We have certain, managed expectations of root vegetables, especially at this late stage in winter.
Gratins, mashes, and stews are perfectly noble ends for a thick clump of starch buried in the dirt. We accept their stodgy ways, add a bit of butter or some meaty broth, and get on with it. But it doesn't have to be that way.
In The Herbal Kitchen, James Beard and IACP award-winning chef Jerry Traunfeld teaches us how to make an old turnip feel like a kid again. (And we have FOOD52er Arathi to thank for leading us to him.)
We've already seen the varied and lovely things that can come from shaving zucchini, asparagus, or a whole motley plateful of vegetables into a salad. Here, Traunfeld does the same, but adds one more step. He cooks the wisps together, briefly and with restraint, so they stay full of life and sweetness.
As Tamar Adler explains in An Everlasting Meal, all root vegetables behave similarly when roasted: "Substitute any vegetable that grows with its leafy head aboveground for another." The same is true for when you've rendered them paper-thin. They cook faster but still in sync, whether you mix carrots with rutabagas, or turnips with parsley root.
(The single exception in all cases is beets, which are stricken to their own pink-stained ghetto. "No rules apply to beets. Beets have their own way of cooking and their own way of being," says Adler.)
I will warn you: before you commit to this ribboning exercise, especially a full 6-serving batch, you should have a solid rapport with your vegetable peeler (or mandoline). I happen to have a punishing model with a hard-edged metal grip left over from culinary school -- it made me earn my ribbons the hard way. But Amanda has a cushiony, ergonomic version, pictured above, which makes the prep downright meditative. (Arathi and Traunfeld prefer these.)
Shave, quarter turn, shave, quarter turn, until you're left with a nicked-away stump that you can eat then and there, or save for stock. Other sensible alternatives: halve the batch or enlist a friend. You can also do this prep hours ahead without the roots fading to brown (except for burdock -- but there's really no hope for burdock).
Once you make it through the prep and have proud heaps of ribbons, you're home free, and about 15 minutes away from a fanciful winter meal. Melt butter and sage together; flick your ribbons through it; then pool some water, maple syrup, lemon, salt, and pepper in the pan. As the liquid steams away, it cooks the ribbons to al dente. When it's all gone, you're left with an orange and yellow jumble of fettuccine, glazed in its own sweet juices.
Everything is painted in the light, buttery broth, but tastes of itself too -- the carrots angelic, the parsnip warmly spiced, the turnip a bit fierce. And there's nothing stodgy about any of it.
2 pounds medium root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, burdock, rutabagas, yams, parsley root, or salsify (avoid beets) 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/4 cup coarsely chopped sage 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper 1 tablespoon maple syrup 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by Joseph De Leo
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."