Winter Root Vegetables
There’s no shortage of options for chefs looking to satisfy seasonal palates with new and trendy flavors, like celeriac and different kinds of turnips.
Beets, carrots, potatoes: The usual suspects still reign on winter menus. But this year, we’re hearing more about celeriac, different types of turnips, and other less-common root vegetables as growers experiment with new and heirloom varieties.
By the numbers, beets dominate, according to research from Datassential that shows beets with a menu frequency of 47 percent at high-end independent and chain restaurants across the nation. After beets, parsnips had the second-highest frequency on menus, at 16.5 percent, followed by turnips and sunchokes, at 12.6 percent and 11.4 percent respectively.
Taro, interestingly enough, led the pack in menu frequency at mid-scale restaurants, 3.8 percent compared to virtually zero for other root veggies. The gnarly looking root was most commonly associated with Asian restaurants. Often steamed in cube form with meat and fish, it can also find its way on dim sum menus in the form of dumplings and pan-fried cakes. As Sichuan cuisine continues to trend, we could see more of this starchy tuber.
Growers say they’re selling celery root to both chefs and consumers more often than in the past, and many chefs have taken to celeriac because they can use the whole plant, from root to leaf. The versatile bulb adds another layer of flavor for soups, stews, and—when mashed—even with potatoes. When shredded raw for a slaw with carrots, it adds crunch and character. Once the celery stem and leaves have been removed, the roots will store in the cooler for at least three months.
Chef Justin Carlisle, of Ardent in Milwaukee, has combined raw celery, celery leaves, salt-roasted celeriac, and even white chocolate for a sweet and savory dish. While at Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle, Chef Robert Spaulding serves whole celery and parsnip plants for a butter-poached Alaskan king crab entrée with a celeriac and parsnip purée, pickled celery, and American caviar—using some celery leaves as a garnish and the extra leaves for an earthy pistou, blended with olive oil, for another layer of flavor and presentation.
Celeriac can also do time at the bar, where leftover greens can be used for celery bitters. For instance, at the Betty in Chicago, mixologist Peter Vestinos uses the bitters in a gimlet with a house-made cordial.
Considered to be the sweeter potato, parsnips are also making a strong appearance on menus—both with and without celeriac as the sidekick.
At Root & Bone in New York City, where an entire section of the menu is devoted to roots, Chefs Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth mash celery root with parsnips for an “earthy, yet perfectly sweet” side for their Braised Short Rib Meatloaf.
Sweet and savory is a prevailing theme for parsnips as Chef Cameron Grant at Osteria Langhe in Chicago makes a parsnip purée as the base for a roasted duck breast with cocoa-dusted foie gras, caramel apples, and sherry gastrique. He peels and cuts parsnips into inch-sized pieces, simmers them in milk and cream until tender, and then blends the mixture until velvety. “The earthy sweetness of the parsnips pairs great with the rich, savory duck breast and foie gras, and the tart Granny Smith apples coated in caramel, with a splash of vinegar, adds texture and acid to the dish,” he says.
Chef David Swanson, of Braise in Milwaukee, lightly poaches celeriac, parsnips and turnips in olive oil until tender, and serves them simply with horseradish crème fraiche. “When you place the vegetables on the dish, the poaching oil pools at the bottom and adds more intense flavor,” says Swanson, who uses the leftover tops for bright green and aromatic pistous and to brighten soups and other dishes. He even dehydrates the peels and grinds them finely in a processor to make root vegetable salt.
Trending Turnips, Radishes, and Sunchokes
If chefs have their way, turnips just might become the next kale for consumers. “Turnips are getting huge now with chefs,” says Beth Eccles, of Green Acres Farm in North Judson, Indiana, who with her husband grows a wide variety of traditional purple-topped turnips as well as scarlet red turnips and Japanese turnips. “The red turnips add great color to slaws and other dishes, but they need to be cooked separately from other turnips and root vegetables or the colors will bleed like beets. When pickling them, though, they add a nice pinkish tint.”
Japanese turnips are much milder in taste, and are delicious raw when sliced thin or when used in a kimchi, Eccles says, adding that the tops, which resemble radish greens, can be braised or cooked [which tones down their bitterness] to add extra color and nutrients to a dish.
Radishes, a close sibling, also continue to trend on menus, from the early breakfast radishes that come in the spring to the more turnip-like watermelon radishes in the fall and winter. At Root & Bone, Chefs McInnis and Booth have taken to the watermelon radishes as well as black varieties that are starting to show up at the farmer’s markets, using the multi-colored roots for slaws, salads, and pickles.
Eccles is also seeing demand for the radish seed pods, which have the same crunch as sugar snap peas but are spicier in taste. Chef Abraham Conlon, of Fat Rice in Chicago, has pickled them for a garnish and to use in intensely flavored salads, Eccles says.
Sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes, are also gaining popularity. “The earthy, umami, yet nutty flavor calls for this vegetable to be roasted, mashed, or even fried into the most amazing chips to top just about anything,” says Chef Booth of Root & Bone.
These root veggies can be “over-wintered,” meaning they can be planted in the fall and left in the ground to develop sweetness over the winter. Unlike some carrots and other root vegetables that cannot survive harsh winters, this hearty crop actually relies on the frost and cold weather to activate the vegetable’s natural sugars. Lately, some chefs have also taken to the sunchoke flowers, which can be plucked earlier, before the roots are ready. The yellow flowers resembling daisies taste like an extra-strong version of the sunchoke, and make for both a delicious and pretty garnish.