Thursday, February 14, 2013

Back to my Roots

i have a pretty hard crush on farmers.  old, young, short, tall, hairy, bald, gracious and ornery. i love them all.  i love them so much, in fact, that i find myself stalking greenmarkets year-round just to get a little taste of what these geniuses have been up to.  in the winter months the pickings can be slim and some of my my most coveted growers take time off from the market, their absence making my heart beat a little faster when i think about how they will return with the first asparagus in the spring.  but for now, in the darkest, coldest months of winter here in nyc i rely and appreciate on those farmers who babysit their greenhouses and who also bring us those delicious, heavy to carry, winter root vegetables from their cellars that sustain us through the lean times.

i do my level best to "put up" (fermenting, freezing and dehydrating) as many  popular summer vegetables as i can during harvest time.  It's such a luxury to be able to reach into the freezer in January and pull out Basil puree for fresh pesto, or frozen zucchini and sweet summer corn for succotash. My husband and I make gallons of sauerkraut to ensure that we will have enough of those enzyme and probiotic rich foods to get us through flu season without illness.  of course i could go to the supermarket or the health food store and buy whatever organic vegetables i want, year round.  these days we have that convenience but we pay dearly for it on many levels.  california has apparently been going thru a chilly winter and i noticed that at our local health food store, the price of broccoli was $7 per bunch and cauliflower, $8.  I have been told that these prices will be coming down soon but it really made me think about the extravagance of abundance and how we have been spoiled for choice since most people unfortunately do not rely on their local farmer.  it also got me to thinking about one of the principles of the macrobiotic diet that always made great sense to me: eat within the parameters of your climate and your body will always know how to "act."  it will also know how to heal, protect, and defend the healthy homeostatic environment that we hope to create through proper nutrition and good, clean, joyful living.  in other words, eat what the earth gives you at the proper time...which leads me right back to my roots.

rough, ugly, gnarled and blemished (like my farmers), roots are some of the sweetest, creamiest, delicious vegetables you will ever know (again, like my good farmers).  you can poach them, puree them, mash, braise, roast and even eat some raw making them versatile, friendly and forgiving.  so why do so many people turn their noses up at them?  intimidation? perhaps. my best guess is that folks just don't know how to approach them (beyond thanksgiving dinner) or they just don't go looking for them at the winter greenmarkets.  they are all shopping at whole paycheck (whole foods) or waiting for asparagus in the spring!

in my little 3rd floor walk up on the prairie (in manhattan's west village) we are grateful to root vegetables in that they are a staple till we see the bounty of spring.  of course we indulge in those occasional extravagances from california and florida via the health food store every once in a while when we are feeling flushed or when a birthday rolls around and a request is made, but honestly we are quite satisfied with our beets, gold ball turnips, purple top turnips, black radish, watermelon radish, rutabaga (also known as swede), daikon radish, japanese sweet potatoes, parsnip, carrots, garlic, onions, moo radish, bordeaux radish, celery root, parsley root, horseradish, jerusalem artichoke and more!  we put them in soups, stews, roasts, purees and gratins.  they are hearty and stand up to big flavors while adding sweetness, texture and zing!

a favorite here is a Raw Winter Root Salad made by grating peeled beets, watermelon radish and daikon radish. i dress it with extra virgin olive oil, meyer lemon juice (a true winter extravagance), course sea salt, fresh ground pepper and chopped dill.  i usually use 4 medium sized beets (peeled), 1 large watermelon radish (skin on) and 1 small daikon (peeled).  we let this macerate and blend all its flavors together.  it's lovely on its own or served as a relish with a traditional beef stew, cardamom spiced lamb short ribs or a seared piece of fish.  this relish or condiment is also great on sandwiches and served with eggs....but isn't just about everything good when served with farm fresh eggs? 

A mixture of roasted root vegetables with herbs de provence is also a winner in our home. we make a big batch and reheat as needed. the vegetables are also quite good cold in green salads or in a pita as a sandwich with humus.  they are our favorite accompaniment to a roasted chicken and go well with eggs in the morning just like you would eat hash browns. you can also cut them in 1/2 inch rounds and saute them in coconut oil and then dust with turmeric. we like to do this with sweet potatoes in place of fries or chips with burgers.  roasting beets in my house is a breeze since i just place them whole and scrubbed on the rack in the oven. i take them out when i can insert a knife easily through and let them cool. i peel them and the kids eat them like apples or i cut them into salads or slice them onto sandwiches.  cheddar cheese on sourdough with homemade mayo and sliced beet root will always make my family happy!

if you like mashed potatoes (my husband LOVES them) you will like them even more if you include some parsnip, turnip, rutabaga or celery root.  I suggest slowly poaching them in heavy cream with sea salt and then mashing them into the drained potatoes with the sweet infused cream and roots.  amazing!  My absolute favorite way to eat root vegetables is in a gratin with LOTS of cream, thyme and a hint of nutmeg.  below you will find that recipe and i beg you to please try it. i think you will be very happy if you do!

as march approaches i am eager to adopt daylight savings and bring my family out of the winter darkness and toward the promise of spring and renewal.  i crave the warmth of the sun on my face and shoulders and look forward to putting the winter coats in storage.  i also look forward to seeing all of my farmers back at our local markets.  i know that they will bring not only fresh food from the rich soil they tend but also great stories and tall tales about how they make it taste so darn good!  i also look forward to their smiles and their generosity and our give and take relationship that grows my heart & my beautiful family so well.  i look forward to all of these things and more but for now i will get back to my roots and hope that when you call your Family2Table you will serve them something delicious and nutritious from your cellar or the the cellar of your local farmer.


in a saucepan, saute 1 shallot finely chopped till translucent.
add 1 quart of heavy cream and bring to a simmer
add a generous bunch of fresh thyme and let simmer till reduced  and thick.
strain through a sieve to take out shallots and thyme
season with sea salt & pepper to taste and set aside.

preheat oven to 350 degrees

using a mandolin with much care, slice root vegetables into thin rounds
put down a layer of cream in a ceramic baking dish and alternate sliced root veggies with reduced cream in layers.  with each layer add a sprinkle of salt and a fresh grating of nutmeg.
build up till all is gone, press down to have a layer of cream on top.
cover with foil or parchment and bake for an hour.
uncover and continue baking till done - when you can insert a cake tester and it glides through.
cut into portions and serve with some freshly chopped parsley and lots of cream.

this dish can be made ahead of time and reheated.  it also stores well in the fridge for up to 5 days.  enjoy!

please contact me if you have any questions.


  1. I eagerly await your posts Emily, few and too far in-between. ;-) but I know you are a busy working mom. Thank you for your latest; another pleasure to read! Mikki

  2. Thank you so much...a wonderful blog.