Autumn Bisque, now with post and recipe!

I promised you a recipe when I was feeling a bit better, and suddenly a week slid by! It’s not that I wasn’t feeling better (though suspected food poisoning that requires two days – TWO! Two entire days! – home from work does take a while to recover from); it’s just that the end-of-semester panic that seems to make many of my students momentarily forget how to write seemed to strike me too. The words dulled and tripped and, in the face of multiple fires breathing their way up and down Southern California and all the other apocalyptic promises of the impending end of the year, chose to stay inside, thank-you-very-much.

But it’s time to shed that cocoon and step back out, and besides, this soup, with its medley of root vegetables, apple for sweet tartness, and luxurious quantities of cream, is all the velvet goodness a winter table requires. Its inspiration comes from a gorgeous bowl at my sister’s wedding last fall – a soup so rich and luxe and flavorful it was practically a down comforter. I knew it had root vegetables in it, I knew it had cream and herbs, maybe butternut squash, maybe sweet potato… so I wrote to the catering director at the venue and got into a very silly standoff: I wanted an email with a recipe, she wanted me to call (during HER business hours, east coast time – didn’t she know I was at work too? Didn’t she know I abhor phone calls?!) so she could tell me how she makes it, which sounded more like procedure than like an ingredient list with quantities. This went back and forth for a week, with me refusing to call and her refusing to provide a recipe, and finally I just gave up. Ten months later, the time to recreate the soup arrived, and I had only my muted memories from a night soaked in champagne and joy to go on.

To that end, I have no idea how close this is to the original. I picked sweet potatoes, parsnips, and celery root for an intriguing background flavor – you could change up the vegetable choices and use winter squash, or carrots, or even rutabagas. I suspect the venue’s version had even more cream, and I don’t think it included the spritz of nutmeg I added (mostly for looks, but we liked the flavor of it too), but there’s something about pouring in over a cup of heavy whipping cream and watching the contents of the pot go from bright orange to decidedly pale gold that makes a home cook’s arteries start whispering threats. I also don’t think the venue added a last minute slug of irish whiskey, but I’d recommend that you do, since just that little bit somehow rounds out the flavor in a way nothing else could.

What I do know is: this is cozy. It’s smooth, and rich, and pleasantly filling, and would be perfect with a bright, citrus-spiked salad full of radishes and pomegranate seeds and bitter lettuces.* And a thick wedge of bread to round things out. Maybe this one. And it leaves me lacking only one soup, with three weeks to go, to make this project complete.

* wow, that sounds good, doesn’t it? Want one next week? I’ll see what I can do…

Autumn Bisque
Makes 10-12 first course servings; about 6 main course servings
About an hour
4-6 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium white onion, diced
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups peeled and diced celery root
2 cups peeled and diced sweet potato
2 cups peeled and diced parsnips
1 green apple, peeled, cored, and diced
3 sprigs fresh thyme (plus more to serve, if desired)
1 sprig fresh sage (4-5 leaves)
1 bay leaf
1½ cups heavy cream
1-2 ounces whiskey, brandy, or marsala, optional
1-2 teaspoons salt, to taste
sprinkle of nutmeg, to serve

 

  • Set the oven temperature to 350F. In a small, oven-safe bowl, drizzle the garlic cloves with a little bit of olive oil, some salt and some pepper. Top tightly with aluminum foil and stow in the oven until the garlic smells sweet, 20-25 minutes. There’s no need to wait for the oven to preheat.
  • While the garlic is roasting, melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the diced onion and cook gently with 2 pinches of salt until the onions are tender and slightly translucent, but not browned. This is called sweating, and should take 8-10 minutes, during which time you can peel and dice the other vegetables.
  • With the onions softened, pour in the stock, then dump in the diced celery root, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and apple. Stir in the thyme, sage, and bay leaf, then raise the heat, cover with a lid, and bring to a boil.
  • Once the liquid is boiling, reduce the heat to medium or medium low, keeping the soup just at a simmer until the vegetables are fork-tender: easily speared but not disintegrating; about 30 minutes. The apple will be softer than the others; the celery root will likely take the longest.
  • When the vegetable chunks are tender, remove from heat and add the roasted garlic – once it has cooled a bit from its time in the oven, just squeeze the cloves right out of their skins, and straight into the soup. Then, very carefully and working in batches, relocate the soup to a blender and blend until very, very smooth. Hot liquids can expand rapidly in the blender, causing small “explosions,” so leave some room in the top, leave a space with the lid for air to escape, and consider covering the top with a thick kitchen towel just in case.
  • Transfer the smooth soup back to the pot. If you’re feeling especially fussy, you could try straining it first. I didn’t, but if you do, let me know how it goes!
  • Back in the pot, stir in the heavy cream and the alcohol, if using, and the salt. Start with 1 teaspoon, taste, then add more if you feel the soup needs it. Return to low heat until warmed through.
  • To serve, ladle into bowls, dust lightly with nutmeg, and top with a sprig of thyme if you’re feeling fancy.
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Carrot and Sweet Potato Salad with Lime Vinaigrette

2016-food-blog-september-0821I mention my sister pretty frequently in this little space. Although she lives across the country from me, across disciplines, across life experiences, across personalities, she is my kitchen sounding board. When I think of a recipe concept and I can’t decide whether it sounds amazing or insane, I text R. When I have a triumph or a disaster, I text R. When I find a recipe online that I know MUST be tried… you get the idea.

2016-food-blog-september-0798In three little weeks, R. is getting married. I feel incredibly privileged that she has asked me to stand beside her in her wedding party as the woman of honor. We’ve spent the past year or so discussing little details and working through planning frustrations and pinning, pinning, pinning to her wedding pinterest board. And yet, because so many miles separate us geographically, I can’t do the things that my role in the wedding party traditionally requires of me. I can’t plan a bridal shower or a bachelorette party, because I’m only hopping on a plane to get to the wedding a few days before it happens. I can’t coordinate all the bridesmaids, because, well, because R. is such a good planner that I haven’t had a chance. Sure, I can do her makeup and hold her bouquet and give a toast on the big day, but it doesn’t feel like enough for my own sister.

2016-food-blog-september-0808Since so much of my love is filtered through food, it was, of course, a menu that finally made me feel like I was contributing sufficiently. R. and her fiancé aren’t having a rehearsal dinner, mostly because they aren’t having a rehearsal – their venue is an hour away from their home, and it seemed like a lot of trouble to truck out there the morning before just to spent twenty minutes deciding who will stand where and in what order when we could just get there a little early the day of and do the same thing. But we will have a lot of family arriving to town the day before the wedding, so having a casual little dinner the night before did seem like a nice thing to do, and this “welcome dinner,” as we’re calling it, became my responsibility. I’ve plotted out a menu, created and sent invitations, and this weekend, did a run-through of one of the new dishes we’ll be making for the occasion.

2016-food-blog-september-0809The dinner is in a park at a picnic shelter, so we are leaning largely on casual fare, but because it’s such a special occasion, we wanted a cut above your standard hamburger patties and potato salad. Since it will be mid-October, and it has been R’s dream to have a fall wedding for a very long time, we are working with an autumnal theme – there will be spiked and non-spiked apple cider, a slaw of brussels sprouts with toasted walnuts and dried cranberries, a substantial pasta salad with robust dressing and bitter radicchio threaded through, and this: a salad as good warm as it is cold or room temperature, of tender carrot and sweet potato chunks wrapped in a lime vinaigrette busy with herbs. To keep it light as well as autumnal, at the last minute the vegetable chunks get tossed with a scattering of well-toasted pumpkin seeds and a few big handfuls of delicate baby arugula.

2016-food-blog-september-0815The seed for this salad idea came from a Bittman project recipe, and I’ve tweaked and fiddled with it a few times now, until this iteration seemed exactly right. Virginia in October, which is where and when we’re headed, is a funny transitional point on the space/time continuum. It can be downright chilly, but it can also spike back up into summer temperatures, or it can gift you with a sudden downpour. It’s hard to know which you’re going to get, and sometimes it might offer up some of each in the same day! This salad dances well with them all. The orange root vegetable base and the pumpkin seeds point straight at Halloween and Thanksgiving, but juxtaposing them with a bright lime vinaigrette and soft, summery herbs makes the finished dish feel light. I ended up adding a spoonful of whole grain mustard for another kind of tartness, and this along with the peppery arugula prevents the starchy vegetables from reading too sweet.

2016-food-blog-september-0818Though I like the salad just how it is here, it is admittedly ripe for adjustments of all kinds. Replacing the pumpkin seeds with roasted pistachios might take things in a springy direction, and you could certainly bulk it up a bit with crumbled feta or goat cheese or even golden raisins, though these might tip the sweetness scales a bit overly much. You could use orange or lemon juice instead of lime in the vinaigrette, you could replace the arugula with baby spinach or kale and serve it warm; you could of course change out the herb combination to your preference. Add some nicely grilled bratwurst, or stir in a few ladles of buttery couscous or farro or quinoa, and you have a complete meal.

2016-food-blog-september-0824As I kept thinking about this salad, I realized it was ideal in so many ways. Since it can be served warm or cold, it works with whatever version of fall your home might be throwing at you – whether it’s the decidedly fall evenings in the northeast, or the Santa Ana wind-riddled mid-90s madness in Southern California. This is a transitional salad for a transitional season. And forgive me as I wax poetic on you, but it is also a nice metaphor for the occasion: a salad that moves easily between meteorological seasons seems perfect for a couple about to transition between seasons of life.

2016-food-blog-september-0836

Carrot and Sweet Potato Salad with Lime Vinaigrette
Serves 6 as a side
45-60 minutes including cooling time
1 pound carrots (about 4 large)
2 pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (about 4 medium)
2 tablespoons salt
¼ cup pumpkin seeds (2 ounces)
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon honey
6 tablespoons lime juice (2-3 limes)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1-2 cups baby arugula

 

  • Fill a large pot about ¾ of the way full of water, add the 2 tablespoons salt, and bring to a boil.
  • While you wait for the water to heat, peel the carrots and sweet potatoes and cut them into 1-2 inch chunks, a bit bigger than bite-sized.
  • When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the carrot chunks and cook for 5 minutes with the lid off – the carrots will take a bit longer than the sweet potatoes.
  • After the first five minutes of cooking, add he sweet potato chunks and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender but not mushy or falling apart – about 8-10 minutes depending on the size of your chunks. Immediately drain and set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes, then transfer to a large bowl.
  • While the vegetables are cooking, toast the pumpkin seeds in a 350F oven until they are browned and popping – about 5-10 minutes. A toaster oven works really well for this if you don’t want to heat up your house too much. When they are ready, set them aside to cool.
  • In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, whisk together the honey, the mustard, and the lime juice. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly, to form a nicely emulsified dressing. Stir in the herbs and add black pepper to taste.
  • After the cooked vegetable chunks have cooled for 10-15 minutes and been relocated to a large bowl, pour the dressing over them and toss gently to coat everything evenly.
  • If you want the dish to be warm, add the arugula and pumpkin seeds, toss gently to combine, and serve immediately. The greens will wilt considerably as they hit the warm vegetables.
  • If you prefer the dish at cold or at room temperature, wait to add the arugula and pumpkin seeds until just before serving.
  • This will keep in the refrigerator for a day or two, though any greens you’ve incorporated will look considerably less sprightly after the first day.

 

Seared Salmon with Pea Pesto and Celery Root Puree

If you are a certain type of food blogger, one who is interested in trends of the food and restaurant world, not just the backdrop and vintage props Pinterest tells us are all the rage this month, then you care about and try to integrate sustainability, and seasonality, and local foods into your cooking. You are all about ramps and rhubarb in the spring, you plan zucchini dishes for late summer and early autumn when that crop is glutted. You wouldn’t dream of presenting a heavy stew or cream-based soup unless the weather has been cold. You let the year and its turning rule your kitchen.

2015 Blog August-0298I try to be that kind of blogger. I try to keep my food in tune with the seasons and plan vegetable dishes according not just to what appears at my farmers’ market, but to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone is in Southern California, so not everyone has the same plethora of options I do. I even try to plan for holidays, and get appropriate dishes out there ahead of time (sometimes barely) in case you want to make them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

2015 Blog August-0286But here’s the thing: I’m also ruled by my stomach. Sometimes I don’t want zucchini. Sometimes I would rather roast than grill. Sometimes there’s a combination I dream up that sounds so good I don’t want to wait until the “right” time to cook it and present it to you. That’s the case this week. This is, if I were being a responsible food person, without question a spring dish. The peas could be fresh out of the pod, the dill is all about feathery fronds and new shoots. I cook the salmon so the skin is crispy, then balance the flesh side atop lemon slices in the pan to keep it moist and tender, all freshness and brightness. The celery roots, on the other hand, are the last dregs of winter, knobbly and earthy and strange, adding pale richness to complement the salmon and tame the sprightly sharpness of the pesto.

2015 Blog August-0292But when I thought of it – a nutty pesto of peas and walnuts, seasoned with dill instead of basil or mint and almost on the verge of being too salty, sitting atop a piece of moist, pink salmon with crisp skin, all surrounded by the creamy celery-scented puree, I couldn’t wait half a year. It had to happen now.

There’s not much to say about this dish, story-wise. No childhood memory or restaurant meal inspired it. I just thought the combination sounded good, and it was. The pesto, in particular, though admittedly not the most appealing shade of green, is a surprising and intriguing punch. Dill works very well with peas as well as lemon, and the tannic bitterness of toasted walnuts tames the sweetness of the peas enough to keep them in the savory realm.

2015 Blog August-0295Note: the puree does take the longest time to create, since the starchy roots can take up to half an hour to soften. If you’re very efficient, you’ll be able to prep the remainder of the components while the hunks of celery root are simmering. I am not all that efficient, so I made the pesto first just in case. You know you best, so plan accordingly.

2015 Blog August-0298

Seared Salmon with Pea Pesto and Celery Root Puree
45-50 minutes prep and cook time
Serves 4
For celery root puree:
2 medium celery roots, any attached stalks removed, peeled and chopped into small chunks
1-2 cups milk
1 clove garlic, skin removed
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper (use white pepper if you don’t want flecks)
6 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
For pea pesto:
1 cup (4 ounces) peas, fresh or frozen
⅓ cup walnut pieces
1 clove garlic, skin removed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
¼ teaspoon fresh black pepper (or to taste)
¼ cup olive oil
For salmon:
4 filets of salmon, 4-6 ounces each
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, cut into ¼ inch slices

 

  • To make the celery root puree, place the chunks of chopped celery root in a medium pot and pour in enough milk just to cover. Add salt and pepper and toss in the garlic clove. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then immediately turn down the heat, and cook at a bare simmer until celery root pieces are fork tender, 20-30 minutes.
  • Once roots are tender, remove the pot from the heat, add the mascarpone cheese, and let sit for 5-10 minutes just to cool. Use an immersion blender or a regular blender (be VERY careful with the hot liquid) to blend to a smooth puree.
  • While the celery root chunks are simmering, remove the salmon from the fridge and its packaging and sprinkle it with the ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Then set it aside. We want it to come up to room temperature so it cooks evenly.
  • To make the pea pesto, either blanch your fresh peas by dropping them into boiling water for 1-2 minutes before a quick drain, or defrost your peas if they are frozen.
  • Toast the walnut pieces in a dry pan just until they smell roasty and are slightly darker brown. Let them cool, then toss them into a food processor with the garlic and whir these together into damp crumbs. Add in the dill and whir again to break up the fronds.
  • Dump the cooled peas into the processor and pulse at 2-second intervals 3-4 times to create a chunky, clumpy mixture that is not quite a paste.
  • Finally, add the lemon juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil, and pulse again in 2-second intervals until you have a thick, barely emulsified paste. You want this to be spoonable, not pourable, so keep your eye on the texture.
  • When you are ready to cook the salmon, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until the oil is rippling and shimmering in the heat. Carefully add the salmon skin-side down (oil will likely spatter a bit in excitement when you do, so stand back!), and let it cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. Really! Don’t mess with it!
  • After 5 minutes, top each salmon piece with 2-3 lemon slices and carefully flip over so that the lemon slices, not the flesh of the salmon, are in contact with the pan. Again, this may cause some spattering of the oil, so be careful. Let the salmon cook atop the lemon slices for another 2-3 minutes, or until just done in the center.
  • To serve, pour ⅓–½ cup celery root puree into the base of a small plate or a shallow bowl. Place a piece of salmon skin-side up atop in the center of the pool of puree (leave the lemon slices in the skillet, or serve one off to the side if desired). Top the salmon with 1-2 tablespoons of the pea pesto, and serve immediately.

Seared Scallops with Beurre Blanc and Parsnip Puree

Food Blog November 2014-0893It will come as no surprise to you that I am late with this post. I mean, here it is Monday and it’s up and all that, but a quick check of the calendar belies my appearance of timeliness. See, it’s December. It’s December and this is a sauce recipe I owe you from last month. By my twisted, grasping-for-an-apology way of thinking, though, I ate it in November… so that totally counts, right?

Food Blog November 2014-0872This time around, we’re back to butter. There are a lot of butter based sauces, friends. A lot. This one, a beurre blanc, is a sauce made by reducing white wine with aromatics and sometimes a bit of lemon juice or vinegar, then whisking in an unbelievable amount of butter until the sauce turns into this rich, fluffy, thick, pale yellow ambrosia that belongs draped over every kind of substance imaginable.

Food Blog November 2014-0875Food Blog November 2014-0879Most of these sauces have dubious origin stories. Who wouldn’t want to be responsible for a well-loved buttery emulsion as appropriate to green beans as to seared fish? Cooking lore holds, however, that beurre blanc was created by accident – an unintentional simplification of béarnaise sauce that caught on and became beloved. Julia Child writes about it with the affection you might expect for a sauce that is, in her words, essentially “warm flavored butter.”

Food Blog November 2014-0880Food Blog November 2014-0881This is not Julia Child’s recipe. For ease, and for clarity, I went with Alton Brown’s. Mine is a slight adaptation – I halved the recipe, and I didn’t have the traditional shallot so I simply omitted it. Alton’s sauce uses lemon juice instead of white wine vinegar, which suggests it was meant to go with fish or seafood, and this decided my pairings for me. Lemon and butter sauce? Pass the scallops.

Food Blog November 2014-0870The silkiness of this sauce is perfect with shellfish. I can imagine dipping lush hunks of lobster into it. I can imagine a drizzle over soft-shell crab. I would be more than satisfied with a pool underneath a piece of halibut or cod. But scallops won the day for me. These perfect little cylinders, meaty and mild and almost sweet, develop a perfect crust when you pat them dry, season them aggressively, and sear them golden-brown on top and bottom. When you douse them with sauce, or float them in a puddle of it, the buttery smoothness somehow elevates them even more.

Food Blog November 2014-0882Because I was eating alone, I decided to play with plating a bit more than usual. As I see it, there are many ways to serve this dinner. I tried two options. First, and a bit more everyday, is a lovely heap of parsnip puree, a few scallops nestled atop it, and a small pile of steamed slender green beans alongside. A healthy drizzle of sauce, and you are ready to serve.

Food Blog November 2014-0883Food Blog November 2014-0884To amp up the presentation though, I grabbed a long rectangular dish. A few small bundles of green beans at intervals along the plate, small mounds of puree between them, and a tender scallop balanced on each spoonful of puree. Sauce can be applied to the top of each scallop, or poured around the edges of the plate just before serving.

Food Blog November 2014-0893

Seared Scallops with Beurre Blanc and Parsnip Puree
Serves 2

For the parsnip puree:

3-4 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2-3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chives, finely minced
For the beurre blanc:
4 ounces dry white wine
½ tablespoon lemon juice
½ tablespoon heavy cream
6 tablespoons cold, cubed butter
salt to taste
For the scallops:
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to sprinkle
12 large sea scallops, at room temperature

 

  • Place the milk, garlic cloves, and parsnip chunks into a medium pot over medium heat. The moment the milk begins to bubble, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the parsnips are tender, 10-12 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the butter until melted.
  • Blend until very smooth using an immersion blender, a regular blender, or a food processor. Just before serving, fold in the chives.
  • While the milk for the parsnips is heating up, make the beurre blanc.
  • In a small pot, heat the wine and lemon juice to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the liquid to a bare tablespoon.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add the half tablespoon of cream, which will help stabilize the mixture.
  • As soon as the liquid begins to bubble again, turn the heat down as low as it will go and begin adding the butter, one cube at a time, whisking until completely integrated into the liquid before adding the next cube.
  • Continue adding the butter, whisking constantly, until it is all integrated. Turn off the heat and continue whisking until the sauce is fully emulsified and has become a fluffy, pale yellow puddle slightly thicker than melted ice cream.
  • Stow the finished sauce in a thermos to stay warm while you cook the scallops.
  • Unwrap your scallops and pat them dry with a paper towel. If they are wet, they will not sear well. Sprinkle both sides of each scallop with salt and pepper.
  • In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. When it is shimmering in the pan, carefully add the scallops in a single layer, taking care not to let them touch one another. This seems fussy, but it is essential for getting a good sear.
  • Once you have placed each scallop, don’t touch them for 2 full minutes. Then, carefully lift one and check the bottom – it should have a deep bronzed crust. If this is the case, flip over each scallop and cook another 2 minutes. If it isn’t deeply bronzed yet, let it cook another 30 seconds before checking again.
  • When the scallops are cooked, they should feel slightly springy but resistant, like a firm mattress. Ideally, they should be the palest, palest pink in the center as in my photo above – they will continue to cook while you plate the rest of the meal.
  • To serve, arrange as desired with scallops atop or beside the parsnip puree, and the beurre blanc sauce drizzle over the top or puddled on the side. Accompany the dish with steamed green beans or pencil asparagus, if desired.

Roots Latkes

Most kids, upon reviewing what they ate during college, will talk about late night burrito runs. There will be a fair share of ramen noodle stock-up stories, and an assessment of the school’s dining facilities. For a student who has moved off campus, such a topic is likely to provoke a discussion of microwaveable meals. I had my share of those as well, I’ll readily admit, particularly during the month after a stunningly disorienting and unexpected breakup during which I subsisted mainly on Coca-Cola, boxed stuffing mix, Godiva ice cream, and carne asada burritos to-go from a restaurant next door to the grocery store where I was buying the rest of my supplies.

Food Blog November 2014-0694Thankfully, that month or so was an exception. For much of my off-campus college career, I lived with one other girl in a duplex her mom rented to us, and we fed each other. Sometimes it was easy stuff: pancakes, omelets, pasta with jarred red sauce, sometimes something a bit junkier like Oreo milkshakes. But we definitely introduced each other to our classics. One of mine was a modification of an old Ghirardelli oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe. One of hers was a simple, lovely little roasted vegetable dish her family just called “roots.” Roots consisted of, well, roots. Russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, and sometimes beets got peeled, cubed, and tossed with salt, pepper, and olive oil. The first time she made it for us, K. said that she wasn’t sure how much olive oil to use, but that her mom said it should be just enough that the raw cubes of vegetables “glistened.” Then we loaded them into large glass casserole dishes and roasted them until they were done.

Food Blog November 2014-0681Roots comprised whole meals for us during those years. Sometimes there would be some kind of green side, but mostly we just sat down (never at the table, always on the couch) with big bowls of autumnal cubes, toasty and brown on the outside, starchy and pillowy soft on the inside, and inhaled them. It was reasonably good for us, it was filling, it was delicious, and best of all, it was cheap. The biggest disadvantage to the whole endeavor was getting a cashier at the grocery store who didn’t recognize “weird” vegetables like rutabagas and parsnips, and would take a long time looking up the codes to ring them up.

Food Blog November 2014-0682Over the years, I’ve made roots more times than I can count. They are a lovely comfort food dish: simple to make, hot and forgiving, and easily changed up depending on what vegetables and herb combinations you like the best. Over time, I’ve eliminated beets from the equation, and opted to add plenty of chopped rosemary to the requisite salt, pepper, and olive oil.

But recently, I got thinking about roots again and wondered what it would be like to turn these simple cubed, roasted vegetables into a latke. This would increase the ratio of crisp edges to soft interior, always a good thing, and cut down a bit on preparation as well as cooking time – you can just shred everything in a food processor before frying it up, rather than cubing by hand before waiting out the hour or more the original takes in the oven.

Food Blog November 2014-0687This was, as it turned out, exactly the right thing to do. I opted for potato, carrot, parsnip, and rutabaga as my key players. They whiz into a tangle of starchy threads. Half an onion joins the party – it’s part of a standard latke, and it’s a root vegetable too. As a nod to the common practice of serving latkes with applesauce, I added a tart green apple to the vegetable combination and was pleased with the sweet sharpness it contributed. And I preserved my own love of rosemary with a hefty tablespoon in the mix.

A few eggs, a toss with some flour, and salt and pepper to season, and you carefully drop-pour dollops of the sticky mixture into hot vegetable oil, preferably in a nicely seasoned cast iron pan. It sizzles, it browns, you flip it, and within ten minutes from your first addition of batter, you are passing out hot roots latkes to your delighted diners. Or, if you want to serve everything together, you can stow each batch in the oven on a rack in a baking tray to keep them warm and crisp.

Food Blog November 2014-0690What you are left with is a reasonably quick, reasonably easy (both provided you have a food processor with a shredding disk) meal that doesn’t cost much but tastes exactly right for the approach of chillier weather. The flavors are more complex than your standard latke – there’s a mix of sweetness from the addition of the carrot and the apple. The parsnip and rutabaga have a spicy, earthy flavor that reminds me somehow of incense, a feeling pleasantly intensified by the rosemary.

Since I’d already captured the applesauce element by adding apple to the batter, I served these with a dollop of sour cream as a nod to another classic pairing.

Food Blog November 2014-0695

Roots latkes
Makes about a dozen  3-inch latkes
1 yukon gold potato
1 large carrot, peeled
1 large parsnip, peeled
1 medium rutabaga, peeled
1 large tart apple, cored
½ large white or yellow onion, ends and papery skin removed (either color is fine, so long as it’s not a sweet onion)
1 tablespoon minced rosemary
1-½ cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon pepper, or to taste
½-1 cup vegetable oil
Sour cream, for serving (optional)

 

  • Begin heating ½ cup of vegetable oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat – it will take a few minutes, but you are looking for it to just shimmer when swirled around the pan. If you plan to make the whole batch at once and need to keep them warm, preheat the oven to 300F and position a baking sheet with a wire rack on it inside the oven.
  • Fit a food processor with the shredding disk, or address the largest holes on a box grater with care for your knuckles. Cut the vegetables into the size needed to fit comfortably down the feeding chute of the food processor, and carefully feed the potato, carrot, parsnip, rutabaga, apple, and onion through the machine to create long, thin shreds of vegetable.
  • Dump the whole mess into a large bowl and mix them up a bit with your fingers to distribute evenly. You’ll be left with strands of vegetable confetti.
  • Add the rosemary and flour to the vegetable shreds and toss well with your fingers to combine. Then add the eggs and the salt and pepper, and mix well to combine. You could use a spoon or spatula for this, but I just use my fingers. They do a better job ensuring everything is evenly distributed.
  • When the oil is shimmering, plop ¼ – ⅓ cup dollops of the mixture into the oil. In my 10-inch skillet, I can fit three dollops of batter comfortably without touching – don’t crowd them. When they hit the oil, they should sizzle lightly. If the oil spits aggressively, it’s too hot. Turn the heat down or remove the pan from the heat for a minute to cool it down.
  • Sizzle the latkes for 4-5 minutes on the first side, until it is evenly golden-brown and crisp. Flip carefully (oil splatters) and cook for 2-3 minutes on the second side, until it too is brown and crisp. Move to the rack in the oven to keep warm, or directly to a plate for immediate consumption.
  • Repeat until batter is used up. If the oil level gets low or the latkes begin to brown unevenly, add additional vegetable oil to the skillet, giving it time to heat up before adding more batter.
  • Serve with sour cream, if desired, or applesauce, or just an anxious fork.

Grilled Potato and Radish Salad

In the last three years, I have had the incredible good luck of attending a wedding each summer. Two years ago, I had the great honor of making the cake. One year ago, I sobbed as I watched two women legally and joyfully exchange vows, then start perhaps the greatest dance party I’ve ever attended. And this past weekend my eyes welled as the bride – dressed in a frock she designed herself, alternating white and lemon yellow flounces – betrayed just a tiny quiver in her perfect, crimson lips as her sister read a toast: a poem she’d written herself.

Food blog June 2014-3913The poem was about the bride and groom, but it was also about older and younger sisters: the beautiful friend/family/learning relationship they have as they grow up together. It was, there is almost no need to assert, beautiful. Of course it was. It was about the things the girls had weathered, and how the groom had woven his way into their laughter and music, through music of his own. But it was also about what the bride had taught her sister.

Food blog June 2014-3907Sisters learn funny things from each other, and it is disarming and lovely to be allowed to see what things they consider most important. How to read, how to write, how to sing. And, somehow magically, “how to cook radishes.” Until five or six years ago, I’d never given much thought to cooking radishes. To be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to radishes at all. They were just there, all weird and pinkly peppery, flying saucers scattered through the occasional salad, or sharp and pungent and paired with butter and salt.

Food blog June 2014-3910But here’s a funny thing, about radishes, about weddings, about friends and family and learning: as you get older, you get to choose things. Weddings help us construct the families we choose. But so can friendships, and so can an experience like graduate school, and so, oddly enough, can radishes.

Food blog June 2014-3911When N. and I lived in Eugene, Oregon, we decided to grow a garden. It was easy, there. It was a matter of shoving seeds into a spare bit of dirt, and watching them grow. Until the height of summer, it rained so often you barely had to worry about watering. Peas were one of our first crops, and of course we were invested in our tomatoes. But I’d still never considered radishes. Until, at S.’s house, a friend who has now become family, I was handed a french breakfast radish, pulled from her own little vegetable plot minutes before, a pink and while icicle the neighborhood deer had left quite alone. “You can just eat the whole thing,” S. told me, and I did. And the mild crunch, and the crisp, juicy spiciness, all but made me a convert then and there.

Food blog June 2014-3912After that first year of gardening, I always bought a pack of radish seeds. And they will never not make me think of S: razor wit, funny and honest and lovely and brilliant. She’s a willing and gracious hostess, she’s a fantastic cook, and she’s the mom to my own dog-daughter’s canine BFF. She, like the bride and groom this past weekend, like J & HP whose wedding cake I made, the people I can barely wait to spend fourth of July weekend with, is one of that special and cautiously assembled group: the family I chose.

Food blog June 2014-3915And as the fourth of July approaches, and those lovely people you choose to surround yourself with, to learn from, to sing with and read with and cook with, begin to turn their thoughts to potato salad, let me offer a fresh take to consider. This is not your traditional mayonnaise-laden, pickle-and-onion-and-dusted-with-paprika barbecue offering. (If you are after one of those, may I humbly suggest this one?) But I like this different approach, because it is lighter and fresher, because it does not require stove or oven heat, and because it makes me think of S. Tiny fingerling potatoes and plump lipstick red radishes get quartered, salted and peppered and oiled, and grilled until tender and silky. And then a few green onions, just to get a gentle char. Meanwhile, an assertive vinaigrette gets overburdened with herbs and whisked within an inch of its life to be drizzled over a bed of greens. I like arugula. S. would tell you to use the radish greens (but wash them a few times first – they can be really sandy). Potatoes and radishes get tumbled in, and after a quick toss the greens are barely wilted and the dressing soaks into the grilled vegetables like sponges in a bath.

I don’t know if this is how my bride friend’s sister learned to cook radishes. I suspect not. But the point is, those lovely things we learn, and choose, and become, should be shared.

Food blog June 2014-3913

Grilled Radish and Potato Salad, for Sarah.
Adapted from Cuisine at Home
Serves 2 as a main, 4-6 as a side
1 pound radishes, rinsed well, tops and tails removed
1 pound baby potatoes – the smaller the better
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 bunch green onions or scallions, root ends trimmed off
¼ cup white wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons finely minced dill
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
2-4 cups loosely packed arugula, or a combination of arugula and well-rinsed radish greens

 

  • If you are using a gas grill, place a grill tray on the burners and preheat the grill to medium over direct heat. If you are using a charcoal grill, light the coals. As they begin to turn gray, add the grill tray to let it heat up. If you are using an oven, preheat it to 425F with a sheet tray inside.
  • Quarter the radishes and halve or quarter the baby potatoes. You want equal, bite-size pieces – they need about the same amount of time to cook.
  • In a large bowl, toss the potatoes and radishes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer them to the preheated grill or sheet tray in a single layer.
  • Grill until tender, 10-15 minutes, agitating as required to prevent burning. If you are using an oven this may take more like 20-25 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette: in a large bowl (I use the same bowl as before), whisk the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil with vinegar, mustard, and herbs.
  • When radishes and potatoes are tender, transfer them to the bowl with the vinaigrette. Add the arugula (and radish greens, if using) and toss to combine.
  • Grill the green onions for 3-5 minutes, until the white bulbs are slightly softened and the greens are nicely charred. Chop and add to the salad, again tossing to combine.
  • Season the salad to taste with additional salt and pepper, if needed, and serve warm or at room temperature.