Tuesday, December 4, 2012

ROOT VEGETABLES FINALLY GET THEIR DUE




My work on The Oregonian Cookbook has kept me away from my blog. That doesn't mean I ignored all the splendid cookbooks that continued to arrive at my door, and in the next few weeks, I'm going to be writing about a lot of them under the heading of...YOU OUGHT TO HAVE THIS COOKBOOK IN YOUR COLLECTION (and give it to a friend for Christmas as well!).  I'm starting with perhaps my favorite cookbook of 2012.

There is a whole new world to explore beyond such popular root vegetables as potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes and ginger.  Now there's a stupendous resource to this fabulous category with the publication of ROOTS: The Definitive Compendium with More than 225 Recipes by Portland-based cookbook author, Diane Morgan (Chronicle Books; $40.00).  Everything about this new work signals the arrival of something special and significant. Deborah Madison, a great cookbook writer about most-things-vegetable, has written the Foreword. Antonis Achilleos' museum-quality color photos have a physicality and a beauty that is breath-taking. Chronicle Books has generously loaded the book with lots of these photos, and given the whole book a package that gives these gifts from the ground the kind of tribute they have always deserved. Best of all, Diane Morgan has provided delicious, exciting and creative recipes that show off their versatility and deep flavors.

Even five years ago, it would be unthinkable to find burdock root, crosne, galangal, malanga, salsify, and turmeric in supermarkets. Ethnic and farmers markets helped us find our way back to them. Diane Morgan introduces these along with more common varieties, each to its own chapter, covering history and lore, varieties, nutritional information, seasonality, storage, basic uses and preparation.  She then immerses the reader in recipes using each vegetable, some familiar, but more often in surprising and interesting variations.

I don't think I've ever seen wasabi root in my local markets (not that I've ever made much of an effort to find it), but it's a beautiful rhizome and I'm going to investigate further because I love Wasabi Mayonnaise (recipe provided here),  and will even consider making Salmon Hand Rolls with Fresh Wasabi--something I've entrusted entirely to my local favorite sushi chef. I've often ordered Wasabi Mashed Potatoes at New York's popular Union Square Cafe, and now I  can make them locally here in Portland.

Like beet tops, I'm no longer tossing out those pretty green radish tops, which make a spicy and satisfying soup (Morgan suggests using them as soup shots for a "fun and unexpected appetizer"). Smashed Parsley Roots and Potatoes with Crème FraÎche, is both rustic and rich. Brown Sugar-Ginger Ice Cream is an intriguing new flavor to add to my repertoire, and Jewel Sweet Potato Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce has already made its way to my table (admittedly I'm lazy and used won ton wrappers for these voluptuous pasta pockets). I know dried ground turmeric turns rice yellow and has a mild flavor. Fresh turmeric is used in "Indian, Thai, Cambodian and other Southeast Asian cuisines," writes Diane Morgan, but the fresh stuff can infuse "classic Punjab recipe" of Indian Spiced Cauliflower Potatoes and Peas. We get a lot of halibut in Oregon, so Turmeric-Braised Halibut Steaks with Garlic, is an aromatically impressive use for turmeric and this popular fish.

Of course root vegetables have always been with us, but all too often we forget (and limit our regular use to the same familiar choices) what Europeans, Asians and Latin Americans have always known about these wonderful vegetables. The relatively new revival of the farmers market in cities and towns everywhere has brought many of these forgotten edibles back to us.  ROOTS restores them to their rightful place in our kitchen, and I'm grateful to Diane for rescuing them in a book that is both delightful to read as it is to cook from. This is an absolute must have for all serious cookbook collections. 



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