Friday, February 4, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Recipes from the Root Cellar: 270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables

If I was a betting woman (sometimes I am, sometimes I'm not), I'd wager that the majority of you reading this post currently have some degree of snow and/or ice on the ground. 

I'd also bet that when it comes to cooking through the doldrums of winter, your motivation and mojo is where mine is ... south of the border, sitting on a beach with a cold drink in hand.

And I'm also betting that, even if you are inspired to cook during these gray days of winter, you're at somewhat of a loss and woefully uninspired with the various winter vegetables for the taking.  I mean, hello ... parsnips?  beets?  rutabagas?  turnips?  What the hell does one do with these, anyway?

There are 270 answers to that question in Andrea Chesman's new cookbook, Recipes from the Root Cellar: 270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables.  Ms. Chesman readily acknowledges that winter vegetables get a bum rap and eating locally can seem harder to do in the winter months.  It doesn't have to be, though, and in this well-written cookbook, she gives many tips on selecting, storing, and preparing these black sheep of the culinary world.

For this cookbook's purposes, winter vegetables are considered to be dried beans, beets, brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery root, collard greens, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, leeks, mustard greens, onions, parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas, salsify, shallots, sweet potatoes, turnips and winter squashes. 

Chesman introduces each vegetable to her reader in the beginning section of the cookbook, devoting approximately a page and a half for each one to discussing its availability, storage, how to buy, preparation, cooking ideas, and high-falutin' "math" (i.e: 2 pounds collards = 1 pound collard leaves (with stems removed and discarded) =   about 12 cups lightly packed = 2 cups cooked.) 

(I jest, truly.  My non-mathematical brain absolutely appreciates such tutoring.) 

I should also say that, while I am often guilty of skimming these introductory chapters of cookbooks (let's get onto the recipes already!), I spent more time than usual with these pages in Recipes from the Root Cellar because these things are kind of foreign to my cooking repertoire.  Other than the beans, potatoes, onion, and garlic, we're not big on many of these veggies.  Still, it was interesting to learn more about them, so I took the time to read this section, which makes this cookbook qualify (in my mind) as one for the Foodie's Reading Challenge. 

I was also searching for a relatively simple, non-threatening type of recipe to try out on the family.  I needed something familiar enough that perhaps the addition of - gasp!  a winter vegetable! - might not be too noticeable, but would give us the chance to try something new.  I settled on Pasta with Kale and Chickpeas. 

(I lied to The Husband and and kids and told them all that the kale was spinach.)

This seems to be a fairly flexible recipe.  Andrea Chesman says that other greens and beans can be substituted for the kale and chickpeas, and I think that it could be dressed up a little bit more.  (With what, I'm not sure.)  Here's the recipe:

Pasta with Kale and Chickpeas (says it serves 6, but I have my doubts.  It was sufficient for the 4 of us.)

1 lb. orecchiette or medium shells
3 tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced (I didn't have this, and I think it might have mad a difference)
8 ozs. kale, cut into thin ribbons (about 6 cups lightly packed; remove and discard tough stems)
1 tbsp. dry white wine (also didn't have)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1.5 cups cookes chickpeas or 1 15 oz. can, rinsed and drained

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook the pasta in the boiling water until just al dente.  Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and then drain.  Return the pasta to the pot and keep warm. 

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic, shallot, and kale, and saute until the kale is completely wilted, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the wine, cover, and steam until the kale is tender, about 3 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper. 

Betty sauteing the kale  spinach.
 3. Add the ricotta and Parmesan to the pasta in the pot.  Pour in half the reserved cooking water and toss to form a creamy sauce.  Add more water if the mixture seems dry.  Add the chickpeas and the kale mixture and toss to combine.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Serve at once. 

We liked this enough, but I thought it could have benefited from something more.  Maybe the omitted ingredients were more critical than I originally thought.  I also would have liked the sauce to not be as thick and have less of a dominant ricotta taste.  Most importantly, though, The Husband, while still not knowing this was kale instead of spinach (and he rarely reads my food blog posts, so we're probably good), liked this, despite "the spinach being too crispy and not cooked enough." 

Along with a well-written introductory section about each vegetable, Recipes from the Root Cellar is divided into sections titled Salads and Pickled Vegetables; Soups; Simple Vegetable Dishes; Beans, Rice, and Grains; Vegetarian Main Dishes; Main Dishes with Fish and Seafood; Main Dishes with Poultry; Main Dishes with Meat; and the all-important, Baked Goods and Desserts.

Some of the other recipes I'm hoping to try include these:

Roasted Vegetable Salad (I love warm salads)
Brussels Sprouts and Citrus Salad
Endive and Apple Salad with Candied Nuts and Blue Cheese
Couscous Salad with Kale and Feta
Cream of Garlic Soup
Tuscan White Bean and Kale Soup
Potato-Garlic Soup
Garlic-Crumbled Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Cornmeal-Crisped Brussels Sprouts
Parmesan Greens
Honey-Balsamic Roasted Parsnips
Smashed Potatoes with Root Vegetables (my mom made something like this one Thanksgiving, and I really liked it)
Hasselback Potatoes (this is described as a potato that is crispy on the outside and creamy inside, like a roasted potato)
Hot German Potato Salad with Sauerkraut
Kasha Varnishkes (also known as Kasha and Bow Ties in our house)
Savory Winter-Vegetable Bread Pudding
Cheesy Mac with Root Vegetables
Vegetable Couscous
Apple, Leek and Cheddar Quiche
Winter Fish Tacos
Creamy Fish Pie (described as "think New England style fish chowder in solid form")
Orzo with Kale, Chicken, and Feta Cheese
Garden Cornbread
Applesauce Crumb Cake
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Loaf
Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake

I appreciated the variety and simplicity of these recipes (as well as ones that would be suitable for serving to company or bringing to an event). While I would have liked to have pictures included, this looks like a very good cookbook that would serve one well as a reference for some unfamiliar vegetables. 

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Joy Weese Moll said...

I put this book on my TBR list. I definitely struggle in the winter and could use a few more of these veggies than I currently do in my cooking.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Fantastic book! You are right... having a celler full of vegies that have no meaning is not helpful.

Beth F said...

We adore kale and that recipe looks fabulous. I made a leek and turnip soup last night. Root veggies are better for you than white potatoes and I try to incorporate them often.

Margot said...

This book looks excellent. I like the huge list and the variety of recipes you've shown us. I also like a book that does all the math for me. This one's going on my list.

Margot said...

I forgot to say thanks for joining the Foodie's Reading Challenge. You read so many good food books that I thought you had joined. So glad to have you officially on board.

Anonymous said...

We're trying to eat less meat and more veggies, so this would be a perfect addition to my cookbook collection!

Peaceful Reader said...

This sounds delicious. I love kale and chickpeas. We try to eat locally and the winter is long-I might need this cookbook for help.

Chinoiseries said...

Wow. This cookbook goes straight onto my wishlist. I love cookbooks that feature interesting but not too complicated recipes for all kinds of vegetables, what a great way to expand one's repertoire :)
Just curious: is it all vegetarian (as the recipes are focused on vegetables), or are there also meat/fish recipes included?

Melissa said...

@Chinoiseries, there are meat/poultry/fish recipes included too, as well as ones that are vegetarian.