Getting Back to Your Roots: Cooking with Root Vegetables
by Lee Dwyer
As the weather gets colder, I often crave a thick soup or some hearty roasted veggies. And since many root vegetables come into season in winter, it’s a good time to explore certain lesser-known vegetables, such as parsnips or golden beets, while eating healthy and feeling cozy. It’s also a great way to eat sustainably and support local farmers!
Root vegetables played an important role in New Englanders’ diets before the development of modern refrigeration technology. Roots, bulbs, and tubers such as carrots, potatoes, turnips, onions, and rutabagas kept well through the long northeastern winters. They also provided much-needed vitamins and minerals to ward off diseases like scurvy and even served as winter feed for livestock. Many an old New England house still has a root cellar, usually a dark, cool corner of a basement used for storing such produce. Today, the renewed interest in eating local, in-season food has brought some of these vegetables back into the spotlight.
Farmers’ markets are a fantastic place to find root veggies, and a lot of local markets are open through mid-November! If you’re in or around Somerville, you can also check out the Somerville Winter Farmers Market at the Armory; it’ll run on Saturdays December 1st – April 13th, from 9:30 am-2:00 pm. Your local grocery store may not carry local root veggies or more exotic varieties, like daikon radishes or purple carrots. However, I’ve found locally-grown parsnips at the Market Basket right off Union Square, so you never know! You may also wish to buy organic root vegetables, because even though herbicides and pesticides are often sprayed directly on the leaves, those chemicals wind up in the soil and are absorbed by roots. In addition, potatoes are often sprayed with fungicides and chemicals to keep them from sprouting. But if buying organic just isn’t possible for you, thoroughly washing and peeling those veggies can help a lot.
Once you have a bunch of root vegetables, what can you do with them? A simple yet flavorful way to cook them is to cut them up and roast them with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic. Most Thanksgivings I make a cornbread and root vegetable stuffing involving turnips, carrots, parsnips, and pearl onions, which is a tasty change from the traditional stuffing recipe. Last spring the ever-popular Clover food trucks served up a delicious parsnip-and-cheddar sandwich, which is fairly easy to replicate. You can also find more recipes and information about root veggies on this blog by Philadelphia chef Sam Gugino. Finally, here at Groundwork Somerville we have a tried-and-true Root Veggie Hash recipe. It’s always a favorite when we cook it in the after-school clubs, as a way to learn about plant roots and to introduce the students to some new vegetables. I’ve even taught kids to like beets and radishes using this recipe!
Root Veggie Hash
2-4 parsnips (depending on size)
3 small yellow potatoes
3 small red potatoes
2-4 beets (depending on size)
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt, pepper, & garlic powder to taste
Note: you can add or substitute various root veggies, including turnips, sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes, or rutabagas.
Wash veggies thoroughly, and peel carrots, parsnips, and beets (and turnips or rutabagas if you use them). Grate all the veggies together into a large bowl. Kids as young as 6 can help with these steps; just show them how to safely hold a peeler and grater, and make sure they don’t peel or grate too close to their fingers. Also, you may want to wear an apron while grating the beets, because their juice can stain your clothes.
Using a fork, stir so that all the root vegetables are mixed well. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Turn stove on medium-high heat and add enough oil to coat the surface of a non-stick pan or skillet (or griddle if you have one). Gently spoon the hash mixture on the pan and flatten to cover entire surface. Let sit for 3-5 minutes browning on one side, then flip so both sides of the hash can get light brown and crispy. Stir hash and serve!
Serves 4-6, depending on how hungry they are.