While you ladies in your Han Solo attire line up at coffee shops to grab the last of this season’s pumpkin pie spiced lattes, I will be gathering up my favorite early winter veggies and late fall squashes. I tend to shy away from words like “earthiness” and non-words like “irregardless,” but when you are dining on this season’s showcase of crops you might be inclined to say you can taste the earthiness, regardless of how pretentious that may sound.
Greens are still the most popular veggie this time of year, and I enjoy the big three: turnips, collards and mustards. Nowadays you’ll find kale rounds out the list, making a quartet of greenery that goes great with ham, and I do like most kale, too. But my favorite is the almighty turnip.
Don’t yawn. Maybe that sounds boring (I also switched back to beer-flavored beer two years ago) but my tastes were unwavering on the issue. I’ve made a pretty mean pot of collards here and there, but my best pot of collards or mustards couldn’t hold a candle to my worst pot of turnips. I’ve never met one I didn’t like.
The big bulky purple top roots are the most readily available, but if you ever get the chance to try the White Lady turnips don’t miss out. The roots are stark white and a little larger than a golf ball. Sometimes I boil them up separately and eat them like mashed potatoes. Roasted and scorched on the outside over a fiery grill is another delicious method for preparing them.
In Mississippi a lot of people like to pair turnips with pecans. Some may like pork encrusted with pecans, toasted pecans or maybe just follow up your greens and pot liquor with a pecan pie for dessert. I remember being younger and someone saying their grandmother used to put one pecan in the pot of turnips. I made the girl repeat it. A whole, unshelled pecan placed in the pot of turnips with the belief that it takes away some of the bitterness. Maybe she was a witch. My grandmother never put whole pecans in the pot.
With all of the grocers competing to be hipper, trendier and more “farm-to-table” we also see parsnips more often than we used to. I try to take advantage when I see them. As with most winter items these paler cousins of the carrot are much sweeter when harvested after the first frost.
Of course sweet potatoes and carrots are spectacular this time of year, but winter also has its share of squash. My favorite is the butternut. You’ll find some people use it as a substitute for pumpkin as they are similar in color and flavor. It’s sweet. It’s nutty. It’s my favorite right now.
Roasted winter vegetable soup
I love soup any time of year, but right now it’s a must. This is an extremely healthy soup that could be vegetarian by using water or vegetable stock instead of chicken. The key is to roast the vegetables rather than boil them.
• 2 carrots, 2 parsnips, 2 sweet potatoes, one butternut squash, one large turnip root
• 1 stick of butter
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 2 celery stalks, chopped
• 1 teaspoon of garlic, chopped
• 1 quart chicken stock or vegetable stock
• 1 cup of milk
• 2 cups of fresh, raw spinach
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Hot sauce
• Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
• Clean, peel and cut the root vegetables and the squash evenly into large chunks.
• Roast on a lightly greased roasting pan stirring every 10 minutes until they are tender (about 25 minutes).
In a large soup pot melt the butter and sauté the onion, celery and garlic until the onion is translucent.
• Add the roasted vegetables to the pot along with the chicken stock.
• Salt and pepper the mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook covered 10 minutes.
• Add the milk. With an immersion blender puree the mixture. For a chunkier soup remove half of the veggies with a slotted spoon, puree, then return them to the pot.
• Add the spinach and stir until it wilts.
Salt and pepper to your heart’s content. But be warned. This is a fairly sweet soup, which isn’t normally my thing. Here’s how I make it my thing. Hot sauce will make this dish sing to the heavens. Pick your favorite. I would recommend going hotter than a Louisiana Red Dot or Crystal. Maybe Tabasco sauce or one drop of those designer sauces you got last Christmas but were afraid to try. Go ahead and ruin the healthy aspect of this heartwarming dish by serving up some stale, crusty bread. It keeps well, but you’ll be sick of it if you try to finish this pot alone. Go forth and make new friends.
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