Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Jen vs The Root Vegetables

So I bought too many root vegetables for Sunday Supper the other day, which means I now must do something to remove their homely countenances from my refrigerator. And since a root vegetable cannot be poured into a Riedel champagne flute and sipped, my preferred method of emptying my refrigerator of its most prominent inventory, I must dispose of them in some other manner. I will make my current favorite vegetable-related recipe, Roasted Root Vegetables With Gremolata, from Suzanne Goin's most excellent cookbook "Sunday Suppers at Lucques." Suzanne Goin is an amazing chef although her picture on the back of the book is a little severe. If I ever have the opportunity to interview her for our website, I think we should do the interview whilst getting makeovers, perhaps.

Anyway, the recipe calls for, in essence, a shedload of root veggies and shallots, butter/olive oil/salt/pepper, and a gremolata of minced garlic, flat-leaf parsley, and lemon zest. So, pretty much all of the finest things a kitchen should have on hand, with the exception of the root vegetables, which I think are hideous, but I cook and consume anyway because I am of course, completely non-discriminatory. Please do not sic the "Society Against Unfairly Labeling Parsnips As 'Hideous'" on me.
First off I wash the visually offending turnips and parsnips, and their more beautiful counterpart, the carrots. The first time I ever made this recipe, I used the exquisite red and purple heirloom carrots I bought at Farmer's Market during its last few weeks back in December. But this time I'm using ordinary carrots, because that is what they had at City Market.

I locate a lemon lolling about in my cornucopia-esque fruit bowl, and dig through my messy kitchen drawers to find the microplane. I always feel rather badly about zesting a lemon, as I am callousing removing his skin, essentially flaying him, and as we all know from "Silence of the Lambs," nobody likes to be flayed. Even lemons, one would think. But I need that precious layer of bright yellow cells, with their pungent oils and unmistakeably fresh scent and flavor to add just the right note to my gremolata. Before I made this recipe, I had no idea what a gremolata was. So I wiki'd it, and here is what I found: "Gremolata (or gremolada) is a traditional accompaniment to the Italian braised veal shank dish Ossobuco alla milanese. Typically, gremolata contains garlic, parsley and grated lemon peel." Hmmm. I am not making veal tonight, but it seems like useful information anyway.

Click here to read: Eeek! I've Been Flayed! One Lemon's Account of a Brutal Zesting.
(Just kidding.)

I squint my eyes and slice the root vegetables, then set up my 'mise en place', which is French for, everything's measured out and ready to go or something like that. I usually cook in the 'rien en place' or 'nothing in place' method, which is one that embraces complete chaos and lack of preparation and involves eggs being madly beaten while mushrooms and onions burn abandoned in a too-hot skillet, but today I'm trying to be like a real chef.

Surveying my lineup of ingredients, I realize I have forgotten the thyme. Even worse, when I check the crisper, I see that the thyme has completely let itself go! It is withered and brittle and wearing holey mismatched socks, which means my dream of living in my robe the entire day is dashed. I will have to don trousers and walk to the City Market. Drat! Inside the market, I quickly grab a bunch of fresh thyme and head to the checkout, but en route I am distracted by Viande's Chicken Fig sausages, and even further distracted by the fact that Benjamin Dyer is behind the Viande counter, slicing something meaty. This is my chance to ask him about the small roasting hens conundrum explored in my posting about Fred the Little Crippled Kosher Chicken. Alas, I chicken out again! No pun intended! I request a chicken and fig sausage from the butcher on counter duty and buy it along with my bundle of thyme and hurry home.

I get ready to roast. I turn on the gas, heat up two skillets, and swirl about a tablespoon of olive oil in each pan. I divide the root vegetables between the two pans and commence roasting them on high heat, turning them often. I add the thyme leaves, and some salt. They sizzle and crackle madly, and before too long the incomparable smell of carmelizing root vegetables and fresh thyme fills the apartment, and my stove, sink, table, refrigerator, favorite tank top, hair, and every single other item in my kitchen, including the MacBook, is covered in a fine spray of olive oil! Not again! I forgot that the last time I roasted these root vegetables I basically had to toss a Formula 409 All-Purpose Cleaner grenade through the door post-recipe and return in a day or so, when the oil slick that was my kitchen had finally succumbed to the Formula 409's relentless de-greasing campaign. My socks are carrying me across the floor of their own oily will and the smoke detector is starting to hiccup, even though I took it down and put it under the kitchen table for the duration of this recipe, which I do NOT recommend doing at home, okay? It's just that the smoke alarm is so...incessantly alarmist, and I have sensitive eardrums. I always replace it in a timely manner, I swear.

After I rescue the laptop, I go back in and swirl some unsalted butter around in the pans with the rapidly browning vegetables, then add a half cup full of thinly sliced shallots to each pan five minutes later. I let these carmelize and release their savory flavor and smell for about five minutes, then I turn the vegetables off, toss them with the gremolata, and serve them with a pan-fried Viande Chicken and Fig Sausage.

The combination of the sweetly robust flavors of roasted root vegetables and the fresh sassy kick of the gremolata is divine, and I almost forget that my entire kitchen has been meticulously doused with miniscule droplets of olive oil, until I nearly break my leg slipping on the checkered linoleum on the way to the sink. Funny how the cookbooks never mention this completely unglamorous side to cooking at home. Or is it possibly me? Don't know.

Anyway, this experience, while pleasant to my gullet, has led me to begin work on a book of anti-root-vegetable prose, entitled, "Ode to a Hideous Parsnip." So far, I've only nailed down one line, "Obese albino carrot! May you be eaten by a rabid ferret!" but I think it's showing a glimmer of real brilliance.

For more of Suzanne Goin's fantabulous recipes, you can buy her book "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" at Powell's online at http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=73-9781400042159-0. Now if you'll excuse me, my Formula 409 bath is getting cold.



  1. Dear Sis,

    You are so spicy for a turnip or your the bee's knees. Very clever and informative... I have to come clean. I took the night off, ate tacos, sat in the bath and watched the bachelor, drank wine, and then retired to bed. You should've brought over some of your root vegetables- I am sure they go well with Carnitas from Ole Ole. We could've sat aroundn and judged all the girls in the bachelor trying to snag the cute bachelor from London... maybe next week.

  2. Hi Sis,
    I am glad I could teach you something, even if I've never been able to educate you on the proper spelling of "you're." I can't believe you took the night off to watch the Bachelor while I've been toiling all evening here in my freezing cold apartment, writing a bunch of bollocks about root vegetables. You say this season's Bachelor is from London? Curses! Maybe I will have to get cable after all.