Sunday, March 29, 2009
Root vegetables are some of the most maligned of ingredients known to humankind. And the most reviled of the maligned? The turnip. For centuries, spurned by the well-to-do, the bitter, round, hard root was the staple of many a poor European family. That sulfurous stink probably arouses a certain revulsion and shame in many of my generation and the one preceding it.
The turnip’s biggest problem is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Alas, like Cinderella’s ugliest of step-sisters, the turnip is the last to be chosen. Because the turnip keeps well, we often turn to it only when the growing season is over. Unfortunately, by this time, it’s past its prime. Precisely at the moment we are enjoying the delicacies of Spring or finishing up the last of Autumn’s offerings is when we should try the turnip. The gentle temperatures of Spring and Autumn produces one that's sweet and tender far from the hardened Winter variety.
The turnip’s best chance to change its image is by association with its cousin the rutabaga. Unlike the turnip, the rutabaga, is at its best in early Winter after a period of cold weather has revealed its true sweetness. The rutabaga, or yellow turnip, is a cross between a cabbage and the homely turnip. It can range in size between that of a golf ball and a soft ball and is yellowish in hue shading into fuschia at the root end. While it does have the characteristically turnip-y aroma, it’s balanced by an earthy sweetness. One can only hope that more people will try the rutabaga for the Winter months leaving the turnip alone until its time to shine. Here's a recipe that should engender some love and respect for the rutabaga. Easier than cooking and mashing potatoes, this puree is sweet, mellow and earthy – a perfect counterpoint to pork or roast chicken.
Rutabaga Puree with Crème Fraiche & Horseradish
3 small rutabagas
1/3 cup crème fraiche
1 teaspoon drained, prepared horseradish
½ teaspoon sea salt
METHOD: Peel and quarter the rutabagas. Place them in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Toss in a firm pinch of kosher salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender when pierced with a knife, approximately 20 minutes. Remove the rutabagas from the water to the bowl of a food processor. Puree until smooth. Add crème fraiche, horseradish and salt.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Saturday, March 14, 2009
For those of you who want to brave the Navy Pier crowds on a nice day, I'll be at the Chicagoland Flower and Garden Show tomorrow demonstrating Carrot-Coconut Soup.
If you can't make it, please enjoy the recipe. Late March and early April are miserable months for those of us who try to eat locally. Spring is no where near the produce section or the farmers markets, but the thought of one more turnip or hard-skinned squash is too much to bear. This soup is a great transition recipe. It's got a sunshine-y color that warms the soul just to see it. It's also a great reminder of sunnier days ahead. While I wasn't able to find any of the freshly dug carrots, I've heard rumor that they're out there. Also, some localvores may still have their carrots in cold storage. With those, add local onions, stock, butter and even cilantro if you're good at growing herbs inside.
Resist any urge to add more Serrano chile; the heat overwhelms the delicate sweetness of the carrots. I’ve garnished the soup with butter-poached shrimp, but it could easily be replaced with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche and is equally delicious (and beautiful) served without garnish. This soup is also very good when served cold.
For 6 servings
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup chopped yellow onion
½ Serrano chili, seeded and minced
1 stalk lemongrass, thinly sliced
A 1-inch slice of ginger, peeled
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 ½ cups sliced carrots, approximately 6 large carrots
3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (see recipe in Taking Stock)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup light coconut milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cilantro for garnish
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)
½ pound unsalted butter (optional)
EQUIPMENT SUGGESTED: A heavy-bottomed 4-quart sauce pan, a food processor or a powerful hand blender, a fine mesh sieve, a 9-inch sauté pan.
The soup: Heat butter in a medium pot over medium heat until the foam has subsided. Sauté the onion, chili, lemongrass and ginger until softened – 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add carrots, chicken stock and cook until the carrots are tender – 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Purée in a food processor or with a powerful hand blender and return to the cleaned pot. For a finer texture, you can force the soup through a fine mesh sieve.
Butter Poached Shrimp: Bring the butter to a bare simmer over low heat in a shallow sauté pan.
Add the shrimp and cook until just pink approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
Finishing the soup: Return the soup to a simmer. Remove from the heat, add the coconut milk and season with freshly ground white pepper.
Serving the soup: Ladle into shallow soup bowls. If desired, garnish each bowl with two butter-poached shrimp and a little cilantro.
Do-ahead notes: The soup can be made and puréed one day ahead and refrigerated or it can be made up to two weeks ahead and frozen.
Second Use: The butter from poaching the shrimp can be frozen and used later to make shrimp and grits.