Thank goodness the ‘festive season’ is over and I stop buying all that imported stuff you have to buy for Christmas (cranberries, dates, cape gooseberries, herbs grown in SOUTH AFRICA for goodness sake!) January is going to be a back to basics month and I intend to concentrate on stuff that’s either grown locally or, better, in my own garden. And, given the time of year, that means more root vegetables. Since I’ve already blethered on about red root vegetables, here are some ideas for using the white ones.
I have a love-hate relationship with parsnips. They’re relatively easy to grow (although you need to use fresh seed to get reliable germination) and keep well in the ground over winter, but they’re more limited than carrots in what you can do with them. I find them too sweet to use in soups (although see the spicy winter lentil soup below), so tend to eat them as a side vegetable. They make an interesting mash – great on top of a shepherd’s pie – but my favourite way to cook them is roasted a la Delia Smith. However I was thinking recently that the sweetness of parsnips must really lend itself to cakes so I did a bit of googling and came up with this prize-winning recipe from Catherine Berwick for Parsnip and Maple Syrup Cake. It gets good reviews, so I’ll be trying this one out once I’ve finished the Christmas cake. See also the BBC Good Food recipe for Celeriac and Parsnip Bake; a useful dish when your parsnips get a bit woody (about now) and you have to prise the central core out. I tried this out at New Year and it was great – even the cat liked it! (Note that the website picture of this dish is of roast potatoes, not Celeriac and Parsnip Bake.)
I don’t know why more people don’t grow this brilliant vegetable. They’re really reliable and produce massive plants which make a great barrier (10 ft high this year), although you do need to stake them if they’re exposed. Even a small plant produces a huge crop which keep well in the ground over winter. There are three disadvantages however. Firstly, you really need to grow them where you can dig them out completely, since any left in the ground will come up next year and since they grow deep that’s very likely. Secondly, they’re rather knobbly which means quite a bit of peeling and waste. The third disadvantage is that they contain indigestible inulin (the level of which increases on storage) which can have unfortunate abdominal consequences, so don’t eat artichokes before going out with anyone you want to impress! For those who don’t care (or who live alone), here’s an easy recipe for artichoke soup:
500 g artichokes, peeled. (As you peel them drop them into water with a little lemon juice to stop them discolouring.) 1 small onion, chopped. 1 stick of celery, chopped. 500 ml vegetable stock. 1 tbsp cream cheese (optional). Method: Braise the onion and celery in a little butter until soft. Add the chopped artichokes and the stock and cook for 15-20 minutes until the artichokes are soft. Add the cream cheese, if using, and liquidise. This may need thinning down, so add more stock, or milk, to taste. Jerusalem artichokes can also be roasted like potatoes – see this Jamie Oliver recipe for Sautéed Jerusalem artichokes.
You can’t beat mashed swede with haggis but, apart from that, I’ve never been sure what to do with it since I I don’t really like the taste in soups even if it’s traditional to include ‘neeps’ in Scots Broth. However, I did come across a recipe for using them like parsnips a la Delia Smith (see above), so I’ll definitely be giving that a go, since this year, for the first time, I managed to grow decent sized swedes.
I wish I could grow celeriac. I’ve tried it a couple of times, both from seed and bought plants, but ended up with hairy golf-ball sized roots. Consulting my trusty ‘The Vegetable and Herb Expert’ by DG Hessayon, I note that they like a rich moisture retentive soil (ie, not sand) and a long growing season of 30-35 weeks. But if you’ve got better soil than me and a sheltered sunny spot, you might give them a go. They make a great soup (see this Delia Smith recipe for Slow Cooked Celery and Celeriac Soup). And try it in the Parsnip and Celeriac Bake (see above.) They’re also delicious sliced thinly and cooked in milk as you would potato dauphinoise.
And here’s the recipe for one of my favourite winter soups which uses all of these root vegetables and more:
Spicy winter lentil soup: Ingredients – 1 onion, 1 big carrot, 1 small parsnip, 1 carrot-sized lump of celeriac (or a stick of celery), half a small swede, 1 beetroot (optional), half a tin of chopped tomatoes (optional), 1 tsp harissa paste (optional), 150 g puy lentils or similar, 1 litre or more of stock. Chop the vegetables finely, braise in a little oil, add the harissa paste and tomatoes, lentils and stock. Simmer for about 45 minutes. Liquidise about a quarter of the soup and stir back in. Season to taste. Serve with lots of chopped parsley. This is a very adaptable recipe and you can use any root veg you like, but in roughly equal proportions. Add garlic, spices and chilli instead of the harissa. Use passata instead of tinned tomatoes. At this time of year I’m using ham stock from the New Year ham, but vegetable stock works well.
My root veg should last well into February and I’ll still have leeks if they survive the winter weather. By March the sprouting broccoli should start to produce spears so, with a bit of planning, it’s possible to eat home-grown vegetables right through the year, which is not only satisfying and delicious but, in a small way, saves the planet too. What’s not to like?