Frontier Psychiatrist

Rooted in Winter

Posted on: February 8, 2012

Well, folks, we’ve hit that point of winter.  We all know this time of year–when the farmer’s market is just overflowing with glorious items like potatoes, onions, and other beige-ish produce.  Sigh.  (And if you live in southern California, please do not comment.)  This is the time when the season has lost its holiday charm, and I begin to long for warmer days.  Thankfully, we’re having a totally lame winter over here in NY, so spring may be fast approaching after all.  (Whatever, Punxsutawney Phil.)

Regardless, until the springtime bounty arrives, we must make proverbial lemonade!  Potatoes are longing to be transformed into latkes and homemade chips!  Onions are waiting to be caramelized!  There’s a silver lining to most “boring” winter veggies, and with a bit of an adventurous attitude, you can really transform the blah into something special.

For example, this dish is truly the creation of an optimist.  Some of winter’s most daring survivors–red onions, mushrooms, kale, and sunchokes–all come together in a harmonious salad perfectly suited for the season.  The onions are caramelized to tender, candy-sweet slivers, and the mushrooms sauteed until crisp.  The kale and farro supply heft and heartiness, while the sunchokes, frankly, steal the show.

What’s a sunchoke you ask?  Yes, this is where the adventurous spirit comes in handy.  Winter produce is largely ignored.  Sunchokes?  Kohlrabi?  Celeriac?  These are not ingredients I grew up with, but with easy access to farmer’s markets, I have begun to explore the world of these unknown winter veggies.  Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, are not exactly lookers.  They resemble ginger root (or twigs), with their knobby joints and thin, beige skin.  They actually happen to be a relative of the sunflower, but the part you cook is the root, a tuber, and flavor-wise it has more in common with the parsnip.   When cooked, the root becomes incredibly creamy, so it’s often pureed into soups or “smears” at fancy restaurants.

When it comes to roots, I always like them better roasted.  It seems to be the secret to turning the hard, resilient vegetables of winter into sweet and tender morsels.  So when I saw that the original recipe for this dish called for pan-frying thin slices of sunchoke, I had to change course.  I’d say it was quite successful.  Because of all the natural sugar, sunchokes become very crispy on the outside when roasted, but the center stays creamy.  I taste a subtle smokiness beneath the sweetness, too, and a bit of a bite.  That sweetness, bolstered by the onions, plays well off the earthy mushrooms and  fresh kale.

Some lessons learned: I used a combination of roasted sunchokes and parsnips, as you’ll see in the photos, but I would just go with all sunchokes.  The flavor is more complex and fitting with the dish.  I also added pine nuts to the recipe below, because I think it needed some crunch.  You might experiment with other nuts, like almonds, too.

Roasted Sunchokes with Farro, Kale, and Caramelized Red Onion
Adapted from Food & Wine3/4 cup farro
2 1/2 pounds large sunchokes, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and then cross-wise into 2-inch pieces
Salt
1 pound Tuscan kale, tough stems discarded
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, halved if large (could also use a combination of mushrooms, including cremini or shiitake)
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350*F.

2. In a medium saucepan, cover the farro with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook over low heat until the farro is tender, about 25 minutes. Drain the farro and set aside.

3. Coat the sunchokes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, stirring halfway through, until tender and lightly browned on the outside.

4. Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the Tuscan kale and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the kale and let cool slightly. Squeeze the kale dry and coarsely chop it.

5. In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the sliced red onion and a pinch of salt and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 12 minutes.

6. Add 1 more tablespoon of olive oil and the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until browned, about 3 minutes (longer for other mushroom varieties, up to about 10 minutes). Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil along with the farro, kale, onion, and pint nuts, and cook, stirring, until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Freya Bellin writes alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include The Ultimate Roasted ChickenCoffee Roasting 101, and A Dinner Party for New Year’s Eve

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4 Responses to "Rooted in Winter"

I went to a Toronto “local food fair” one year around February. All they had was tons of cheese and yoghurt. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious but it goes to prove that only cows grow in winter over here. Will have to try sunchoke – I’ve been looking for different veggies to eat with kale.

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