Don't underestimate the tastiness of root vegetables

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If winter has you longing for garden-fresh vegetables, look to the ground — or, underground.

"Root vegetables are so amazing to grow," said Elizabeth Keen, co-owner of Indian Line Farm in South Egremont. "They grow underground and you have to pull or dig them up. Other vegetables grow above ground and are cut, but you have to dig or pull root vegetables to see what they look like."

At Keen's farm, they grow "a lot of root vegetables," she said, including carrots, beets, rutabagas, many varieties of radishes, onions, many varieties and colors of carrots, Japanese turnip and celeriac ("a very unappreciated vegetable," Keen added).

Although most of the root vegetables at Indian Line Farm were harvested in late October or early November, Keen said there were Japanese turnips and spring radishes growing in the farm's greenhouse through early December. "We can seed again this month and have early vegetables in April." Keen said.

Red Shirt Farm in Lanesborough also grows a wide variety of root vegetables, including beets, onions, parsnips, carrots, radishes and members of the allium family like garlic, as well as kohlrabi. Jim Schultz, farm owner, said that while he is growing radishes and Japanese turnips in the winter greenhouse, the farm primarily grows vegetables for the fresh market and not much during the winter.

"Root crops do well in the spring and fall," he said. "In the summer, they tend to get woody and bolt [when plants grow quickly, stop flowering and set seeds]."

According to Schultz, root vegetables have picked up a really bad name and have a perceived heaviness and earthiness. However, he said, there are many varieties of each vegetable, and each variety has its own taste. Some are bred without the earthiness taste, like the Badger Flame beet. He also points to the Japanese turnip, Hakurei. "It has a crisp, sweet taste and is a beautiful white pearly color, as opposed to the usual turnips, which have a strong, cabbage-y taste." The Japanese turnips also have tops that can be a foot tall, he said.

And speaking of the tops, "Don't throw them away," Schultz advised. "There is more nutrition in the tops than in the vegetable itself," he said, adding the carrot tops can be used to make pesto, and turnip and beet greens can be cooked "but don't overcook them," or can be used fresh, although, "they're best when wilted."

"Most root vegetables are also really amazing when used fresh [not cooked,]," Keen said. "It's a great way to experience the integrity of the root vegetable without cooking them. It's also great to have raw and really crunchy vegetables in the winter."

Schultz agreed root vegetables can be eaten raw, grated perhaps with a citrus vinaigrette. He said garlic, turnips and beets could be pickled, as well.

"Boiling them is the least appetizing way to cook them," he said. "Pan fry them, steam them ..." The best way to prepare Japanese turnips, he said, is to cut them in halves or quarters, toss them with some olive oil and salt, and then roast them like you would beets. "To cut down on the roasting time, you could steam them first," he said.

Root vegetables will keep a long time is storage, Keen said, adding historically, people would dig a root cellar to keep them over the winter. At the farm, the root vegetables are washed after they are harvested and placed in 20- to 40-pound plastic bags, then stored in a space in the barn that remains at about 32 degrees F. "Most will hold over the winter if you place them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator," Keen said.

When buying root vegetables, Schultz said to look at the tops as a sign of their freshness, and forego those with wilted tops. They should also have a good color and glow, and be firm and clean. "The rest is preference," he said.

The most important thing when buying vegetables? "Talk to the farmer. Find out if it is organic and how it is grown. If you trust the farmer, you can trust the vegetables." Schultz added, "What you're eating has been in soil, and what is in the soil is in the vegetable. Take the time to find out about your food and where it is grown."

For more information, visit www.indianlinefarm.com, or redshirtfarm.com.

WATERMELON RADISH AND QUINOA SALAD

(Modified from original recipe at Garlic and Zest by Indian Line Farm)

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup quinoa

2 cups water

1 cup edamame (depending on liking)

1 1/2 cup watermelon radishes thinly sliced

1/3 cup parsley or cilantro chopped, or both!

2 tablespoons mint chopped

1/4 cup red onion thinly sliced

For vinaigrette:

1/4 cup lemon or lime juice

1 large clove garlic minced

1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse under running tap water. Transfer quinoa to a saucepan and add 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until quinoa is tender and spirals are visual on the surface. Remove from heat and let sit uncovered, until quinoa is at room temperature.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables, slicing the onions, scallions, radish, parsley and mint and transferring them to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, add all the ingredients for the vinaigrette and stir to combine.

When quinoa is cool, fluff the quinoa with a fork and add it to the vegetables. Add the vinaigrette and toss to combine. Can be made ahead and served chilled or at room temperature.

***

CELERY ROOT REMOULADE

(From "Farmer John's Cookbook")

INGREDIENTS:

1 large celeriac, peeled and cut into matchstick-sized strips

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup mayonnaise

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2 tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons dill pickles or cornichons

1 1/2 tablespoons capers, drained

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Toss the celeriac and lemon juice together in large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients; toss well to combine. Add more salt if desired. Let stand for 1/2 hour before serving.

***

BAKED BEET-AND-CARROT BURGERS WITH BROWN RICE, SUNFLOWER SEEDS, AND CHEDDAR CHEESE

('Farmer John's Cookbook" 2006. Page 60 and modified by Indian Line Farm.)

Sweet beets and carrots give luscious flavor to these patties — together with pungent onion, snappy cheddar cheese, and lots of nuts and seeds. Burgers are good on buns with mayo and tomato or alone with spicy mayo.

Makes 12 Patties

INGREDIENTS:

Butter for greasing the baking sheet

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1 cup sunflower seeds

2 cups peeled, grated beets (1-2 medium beets)

2 cups grated carrots (about 4 carrots)

1/2 cup minced onion (about 1 medium onion)

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup cooked brown rice

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2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

3 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 clove garlic minced or pressed (about 1/2 teaspoon)

1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly coat a baking sheet with butter.

Place a small, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds and stir them on the dry skillet just until lightly browned and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes, watching closely to avoid burning them. Immediately remove from heat and transfer the toasted seeds to a dish to cool.

Return the skillet to the heat. Add the sunflower seeds and stir them on the dry skillet just until lightly browned and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes, watching closely to avoid burning them. Immediately transfer them to the dish with the sesame seeds.

Combine the beets, carrots, and onion in a large bowl. Stir in the toasted sunflower and sesame seeds, eggs, rice, Cheddar cheese, oil, flour, parsley, soy sauce or tamari, and garlic (your hands work best here). Add cayenne (use 1/4 teaspoon for spicier burgers) and mix until thoroughly combined.

Using your hands, share the mixture into 12 patties and arrange them in rows on the baking sheet.

Bake the patties until brown around the edges, about 20 minutes. Unless they are very large and thick, it should not be necessary to turn them. Serve alone or on buns.

***

SEARED BEETS WITH WALNUTS OVER WILTED KALE AND MICRO GREENS

(Recipe courtesy of Red Shirt Farm)

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

5 small beets (a mix of red and golden is nice, but just red will work if you can't find golden)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 bunch small kale leaves, any variety, stems removed and finely chopped

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1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Sea salt

Aged red wine vinegar

Small handful of walnut halves or pieces

Thinly sliced goat feta or goat Gouda cheese

Crushed aniseed or dried oregano

A handful of micro greens, garden thinnings, or sprouts

DIRECTIONS:

Steam the beets over simmering water, covered, until they're tender but still a bit firm when you pierce them with a knife — about 25 minutes for small beets, longer for larger beets.

When cool, either slip off the skins with your hands or peel them neatly with a knife. Cut them into wedges.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the beets and cook them, turning as needed, until seared, 10 to 15 minutes.

While the beets are cooking, rinse the kale and drain in a colander but do not dry. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a second wide skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the kale, garlic, and a few pinches of salt. Turn the greens as they cook, taking care that the garlic does not burn. The water clinging to the kale will steam the greens then evaporate. When shiny and tender, add 1 tablespoon vinegar and toss it with the kale. Taste for salt.

Loosely arrange the kale on a small platter and cover with the beets, walnuts and slivers of cheese. Crush a pinch or so of aniseed and sprinkle them over the salad, then drizzle the remaining oil over all and sprinkle with more vinegar and salt. Finish with the micro greens and serve.

***

ROASTED CARROTS WITH CARROT-TOP PESTO

(Recipe courtesy of Red Shirt Farm)

Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds small carrots with tops (any color) 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

1 garlic clove

3 tablespoons macadamia nuts or pine nuts

1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Trim carrot tops, leaving some stem attached. Measure out 2 cups carrot tops and set aside; reserve any remaining carrot tops for another use.

Toss carrots and vegetable oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until carrots are golden brown and tender, 25 to 35 minutes. Let cool.

Pulse garlic and nuts in a food processor until a coarse paste forms. Add basil, Parmesan, and reserved carrot tops; process until a coarse puree forms. Add olive oil and pulse until combined; season with salt and pepper. Serve carrots with pesto.

Do ahead: Pesto can be made one day ahead. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface; chill. Carrots can be roasted 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

***

TURNIPS WITH MISO BUTTER

(Recipe courtesy of Red Shirt Farm)

Serves 2 to 4

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound Japanese turnips

2 tablespoons butter at room temperature

2 tablespoons mirin

3 tablespoons white miso

1 teaspoon black sesame seeds, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant

3 green onions, white parts plus an inch of the greens, slivered

Sea salt

DIRECTIONS:

Trim the turnips and peel neatly with a paring knife. Section them into quarters or sixths. Melt a tablespoon of the butter in a skillet over medium heat, add the mirin, then the turnips, and cook, allowing them to color, for several minutes.

While the turnips are cooking, stir together the miso and the remaining butter. When the turnips are tender, add this mixture and allow it to bubble up, coating the turnips, and just heat through. Transfer to a serving dish, finish with the sesame seeds and green onions and serve. The dish probably will not need salt, but taste to be sure.


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