Root of the Meal
By B.A. Nilsson
veggies prove that all that glitters does not grow above ground
Funny, in a way, that they’re called root vegetables, because
they form so much of the foundation of a holiday meal. In
some cases, it’s the only time you see some manner of rutabaga
and turnip and beet on the table—but don’t forget that onions
and garlic, carrots and potatoes are part of this family as
They’re the character actors of the dinner table. You may
marvel at the flashy antics of the short-season stars, the
lettuce and beans and even those first mustardy broccoli florets,
but those wan, tough tubers are there for you meal after meal
and never let you down.
This year’s Thanksgiving dinner at my house will feature a
roasted beet salad with tarragon and chives, a tri-color casserole
that alternates carrot and parsnip purées with a green column
of peas for contrast, sweet potato pie and some manner of
rutabaga because I feel obliged every year to figure out some
way to make it toothsome.
Most of the veggies in question respond nicely to a preparation
you already know well: boil chunks of them until tender, then
mash them with butter, salt and pepper.
But the potato is the longtime star. According to the Random
House Book of Vegetables, it is “without doubt the most
important of all vegetables, and is at present (1993) the
fourth most important food crop in the world.” It’s a cousin
to deadly nightshade, and even its own fruit is worth avoiding.
Mash the heated tuber with butter, however, and you’re talking
In fact, the simplest and most satisfying mashed potato recipe
is the one I dare you to make: it’s an emulsion of one part
butter to one part potatoes, whipped carefully to avoid turning
Here’s another approach to add richness to the tater, from
Charlie Trotter’s Vegetables (Ten-Speed Press, 1996):
Twice-Baked Yukon Gold Potatoes with White Alba Truffles.
Bake four Yukon gold potatoes at 375 degrees until soft (45-60
minutes). After they’re cool, cut off and discard (or munch
on) the top third of each potato, sliced lengthwise. Scoop
out the insides, leaving behind a quarter-inch or so for support.
Mix what you scooped with 1/4 cup heavy cream, two tablespoons
chopped fresh herbs like chives and parsley, four tablespoons
white truffle oil and a half-cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Refill the potato shells and bake at 350 degrees for another
20 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with a drizzle of
truffle oil and some white truffle slices.
The day before Thanksgiving, as I’m making the soup and whatever
side dishes benefit from having flavors blend overnight, I
roast a few heads of garlic. These go into mashed potatoes,
turkey stuffing, anything that can benefit from its aromatic
sweetness. And you can squeeze it directly onto a slice of
crusty bread for a better-than-butter spread.
Slice the tops off a couple of garlic heads and peel away
loose skin layers. Arrange the heads in an oven-proof dish
and moisten them with olive oil. Bake in a 350-degree oven
for 40 to 50 minutes—look for them to be little brown on top.
Miraval Spa executive chef Cary Neff gives a wonderful recipe
for Fava Bean Roasted Garlic and Truffle Potato Patties in
his book Conscious Cuisine (Sourcebooks, 2002): Boil
1½ cups of fava beans for 2 minutes; transfer the beans to
ice water and save the hot water to boil 1½ cups of baked
potatoes for one minute. Peel the fava beans, and add 3/4
cup of them to the warm potatoes.
Combine an additional 1½ cups of cold baked potatoes with
the rest of the fava beans. Send the warm potato-bean combo
through a ricer or food mill into the cold mixture. Stir in
1 cup vegetable stock, 1 tsp. chopped parsley, 1/4 cup truffle
oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Form the mix into patties (1/4 cup per patty) and cook them
on a medium-hot griddle until golden, about three minutes
A garlic variation is the confit described in Thomas Keller’s
gorgeous new book Bouchon (Artisan, 2004), a
follow-up to his French Laundry Cookbook, but this
time concentrating on bistro fare. He describes garlic confit
as a great flavoring device “for everything from shellfish
to mashed potatoes, or to be stirred into a soup or spread
on a baguette for a tartine.”
Start with a cup of peeled garlic cloves (about 45), and cover
them in a small saucepan with enough canola oil to top them
by an inch. Cook (over a diffuser) over medium-high heat for
about 40 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so. Cool
Keller also addresses the importance of glazing, “a great
technique (which) may be the perfect way to cook root vegetables.”
Begin with the shape, which should be about an inch and a
half long and a half-inch wide. Cooking time varies with the
size and the vegetable, but you want them to simmer in an
inch of water with a teaspoon of sugar and a pat of butter.
“The aim is to have your vegetables three-quarters cooked
by the time the water level is reduced to about half their
height.” Turn up the heat so that the rest of the water boils
away quickly while you keep the vegetables in motion. “When
the liquid is gone, the vegetables are done.”
You can’t judge the seasons by the supermarket produce shelves
any more, but that also means that root vegetables can gain
a more prominent year-round place on the menu. However, they
still offer the defining moments of any holiday meal, and
their colors, to me, are the defining colors of autumn and
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, authors of The
Book Club Cookbook, will be at the Schenectady
County Public Library (Clinton and Liberty Streets,
Schenectady) from noon-5 PM Sunday, Oct. 17, to
discuss and sign their book. The event is a fund-raiser
for the Capital Campaign to expand the downtown
library to include a new children’s center, gallery
and performance space. Samples of food made by
area restaurants from The Book Club Cookbook
recipes will be offered for sale. Gelman and
Krupp interviewed book-club members all over the
country to see what they were reading and eating;
the result is a collection of 100 entries, each
focusing on a literary masterpiece. . . . The
Hudson Valley Council of Girl Scouts will
hold its third annual Cookie Cuisine event from
6-9 PM Tue, Oct. 26 at the Italian-American Community
Center (Washington Ave. Ext., Albany). Honorary
Chair Carmine Sprio, Ric Orlando and a host of
talented culinary teams take on the challenge
of preparing gourmet entrées and desserts using
Girl Scout cookies. This year’s participants include
the Arlington House, Aromi D’Italia, Capital District
EOC, Carmine’s, Crowne Plaza, Magnolia’s, New
World Home Cooking, Real Seafood, SUNY Cobleskill
and 333 Café. Tickets are $35; pony up $75 and
you’ll be part of the honorary committee. For
reservations, call Sharon Smith 489-8110, ext.
105. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..