In case you missed the paper, here's my March column from The Petaluma Post...
Rutabagas, parsnips and carrots oh my. The last of the winter crops are still around, so let’s take the time to enjoy them while we can. Although they have never been the most beautiful items from the garden or the most fashionable on the menu, they have been a staple. But with the current back to basics trend they are being elevated to new levels.
These vegetables are high in starch and can be fibrous. Two of the best cooking methods are roasting and soup. When shopping for your root vegetables make sure to watch for medium size roots (too large can be fibrous and too small under developed), make sure they are heavy for their size (they have been stored correctly and not dehydrated). They will hold quite well in your refrigerator, 2 to 3 weeks in the crisper drawer, but make sure that you take them out of their bags and allow to rest loose.
Carrots are making a huge come back with the organic farmers, you can find them in a great array of colors from yellow to red and classic orange. The heirloom varieties are best at a small to medium size for great flavor. Parsnips are actually white carrots with a similar sweet flavor but a bit heartier in texture.
Turnips are a round white root often with purple shoulders; they are much wetter and crisper than the others, both the root and greens are often eaten, and have a great peppery flavor. Try cutting them up like carrots sticks. Rutabagas also known as yellow turnips are actually a cross between a turnip and a cabbage and a bit meatier with a sweeter flavor.
Roasted Root Vegetables (serves 6 to 8)
1 lb each Carrots, Turnips, Rutabagas, Parsnips
1 Red Onion
1 Fennel Bulb
¼ cup Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Peel all of the root vegetables and cut into similar size pieces (I enjoy carrot stick size as they pile nicely on the plate). Peel the red onion and cut into wedges. Clean the fennel and cut into wedges. Place all in a mixing bowl and toss with olive oil (this can be done several hours in advance). Lay out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake till tender. I like a higher heat 400 to 425 degrees for a bit of color around the edges for 25 to 30 minutes. They should be fork tender.
Yam vs Sweet Potato, which is which? To really confuse things we rarely ever see a true yam in the US, they are a tropical tuber; sweeter than sweet potatoes and often with red or purple flesh, but can be white, with a brown or black skin. For our purposes let’s stick to our local definition.
In the US yams and sweet potatoes but are both actually varieties of sweet potato, but are widely different in color and texture. What we call “sweet potatoes” are usually a lighter colored flesh with a thin light colored skin. The “yam” is the darker red skin with a vibrant orange flesh (full of beta carotene). Both skins are completely edible.
Recently at home I did a sweet potato / yam tasting. Purchasing one of each of similar size, washed and pricked the skin with a fork and placed in the oven to bake just like a russet potato. They took a bit longer than a potato (about 1 hour), then split them open and served with butter, salt and pepper. The sweet potato was lighter and fluffier, obviously a higher starch potato, where the yam was sweeter and denser. Yams (orange flesh / dark skin) are best for things like casseroles and hash. Sweet potatoes (white flesh / light skin) are better for baking, mashing or making fries.
I used the remainder of the yam to make a quick hash to have with breakfast the next day.
Yam Hash (serves 2 to 3)
1 baked Yam, peeled and chopped into 1” square
½ Yellow Onion, diced
2 Tbl Butter
Salt and pepper
Sauté the onion in butter, when tender add in the chopped yam, sauté gently until the yam browns, being careful to watch since the high sugar content will burn.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes (serves 4 to 6)
4 lbs of Sweet Potatoes
¼ cup Butter
¼ cup Milk
Salt and Pepper to taste
You can also add a dash of cinnamon or 1 to 2 tablespoons of Honey or Maple syrup. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into quarters, place in a pot and cover with 3” to 4“ of water. Boil till fork tender, 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain completely. Mash by hand or with a mixer. This reheats very well and is great for potlucks.