As tomorrow is Halloween I thought this would be an ideal time to discuss the humble rutabaga.
When I was growing up in the UK, we always made Jack 'O' Lanterns from rutabagas or swedes, as they are known over there. Pumpkins were pricey, particularly around Halloween time so my mum always bought swedes. They are harder to carve since the flesh is very dense and not at all hollow like a pumpkin. I prefer them to pumpkins in that they are far cruder looking and therefore infinitely more creepy. Pumpkins are a bit jolly (orange, smooth etc), rutabagas are sinister and so perfectly suited to Halloween.They are also quite pungent, even now the smell of them takes me back to that time. Autumn was so exciting to me. First there was Halloween, then Guy Fawkes' night then my birthday and the smell of raw or cooking rutabaga is permeated with that childlike excitement still.
Rutabagas don't seem to be very popular in the US, in fact every time I bring them to the check out at my local grocery store the cashier looks utterly confounded by the thing and usually asks me what it is (mind you they also do this with leeks, parsnips and various other produce too). I live in the South where the climate is rather kind and rutabagas thrive in wet, cold climes so perhaps if I went farther north I would find them everywhere. The taste is mustardy and they are a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables that also boasts broccoli, spinach, arugala, Brussel sprouts, kale and more as members.
Despite their rather modest look, I think they are too often overlooked in cooking. They can be steamed then mashed with lots of butter and then mixed with steamed, mashed carrots as a much healthier and tastier alternative to mashed potatoes. If you roast them they develop a stringent and sweet flavor. They are a popular addition to Cornish pasties, and many British soups and stews contain them because they are plentiful in the Autumn and therefore cheap.
The stew below has a heartiness due to the rutabaga and lentils/beans however the tomato and vinegar lift the flavors, preventing it from becoming too stodgy.
Fall Stew with Rutabaga and Greens
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 pound of kielbasa sausage finely chopped
1 heaped teaspoon of smoked paprika
1/4 cup of cider or red wine vinegar
1 rutabaga cut into 1/2 inch cubes
28oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 cup of dried lentils (i like to use a mix of different varieties) or a 12 oz can of white beans or black eyed peas
Two big handfuls of greens such as kale or mustard greens (stalks removed and roughly chopped)
I defy you to not want second helpings of this stir fry and it is so easy to make, you're going to want to cook this a lot. Probably everyday. Yes, it's that good and most of the ingredients you probably have in your kitchen already.
I had some gorgeous peppers that I got from a local grower and I also added some pungent kale. Strong flavors work well with this bold sauce. Onions would be great and/or mushrooms, Basically anything you like!
The sauce is rich and sweet and works well with beef, pork or tempeh. I reckon it would also make a great marinade and glaze for Asian style ribs or as a sauce for duck and pancakes. Go heavy on the five-spice powder, you will not be disappointed.
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup honey (best to use a darker, bolder honey)
1 heaped teaspoon five spice powder
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1lb sliced protein (see above)
If you choose to grow vegetables, sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes should be at the top of the list. Drop the knobbly little tubers into the ground in a sunny spot where their tall flowers won't cause an obstruction, and you will enjoy year after year of this nutty crop with almost no effort. Sunchokes are perennials so they don't need to be sown every year. Their bright yellow flowers are lovely in the late summer. It's best to harvest sunchokes after the first frost because like Brussel sprouts, these vegetables turn sweet after a hit of sharp cold.
I was once told that they are the gassiest of vegetables but I think that's a small price to pay for this under-used gem. Sunchokes are a wise alternative to potatoes. While starchy, they are much better for you since the starch does not turn quickly to sugar in your body the way potatoes and other white starches do. True they are a little awkward to peel but if you cook them in their skins this becomes less of a problem.
Come up with as many uses as you can for potatoes and I guarantee sunchokes can be used in the same way. Whether baked, mashed, boiled, steamed, their flavor is far more interesting than potatoes. Plus you can eat them raw. I like them slice on a mandolin so they are thin and crispy and they honestly taste like a water chestnut!
While everyone gets excited about the bounty of summer, it's autumn fruit and vegetables that I love. Crisp apples, juicy pears and robust yet versatile turnips, rutabagas, celery root (AKA celeriac) and sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) etc.
Parsnips are sweet and delicious with a creamy texture when cooked. They are very popular in Britain where they hold their own as a side for the beloved Sunday roast. I love to roast them in the oven with a drizzle of honey or puree them. If you have a mandolin or food processor try making thin slices then deep frying in olive oil.
In the puree below the parsnips are cooked in milk which is then used in the puree, making it irresistibly rich.
Serves 2 as a side dish
2 large parsnips
1/2 tablespoon of butter
half a cup of whole milk
I think I got this recipe from the Guardian originally. That was years ago and has since been adapted and re-created to suit my needs. The marinade is tangy and a little spicy and is delicious when cooked on a grill. If you want to grill them I recommend cutting the thighs into bite size pieces before marinating and then making kebabs for the grill. Big batches are best, it is no more effort to marinate and cook eight or twelve thighs as it is to do six. I always think that thighs look pretty substantial raw but they always seem to shrink quite a bit once cooked. Just don’t forget to double the below quantities You could use chicken breasts but why bother when thighs are so much tastier and moister?
Six skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
The juice of one lemon
¼ teaspoon each of the following ground spices:
½ teaspoon of cumin
1 cinnamon stick roughly crushed into little shards
3 gloves of garlic crushed
2 tablespoons of fresh oregano roughly chopped
½ teaspoon of salt
Make some slits in the smooths sides of the chicken thighs, about an inch long and not very deep
Drop them into a gallon sized, heavy duty, zip lock bag
Add all the other ingredients
Shake and massage the chicken gently through the bag until everything looks pretty well mixed and the chicken is coated in marinade.
Marinade in the fridge for at least 8 hours
Heat your broiler to 500 f
Place the chicken onto a grill over a pan to catch the juices, discard the left over marinade
Grill until sizzling, about 15 minutes
Delicious with rice and peas.
This risotto tastes a bit like a savory rice pudding. Since finding brown Jasmine rice, we have pretty much abandoned white rice. Except for this dish. It is easy, quick and comforting and I don’t mess with a good thing.
The original recipe was given to me by secretary of the language school I worked at in Italy. I was complaining that I was bored with my own food and wanted something new but not fussy to make. I remember her explaining this rice dish to me in the simplest way possible since my Italian was not good. ‘Riso, uovo, mozzarella, burro, basta.’ It was almost a poem and the resulting dish was too. I then added the lemon and cabbage which I think horrified her. Sorry Ester!
Serves 2 at least
Two cups of Arborio rice
Half the head of small white cabbage, shredded thinly
2 eggs beaten
A ball of mozzarella pulled into small pieces (makes about a cup)
Two tablespoons of butter
The juice of half a large lemon
Salt and pepper
Let’s be clear. Shepherd’s Pie is made with lamb (hence ‘Shepherd’) and Cottage pie is made with beef. End of story. You made a Shepherd’s pie but you used beef? No, you made Cottage pie. So when you pick up a Shepherd’s Pie from Trader Joe’s, be warned. I love that place but they are selling you Cottage Pie, not Shepherd’s. How do I know? I’m from Britain, trust me,
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get down to it. Fall is here, days are getting chillier and it is the perfect time to make Shepherd’s pie. Before discovering frozen mashed potatoes (and here I do commend Trader Joe’s, theirs are particularly good) this meaty feast was relegated to weekends, now it can be enjoyed any day of the week sans the dread of having to peel, boil and mash potatoes. Bliss!
This pie is pretty straightforward, but your choice of equipment for cooking and baking can make quite a difference.
When sautéing the filling, choose a deep, wide pan or pot with steep sides. Don’t use a frying pan. Frying pans result in a dry mixture and you want your pie to have a velvety, bubbling sauce when serving. But you still want enough space to cook everything evenly and get a little bit of caramelization on the bottom. I use a cast iron, enamel dutch oven. OK, I admit it, it’s Le Creuset and I love it.
The baking dish you use is also vital. Again, go for deep sides and a smaller bottom. This will retain more liquid and you will have a deeper, more satisfying pie rather than a thin layer of meat and potatoes.
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive
1 large onion chopped
2 medium carrots diced (please, use a food processor and keep your sanity if you’re busy)
1 pound ground lamb, yes lamb! Did I mention that this is SHEPHERD’S pie and not COTTAGE pie???
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon of fresh time leaves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 glass of red wine
¼ cup of beef stock or broth
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
½ cup of frozen peas
1 28 ounce bag of frozen mashed potatoes
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