Story and photography by Lori Ross
Talk about comfort food! Whether mashed, boiled, steamed, fried, sautéed, baked, or grilled, my family ate potatoes and onions nearly every day. We made special dishes out of leftovers – soup, shepherd’s pie, or fried potato cakes out of leftover mashed potatoes. We made baked stuffed potatoes from leftover baked potatoes; and potato gratin from sliced steamed or boiled potatoes. Onions, shallots and garlic were present in some way in nearly every savory dish and salad. Until I spent several weeks in the French countryside, I didn’t recognize that their love of potatoes, onions and garlic was such a characteristic of their Gallic ancestry.
Root vegetables and tubers are carbohydrates rich in nutrients, low in fat and calories, inexpensive and available year round. Radishes, horseradish, daikon, parsnips, carrots, beets, celeriac, potatoes, parsnips, salsify, turnips, and rutabagas are in the root vegetable family, while onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava/yucca, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, and taro are actually bulbs or tubers.
Potatoes are grouped into three categories: 1) High-starch/low-moisture potatoes, such as russets or Idahos, lose their shape when simmered in soups or stews. Because they have so little moisture, they tend to soak up liquid as they cook and eventually implode. When you want the potatoes to thicken a soup, this can be desirable. Russet potatoes mash best; they’re the creamiest and fluffiest of the bunch. Russets also are the best variety for frying -- either in a vat of bubbling oil or on a baking sheet in the oven. Russets produce fries with light centers. 2) Medium-starch potatoes, such as all purpose white round Yukon Golds and Yellow Finns, do a better job holding their shape but share many traits in common with high-starch potatoes. 3) Low-starch/high-moisture potatoes hold their shape when simmered. This category includes all red-skinned potatoes, such as Red Bliss, Red Creamer, young white “new” potatoes with thin skin, and the unusual, but tasty, purple potatoes. Low-starch potatoes should be selected when potatoes are to hold their shape; the high moisture content of red potatoes makes them an excellent choice for potato salad. They’re delicious steamed or boiled and tossed with butter, salt and chives. They contain a fair amount of moisture, so don’t absorb much water as they boil, whereas low-moisture russets sponge up water when boiled and fall apart.
Sweet potatoes fall into two categories, dry and moist. The moister the sweet potato (e.g. Jewel) the sweeter and more tender. Dry sweet potatoes such as Yellow Jersey are less sweet and more fibrous. Onions, shallots and garlic are actually bulbs of plants in the lily family and range from very sharp to very sweet, such as Vidalias and elephant garlic. Most roots and tubers are more watery than potatoes, and behave more like low-starch/high-moisture potatoes; they need less liquid when cooked.
BUYING ROOTS AND TUBERS
Select roots and tubers that have few “eyes” and no sprouts or dark spots; look for firm, relatively smooth skin and good color. If potatoes have a green tint, cut it away. Small to medium beets are best and their leaves should have a fresh, dark-green color. For a special treat, serve baked, sliced beets with their beet greens. Wash, chop and sauté beet greens in garlic, olive oil, and a little salt for 3-4 minutes and serve side-by-side with beets. Parsnips are a member of the carrot family with a little more starch and a sweet and nutty taste when cooked. Like carrots, look for smooth skin, good color and firm texture. Roasted or sautéed parsnips cooked slowly in a little butter or oil will caramelize and enhance their sweetness.
Onions, shallots and garlic should be dry, firm and free of green or black mold. Radishes and daikon should be firm, smooth skinned, and fresh looking. Daikon is a stronger radish often used in Asian cooking, but delicious raw, sliced thin and tossed with vinaigrette, salt and pepper. Horseradish root should be firm, rough-skinned and have no moldy or black spots. When trimmed and grated, fresh horseradish is a strong, refreshing condiment.
Celeriac, celery knob or celery root has a knobby, hairy exterior -- avoid celeriac with mold or rotting spots. Large turnips have a stronger taste than small turnips. They should be smooth skinned with clear color (white or purple) and no brown, black, or mold spots. Rutabagas are a cross between turnip and cabbage; they’re larger, denser and sweeter than turnips, and superior to them when mashed with nutmeg, cinnamon, mace or allspice. Sweet potatoes, yams, cassava or yucca, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, and taro should be firm without mold, black, or soft spots.
STORE AND KEEP FRESH ABOARD
Onions, shallots and garlic will last months if stored in dry, well ventilated area. Layering onions in paper helps absorb moisture and keep bulbs dry. On board, be sure to change paper regularly, and check every few days for soft spots and signs of rot. Most other roots and tubers will last 1-3 weeks in the fridge if trimmed of greens, unwashed, and stored in a perforated plastic bag. To store for a month or more, trim off greens and layer in moist sand in a well-ventilated area onboard (ideally 35-45 degrees). Higher temperatures will cause moisture loss and your roots and tubers will shrivel. Cook’s Illustrated Magazine (www.cooksillustrated.com) found that adding one apple to a bag of potatoes stored in a dry, dark, cool, well-ventilated spot, will keep the potatoes firm and free of sprouts for 8 weeks. This may also work with most roots and tubers.
ROAST FOR MOST FLAVOR
Roasting concentrates flavor and caramelizes the exterior of root vegetables such as parsnips, carrots, potatoes, onions, and turnips. Roasting also gives root veggies a crisp, golden skin that makes a wonderful contrast to their soft, moist interior. Cook on medium dry-heat in a low-sided roasting pan large enough to accommodate the vegetables without crowding. For a light, crisp crust, use vegetable oil; for flavor, use olive oil or butter. A combination of butter and oil browns better than butter alone, but not as well as oil alone. This recipe is devised for roasting any combination of the following root vegetables: carrots, parsnips, all-purpose or boiling potatoes, rutabagas, and turnips, along with yellow or red onions, shallots, and garlic. We usually limit the mix to two or three root vegetables. Cut the vegetables to roughly the same size for even cooking. Carrots take longer to cook than other vegetables, so cut them slightly smaller.
ROASTING ROOT VEGETABLES AND TUBERS
Roasting concentrates the flavor and caramelizes the exterior of root vegetables such as parsnips, carrots, potatoes, onions, and turnips. Roasting also gives root vegetables a crisp, golden skin that makes a wonderful contrast to their soft, moist interior.
You need medium, dry heat and a low-sided roasting pan that is large enough to accommodate the vegetables without crowding. For a light, crisp crust choose vegetable oil; for flavor, olive oil or butter. A combination of butter and oil browns better than butter alone, but not as well as oil alone. This recipe is devised for roasting any combination of the following root vegetables: carrots, parsnips, all-purpose or boiling potatoes, rutabagas, and turnips, along with yellow or red onions, shallots, and garlic. We usually limit the mix to two or three root vegetables.
The vegetables, with some exceptions, must be cut to roughly the same size for even cooking. Carrots take longer to cook than the other vegetables, so cut them slightly smaller.
Roasted Root Vegetables
1 medium head garlic
1 1/2 - 2 pounds root vegetables, peeled and cut into 1 1/4-inch pieces
1 medium onion or 4 to 6 shallots, peeled
2 tbsps unsalted butter melted or vegetable or olive oil, or a combination
Table salt and ground black pepper
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. If roasting garlic cloves in skins, simply break head into individual cloves. If you wish to roast cloves out of skins, put whole, unpeeled head in a small saucepan with water to cover. Bring water to boil, and then simmer to soften cloves and loosen skins, about 10 minutes. Drain and refresh garlic head under cold water. Separate cloves and peel.
2. Put vegetables (excluding garlic) into a roasting pan large enough to hold them without crowding. Toss vegetables with butter and/or oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast until tender and evenly browned, 45 to 50 minutes. Add unpeeled garlic cloves during final 20 minutes; add peeled garlic during final 15 minutes. Sprinkle with pepper; taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Some nice combinations are:
Roasted Turnips, Shallots, and Garlic with Rosemary
Roasted Garlic, Carrots and Red Onion
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Chive
Roasted Potatoes with Onion, Thyme and Bacon (cooked, crumbled and sprinkled over cooked veggies)
Add 3 tbsps of balsamic vinegar to butter/oil before roasting
Add rosemary, thyme or other strong fresh or dried herbs before roasting to flavor the vegetables
Use this recipe on the grill by wrapping vegetables, fat and seasonings in heavy duty aluminum foil.
Oven-fried potato chips
1-2 medium potatoes
¼ cup oil
Whole herb leaves (rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley)
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp pepper
Herbed potato chips make attractive hors d’oeuvres. You can serve them unadorned, or add a dollop of sour cream sprinkled with minced herbs and a touch of caviar.
1. Peel potatoes and slice them into very thin rounds. Lay them out in a single layer on a well-oiled cookie sheet. Brush potato tops with oil and sprinkle with salt. In the center of each, place an herb leaf such as rosemary, thyme, flat parsley, or small sage.
2. Place another cookie sheet, the bottom of which has been very well oiled, on top of the sheet containing the potato rounds. 3. Bake at 375 degrees for twenty minutes. Transfer chips to a wire rack as they turn golden brown and crispy
Try this with thin sliced sweet potatoes, yams, beets and parsnips (shaved thin along their length)….yummy!
Pan-Braised Root Vegetables with Rosemary
2 tbsps olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 pound celery root, peeled and cut into 2-by-1/8-inch strips
1/3 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 tbsps fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 tbsp fresh sage leaves, minced
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Ground black pepper
1. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallot; sauté until aromatic, about 1 minute. Increase heat to high; add parsnips, carrots, and celery root; sauté until vegetables start to brown, 4 to 5 minutes.
2. Add wine, rosemary, and sage; continue to cook to blend flavors, about 3 minutes longer. Lower heat to medium; add stock. Cover and simmer until knife easily pierces vegetables, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper
Mashed Potatoes with Root Vegetables
Serves 4 to 6
1lb russet potatoes, scrubbed, but not peeled cut into 2” chunks
1 lb parsnips (or peeled rutabagas, peeled celery root, carrots, or turnips), peeled and cut into 2” chunks.
8 tbsps unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
1 cup half-and-half (warm)*
1 1/2 tsps table salt
Ground black pepper
*Most root vegetables are more watery than potatoes, so you may need less than the full cup of half-and-half if you are using mostly root vegetables.
1. Place potatoes and whatever other root vegetable you choose to use in large saucepan with cold water to cover with 1 inch water. Bring to boil over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes and vegetables are tender (a paring knife can be slipped into and out of center of potatoes with very little resistance), 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.
2. Mash potatoes and vegetables into saucepan.
3. Stir in butter with wooden spoon until incorporated; gently whisk in half-and-half, 1/4 cup at a time until desired consistency. Add salt, and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Horseradish Mash -- Add 2 Tbsps or more of grated fresh or prepared horseradish to mashed root vegetables
With leftover mashed potatoes, make:
2 lb. mashed potatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
8 tbsps butter
2 large eggs
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (6 slices without crusts)
½ cup flour
Sauté chopped onion in 2 tbsps of butter for 5 minutes or until tender and add to mashed potatoes
Add 1 egg and 1 cup breadcrumbs to potatoes
Form croquettes into 4 equal patties (like hamburgers) about ¾ “ thick
Place flour, remaining breadcrumbs and remaining egg (beaten) into separate shallow bowls
Dip each croquette to coat in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, pressing to adhere
In a large fry pan, melt 6 Tbsps butter over medium heat and sauté croquettes for 3 minutes on one side and 3 minutes on the other until crisp, brown and heated through.
Add 6 oz. diced ham, cooked sausage or smoked fish to croquette mixture to make a full meal or first course. Serve with aioli or tartar sauce if you wish.
Easy Potato Gratin
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds all-purpose potatoes, washed, sliced very thin (may be peeled or not)
1 cup cream (not half and half or light)
1 ¼ tsps salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 clove minced garlic
1 tbsp butter
Pinch of nutmeg
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
2. Combine potatoes, cream and seasonings and place in shallow oven proof pan (liquid will barely cover potatoes).
3. Bake for 45-55 minutes until golden brown. Let rest 5 minutes and serve.
Classic Potato Gratin: Top with ½ cup grated gruyere or parmesan cheese
Scalloped potatoes: Add to above recipe:
1/2 tsp dried thyme
½ cup chicken broth
2 bay leaves
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup grated cheese shredded (cheddar, parmesan or gruyere)
In oven proof skillet with a cover, melt butter over medium-high and cook 1 cup minced onion until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, ½ tsp dried thyme, salt, and pepper; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add sliced potatoes, ½ cup chicken broth and ½ cup cream, and 2 bay leaves and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until potatoes are almost tender about 10 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Transfer mixture to 8-inch-square baking dish; sprinkle evenly with cheese. Bake until bubbling around edges and top is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving.
NB: The Progressive Mandoline Multi Slicer ($8.99) and the Target Mandoline Slicer ($9.99) are plastic V-slicers with similar designs. Cook’s Illustrated testers gave these models high marks for safety, handle comfort, and blade sharpness, which helped them quickly slice potatoes very thin.. Go to: www.cooksillustrated.com for more information.
Steaming can be done in the microwave, on the stove top in a pan/steamer or by sealing cut up vegetables in parchment or aluminum foil packets and grilling or baking them. Microwave steaming vegetables is by far the quickest and easiest. It is a marvelous way to cook vegetables quickly and keeping them bright, colorful and tender.
• Use only microwavable containers when microwaving foods.
• For even cooking, cut the vegetables into same-size pieces.
• Stir or rotate a 1/2 turn halfway through cooking.
• Loosely cover food so that steam can escape, use wax paper, microwavable wrap, or the cooking container’s lid.
• Use a fork to pierce whole, unpeeled vegetables or fruits, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, to keep them from bursting while cooking and place on paper towel in microwave.
• Remove vegetables from oven when they are barely tender; let stand 3-5 minutes to finish cooking. Be careful not to burn yourself when removing covers.
• Timing (at full power):
3-4 minutes per cup; sliced carrots, parsnips, turnip, rutabaga
4-5 minutes per medium whole potato, sweet potato or yam, whole onion
15-20 minutes per pound of whole beets in ¼ cup of water
Once cooked, just add seasonings or a little butter and herbs, flavored oil or pesto sauce and you have a masterpiece.
If you have leftover whole, peeled or unpeeled, microwaved potatoes, parsnips, yams or sweet potatoes, try this easy recipe:
Golden Potato Halves
1 large boiled potato cut in half lengthwise
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in large skillet
Add potatoes cut side down
Sear over medium heat for 5-6 minutes until deep golden .
Season with salt and pepper and serve.