the house smell delectable!

But, sometimes I get fancier. I'm a potato freak, perhaps due to some old Irish roots, or just because they are so versatile and so tasty. My current favorite way to cook them is to roast them.

Roast potatoes

You'll need a shallow baking dish large enough to put the potatoes in a single layer. Turn oven on to 400 (if you are cooking something else that needs a different temperature, the potatoes will be fine; time may need to be adjusted). Pour enough oil (I like safflower but canola or olive oil will work, too) into the baking dish to generously cover the bottom. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put dish in oven.

Peel as many potatoes as you want (rule of thumb is you'll always want more than you cooked). I like yellow potatoes. They roast with a sweet creaminess. Potatoes are on the bad list for pesticides, so try to get organic.
Cut into large bite-sized pieces (approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches).
Take pan out of oven and put potatoes in, turning to coat in oil. Add more salt and pepper if desired.
Roast for around an hour, turning potatoes every 10 to 15 minutes, until they are browned. If they are done before the rest of your meal, turn heat lower (250 to 300) and leave until ready, turning once in a while.

Another root vegetable of which I'm fond is the beet. Again, there are many ways to cook it.

The simplest is to boil it. Wash well and cut each beet into quarters. Cover with water and boil until tender, ~ 30 minutes.

Or, you can roast them.

Roast beets - I got this recipe from my friend Amy who is both a creative and a health-conscious cook, and the creator of Coaching for Whole Body Wellness; she has great advice and recipes.

Preheat oven to 375 (if you are cooking something else that needs a different temperature, the beets will be fine; time may need to be adjusted).
Wash as many beets as you want.
Wrap in tin foil and place on a cookie sheet or pie plate to catch any errant drips.
Cook until tender, approximately 1 hour.
Take out of oven and let cool until you can hold them in your hand. Peel skins off. If it's difficult, try peeling under water.
Slice beets and sprinkle with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Sauteed carrots

Heat enough olive oil to cover bottom of a frying pan
Slice as many carrots as you want (they should be in a single layer) into uniform sticks (I usually half a narrow carrot or quarter a thick one and then cut into 3 inch lengths)
Saute over low heat, turning frequently, until softened, approximately 30 minutes.
When cooked through, sprinkle a few teas. sugar over carrots (I prefer demarara/turbinado/raw though white is fine).
Sprinkle with salt.
Cook for a few minutes, turning a few times, until sugar caramelizes.

Variation: this can be cooked with butter instead of olive oil, and will caramelize beautifully.

Mashed turnips

Clean and quarter turnips. Boil until soft, ~ 30 minutes. Drain water. Add a pat of butter, a dash of 1/2 and 1/2, cream, or milk, a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper and a small sprinkle of ground cloves. Mash together until they are a consistency you like. I leave the skins on and they don't mash perfectly smooth. If this bothers you, peel the turnips before you cook them.

My final note will be on butternut squash. Although not a root vegetable, it cooks similarly and fills the same niche on the dinner plate. My favorite way to prepare it is to halve in lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, put it on a cookie sheet or shallow baking dish and fill the holes where the seeds were with a pat of butter, a spoonful of honey, and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Bake at 350 or 375 until soft, approximately 45 minutes.

Another way to prepare butternut squash is to mash it.

Mashed butternut squash and beets

Wash and peel 7 or 8 beets.
Cut into quarters, and boil in a large saucepan, covered with water, until tender, ~ 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel one butternut squash. Cut in half lengthwise, scrape seeds, and cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks.
When beets are close to done, add squash chunks and continue to boil, ~ 10 more minutes.
When both are soft, drain in a colander and return to the pan.
Mash with a potato masher until smooth.
Add a few TBSP of butter and salt to taste.
Add a 1/2 teas. each of cumin and nutmeg and mix well.