Roots

Still life with onions...

Still life with onions...

Yeah, yeah, I know: I don’t eat enough vegetables.

I recently read an article in a food magazine I respect and enjoy, written by a highly esteemed author/blogger/restaurateur. In the article the writer professed her love of kale, so much so that even writing about it made her hungry.

Kale.

To be clear: I am hardly a “Falstaff-ian” figure. I try to eat correctly, and usually succeed. But kale? No, the mere thought of kale doesn’t make me hungry.

Chocolate, yes. Kale, no.

It’s not that I hate vegetables; it’s just that I like all the other stuff on the plate more. Yet, I freely acknowledge that when vegetables are cooked properly (or uncooked properly, if that applies) they are wonderful.

So it follows that when the winter root vegetables start to show up in the markets every fall, I begin to feel confident that my veggie intake will increase for a few months, because I like them as much as or more than the other stuff on my plate. Heck, sometimes I don’t need anything else on the plate, and for vegetables, that’s saying a lot.

The great thing about winter vegetables is that they seem so easy to prepare that in my mind they qualify as fast food. The reality is that there is a bit of simple labor involved, yes, but knowing what awaits you when the timer rings (or beeps) is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. (This is not to imply in any way that the prep for these vegetables is in any way medicinal.)

Being a city dweller, the closest I get to handling earth is when I water the small juniper bush that sits on the ledge of one of my kitchen windows. So the fact that some of the winter vegetables arrive in my home with traces of the farm still clinging to them only increases the self satisfaction I get from the minor handling they require before they hit the heat.

It all starts with a few turnips, and a sweet potato or two.

Have you met parsnips? (Say hello, parsnips.) They look like carrots that slavishly wore sunscreen (and I thought I was pale!) Cooked, they taste like the progeny of a carrot and a potato. Sweet potato (I’m told) is a bit of a misnomer: the sweet potatoes we get are actually yams, and I like to mix the mellow white yams with the more effusively sweet orange yams.

When I was at the market this past weekend I found golden beets which, in addition to being mellower than their violet brothers, have the added benefit of not staining your hands when you peel and chop them. They’re good.

I also found some little cippollini onions. You don’t even need to peel cippolinis; when roasted they shed their skins so fast it’s almost like they’re stripping because they can’t take the heat.

The preparation / recipe is simple: first I rinse the vegetables to remove the dirt. No need to scrub, just a cool shower and a rub with your fingers is all that’s required (I mean for the vegetables–get your mind out of the gutter.) Then I peel the veggies using a vegetable peeler, but if you prefer, go ahead and use a paring knife. (As I said, you don’t need to peel the onions.)

Then the chopping. Don’t be put off by this. While fancy-shmancy knife skills are not a prerequisite, if there is any part of this routine that qualifies as the “tricky part” this is it. I recommend that you use a sharp knife. Chop everything to approximately the same size, so they will all be finished cooking at the same time. “Chop” is a misleading word. Cube may be more accurate. Cut the veggies into cubes approximately one-half inch wide and high. No need to measure.

Throw the cubes into a large bowl; drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil, and less generously with salt. Toss everything around to make sure all have been coated. Roast them on a sheet pan or cookie sheet in a hot oven (450˚F) for about 40 minutes.

If you want to magically convert this into a dinner, toss in your choice of protein. Some sliced turkey sausage is an easy choice. This past weekend, I threw the veggies in a roasting pan, and plunked a whole chicken breast (the bone-in, skin-on variety) on top. Fifty minutes later I had two meals.

Please don’t think that you need to adhere to my variety of veggies. If you like sweet potatoes just use those. (They are especially good when, just out of the oven, you drizzle them with a bit of maple syrup and then return them to the oven for a few fleeting moments.) If you can’t find cippollini onions, just chop a big, zesty, red onion into appropriately sized cubes and roast.

There’s also a great time saver that you can usually only find during November and December: many markets sell butternut squash already peeled and seeded.

But keep in mind that this is a great way to gamble at low stakes with a vegetable you’ve never tried before. Roasted using this method almost any hearty vegetable will have a toasty sweetness that won’t disappoint. And preparing vegetables as a Thanksgiving side could not be easier than this.

Isn’t nature wonderful?

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