Back in time before refrigeration, interstate highways, airplanes and suburbs — when most Americans lived in the country — the root cellar was a common necessity in many homes. It was a place that was cool in the summer and protected from frost in the winter.
A moist, dark place where vegetables, especially root vegetables, would keep for a long time.
Today we can get any food, in or out of season, at any time of year, usually at our supermarket. But we realize that food grown close to home, with little or no processing, is something special to be protected and cherished.
In winter, the root cellar was the source of that food and still is for many people.
Root vegetables are plant roots used as food. The roots store energy in the form of carbohydrates. Tubers, similar to roots in that they also grow underground, are plant stems that swell to store nutrients for next season’s growth.
Roots and tubers are very healthy and nutritious for us because they supply needed energy, contain lots of fiber and supply many vitamins and minerals.
They are also inexpensive and have a long shelf life.
HORSERADISH-CRUSTED CHICKEN BREAST WITH ROASTED ROOTS & TUBERS
Grate 1/2 cup fresh horseradish into a bowl.
Add 1/2 cup mayonnaise,
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard,
1 tablespoon lemon juice and
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt.
Spread this mixture on top of 2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts and sprinkle 1/2 cup panko crumbs on top.
Line a sheet pan with foil and spray with no-stick. Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Peel, trim and cut 2 pounds of roots and tubers into uniform 2-inch pieces. I used small potatoes in their skins, rutabaga, turnip, beets, celery root, sunchoke, sweet potato, pearl onions and carrots.
Place in a large bowl 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 2 teaspoons ground pepper. Toss the vegetables in the oil and put them on the foil-lined sheet pan with the chicken breasts. Put them in the 400-degree oven and roast for 20 minutes.
While the vegetables are cooking, peel 8 cloves of garlic and chop 2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary. Remove the pan from the oven, stir the vegetables and sprinkle the garlic and rosemary over them. Put the pan back in the oven and continue cooking.
Remove the chicken breasts when they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. The vegetables will probably need another 20 minutes. They should be getting lightly browned and a little soft.
Serves 2-4 people.
Peel and cut 1 jicama into small, bite-sized pieces. Toss the jicama in a bowl with the zest and juice of 1 lime, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard and 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Section 3 navel oranges and thinly slice 1 red onion. Line 4 plates with mixed greens and arrange the oranges on top. Spoon the jicama around the plate and garnish with the red onion.
BOILED BEEF WITH ROOTS AND TUBERS
Purchase a fresh beef brisket, about 2 1/2 pounds, rinse and place in a soup pot. Cover with cold water and add 1 tablespoon salt. Bring the water to a boil, skim off the foam and turn the heat down to a simmer.
Prepare a bouquet garni by tying together 1 sliced leek, 6 parsley stems, 3 sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf. Add the bouquet to the beef along with 12 whole peppercorns and an onion stuck with 4 cloves.
While the beef simmers, prepare the vegetables, all cut into 2-inch pieces: 6 small peeled potatoes, 1 cup rutabaga, 1 cup carrots, 1 cup parsnips, 1 cup celery root, 1 cup turnip, 12 Brussels sprouts and 12 peeled pearl onions.
Add the vegetables to the simmering beef and continue cooking.
After about 30 minutes, remove the vegetables to a casserole. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and add 1 tablespoon butter. Cover the casserole with foil and keep in a warm oven. Continue simmering the beef until tender, about 2 hours total cooking time.
Near the end of cooking, remove 1 cup broth from the pot. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan and stir in 2 tablespoons chopped shallots and 2 tablespoons fl our to make a roux.
Whisk in the broth, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 cup grated fresh horseradish. (You can substitute 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish.) Simmer for 10 minutes and add 1/2 cup heavy cream and a teaspoon Dijon mustard.
Slice the beef very thin across the grain and serve with the vegetables and sauce.
TWICE-BAKED RUSSET POTATO
Scrub clean 4 large russet baking potatoes and poke holes in them with a dinner fork. Spray with no-stick and put them on a foil-lined sheet pan. Cook in a 400-degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Put 4 strips of bacon on another pan and bake at 400 degrees until crisp. Remove and chop.
Grate 1/2 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese. Finely chop 1 bunch of green onions.
Cut the tops off the potatoes and scoop out the flesh. Mash in a large bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon butter and 1 cup sour cream. Season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg.
Fold in the bacon, onions and cheese. Stuff the potato shells and reheat just before service.
Makes 4 large portions.
TWICE-BAKED SWEET POTATO
Cook 4 large sweet potatoes as in the above recipe. Cooking time will be from 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of potato.
Cut the tops off, scoop out the flesh and mash in a bowl. Add 1/2 cup cream cheese, 1 teaspoon five spice powder, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and a dash of ground cloves. Stuff the potato shells and reheat at service time.
Makes 4 portions.
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected].