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Going underground: Explore your root vegetables

RutabagHash with Onions Bacon.

Rutabaga Hash with Onions and Bacon.

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Updated: December 8, 2012 6:18AM



Embrace your roots — that’s Diane Morgan’s dirty little secret for those lamenting the seasonal end of farmers markets and fresh-from-the-earth produce.

The former Hyde Park resident and Chicago executive dining room chef is making that embrace easier by authoring the just-published “Roots: The Definitive Compendium with More than 225 Recipes” (Chronicle Books, $40), hailed as the go-to guide to the bounteous underworld from the familiar — beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes, parsnips and turnips — to the unfamiliar — jicama, burdock, Jerusalem artichokes, lotus root, crosnes and wasabi.

Morgan’s intense attraction to roots began innocently enough following two exchanges at her favorite farmers market in Portland, where she’s lived since 1983.

First, a fellow shopper asked Morgan the identity of the vegetable she was holding. Morgan replied that the creamy-skinned, grapefruit-size gnarly root with dried dirt stuck between its hairy tendrils was celery root, a vegetable she had come to love almost more than potatoes.

Moments later, Morgan — holding aloft a long, brown, hairy, stick-like root — asked the farmer, “What is this?” Burdock root, he replied, explaining how to cook it.

Clearly, the vegetables that grow underground need to be brought up and center, so more of us can get acquainted and learn how to use them.

Inspired, Morgan devoted the next three years to the “fascinating adventure” of developing, researching, creating and testing recipes, and writing “Roots,” her 17th cookbook.

The 57-year-old admits she tackled the project for selfish reasons, birthed from her own desire to have both a comprehensive reference book (“I didn’t realize there was such a vacuum of knowledge [about roots] until I started researching”) and a cookbook of simple yet creative ways to prepare dozens of local and global root vegetables.

Right now Morgan is pitching “Roots” on a 30-city tour that included a recent book signing in Lake Forest and lectures in Chicago. The cookbook has made the wife of 34 years and mother of two grown children more passionate than ever about easy-on-the-wallet root vegetables, their history and lore, nutritional content, how to buy and store them, and how to bring out their best flavors.

Stressed when final publication dictated eliminating 25 of the 250 recipes she had created, Morgan is pleased with the versatility of those remaining. She incorporates turmeric in one-bowl Chiang Mai Curry Noodles, roasted red beets in magenta-colored Red Velvet Cupcakes with Orange Buttercream. Rutabagas make an appearance in brunch-perfect Rutabaga Hash with Onions and Crisp Bacon, carrots and sorrel star in gorgeous Carrot Ribbons with Sorrel Pesto and Crumbled Goat Cheese, while sweet potatoes are the centerpiece of traditional Sweet Potato Biscuits, and pickled crosnes graces a martini delightfully titled Dr. Gibson Meet Mr. Crosne. Momentarily reluctant to name her favorite root (“it’s so hard … it’s like being asked your favorite child’), Morgan finally selects the beet.

The food blogger (dianemorgancooks.com) quickly defends her choice, citing the beet’s nutrition and versatility: “It can be a golden, candy cane or ruby red variety. It can be a baby beet or bigger one. It can be eaten raw or cooked and it can be turned into savory or sweet dishes.” The award-winning author (“Skinny Dips,” “The Christmas Table,” “The Thanksgiving Table” and “Salmon”) and blogger (dianemorgancooks.com) routinely warms an already-baked sweet potato in the microwave for breakfast.

She says her favorite “Roots” recipes are Chicken Fricassee with Parsley Roots and Chanterelle Mushrooms; Celery Root, Celery Heart and Celery Leaf Salad; Steamed Mussels with Burdock Root, Shallots and Sun-Dried Tomatoes; Turnips and Leeks in Miso Butter, and Wasabi-Crusted Beef Tenderloin.

Surprisingly, not all roots agree with their strongest advocate.

“I love the taste of Jerusalem artichokes, but I can’t digest them. Because the storage carbohydrate in Jerusalem artichokes is not starch but inulin, which is not digested or absorbed in the stomach, it can cause bloating, stomachaches and flatulence in some people, including me,” she explains in a cautionary tone.

It’s just another dirty secret dished by the Queen of Roots.

Sandy Thorn Clark is a local freelance writer.

Rutabaga Hash with onions
and bacon

Makes 4 to 6 servings

6 slices (about 5 ounces) bacon, cut into ¾-inch pieces

2 pounds (about 4 medium) rutabagas, ends trimmed, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice

1 large yellow onion, cut into ½-inch dice

2 celery ribs, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into slices ¼-inch thick

1 Anaheim chile, stemmed, seeded and cut into ½-inch dice

1 jalape

ñ o chile, stemmed, seeded and minced

½ teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, for serving

In 12-inch frying pan, preferably cast iron, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crisp (about 5 minutes). Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but ¼ cup bacon fat from pan.

Return pan to medium-high heat; add rutabagas and onion, and sauté, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook, stirring once, for 7 minutes to steam rutabagas. Uncover pan, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring, until vegetables are browned at edges (about 1 minute longer).

Add celery and both chiles; stir briefly, and then cover and cook for 3 minutes longer. Uncover pan and add salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until rutabagas are fork-tender and celery is crisp but not raw-tasting. Fold in cilantro and bacon.

Serve immediately, garnished with additional cilantro. Pass hot pepper sauce at table.

From “Roots” by Diane Morgan

Carrot ribbons with pesto and goat cheese

Makes 6 first-course servings

Dressing:

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar

¾ teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

Sorrel pesto:

2½ cups lightly packed, roughly chopped sorrel, baby arugula or watercress

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano)

¼ cup pine nuts

1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Ribbons:

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons kosher or fine sea salt

5 large carrots (about 1½ pounds), trimmed and peeled

4 ounces fresh goat cheese

For dressing: In small jar with tight-fitting lid, combine oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover tightly and shake vigorously to blend. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside until ready to serve.

For pesto: In food processor, combine sorrel (or baby arugula or watercress), garlic, Parmesan, pine nuts, lemon juice and salt; process until finely chopped. Stop machine once or twice to scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. With machine running, pour oil through feed tube and process until sauce is combined. Set aside. (Pesto can be transferred to jar with tight-fitting lid and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Remove from refrigerator 45 minutes before serving.)

Fill a large pot ¾ full of water. Add garlic and salt; bring to boil over high heat. Have ready large bowl of ice water and pair of tongs to remove carrots quickly after blanching. Using vegetable peeler (preferably one that is sharp and serrated), firmly peel each carrot lengthwise to create long ribbons, rotating carrot so ribbons are all the same width. Stop peeling when you reach core, then discard the core.

Add carrot ribbons to boiling water; cook until crisp-tender (about 1 minute). Using tongs, transfer carrots to ice water to cool (about 2 minutes). Drain thoroughly and then wrap carrots in several thicknesses of paper towel to dry. (Carrot ribbons can be wrapped in dry paper towels, slipped into a lock-top plastic bag, and refrigerated for up to 1 day before continuing.)

Place carrot ribbons in bowl. Give dressing a last-minute shake; pour over carrot ribbons, and toss to coat evenly. Make a pile of carrot ribbons in center of each salad plate. Drizzle spoonful or two of pesto in circle around each plate. Divide goat cheese into small dollops and scatter dollops evenly over carrot ribbons. Serve immediately.

From “Roots” by Diane Morgan



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