Let’s Get to the Root of Things
As cooler weather sets in, root vegetables rule the vegetable stands at the Orinda Farmers’ Market. They find their way into the upcoming holiday season by showing up in appetizers, salads, soups, stews and pies.
As the name implies, root vegetables grow underground, but really have nothing to hide.
Carrots, beets, rutabaga, parsnip and radish are true roots (taproots). Sweet potatoes and potatoes are actually tuberous roots while fennel, onions are bulbs and ginger and turmeric are rhizomes. They all flourish in light, loose, well-drained soil, where they absorb nutrients and water to feed the plant.
Because California is the leading producer of carrots for the nation, a local, freshly harvested bunch is never far away. Carrots may be orange, scarlet or white and range from long and narrow to stubby and almost round. Pick out a nice-looking bunch with bright green leafy tops. Once you get them home, twist off the tops for the compost pile (or save them to chop up for soups and omelets).
All varieties of carrots may be harvested and eaten at the very young stage, but specific varieties that mature when small, such as Lady Finger and Short and Sweet, offer even more of a real sweet carrot taste.
Parsnips closely resemble their cousin carrots, but their subtle sweet and nutty taste comes through better after cooking. With so many other vegetables to choose from, parsnips struggle for attention it seems. I find them tasty and delicious in soups and stews or as a side dish served with a little butter and chopped fresh tarragon.
In the last few months of the year, I look for my favorite three varieties of beets. An Italian heirloom call Chioggia is candy cane red on the outside with alternating red and white rings inside. Little Ball (a true baby beet) and mild flavored golden beets round out my top three.
Baking rather than boiling beets helps to retain flavor and juices. Wash and trim tops leaving about an inch attached to the beet to prevent the color from “bleeding.” Place small to medium sized beets in an ovenproof dish, drizzle with olive oil, cover and bake at 375 degrees for about an hour, or until tender. Cool slightly before slipping off the skins and trimming the stem and roots.
Beet greens never go to waste in my kitchen. Add washed greens to pasta at the end of cooking time. They turn the pasta pink and they make a tasty and nutritious addition to the dish.
No root story is complete without sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are divided into two groups. One is moist and sweet and the other dry, mealy and a little less sweet. Moist varieties characteristically have a deep orange flesh and are generally the preferred varieties (These are mistakenly referred to as yams, but true yams are not related to sweet potatoes and indigenous to Asia, while sweet potatoes are native to and grown in North and South America.).
To make a delicious roasted root vegetable dish, pick-up a bunch of carrots, two turnips, a parsnip, an onion, two potatoes and fresh ginger. Prepare vegetables and cut into ¾ to 1” pieces. Spread on a large baking sheet. Whisk together 4 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon grated ginger and salt and pepper to taste. Pour over vegetables and toss until evenly coated. Place in a 400-degree oven and roast about 30 minutes (stir halfway through), until vegetables are golden brown and cooked through.
It’s Harvest Fest time! Saturday, Oct. 29. Bring the family in costume for more fun at the pumpkin patch. Enjoy a little trick-or-treating at the market stands and look for a few new fun activities for the kids.
The Orinda Farmers’ Market is open every Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Orinda Way in Orinda Village. More information is available at www.cccfm.org, facebook.com/OrindaFarmersMarket and Instagram @OrindaFarmersMarket or call the market hotline at 925.322.6228.
Barbara Kobsar can be reached at Barbara@cotkitchen.com.