Simple Art of Cooking: Getting to the Root of Our Healthy Resolutions

By this time, you’re resolved to eat right in 2014.

Root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, leek and turnips, which are at their peak at this time of the year, make prefect candidates for winter dishes, releasing rich sweet flavors as they simmer for a pureed soup, or an oven roast vegetable side. The puréed root vegetable soup containing butternut squash is brought up to the moment with chicken broth and a garnish of reconstituted earthy porcini mushrooms. And a winter slow roast of vegetables is a colorful supporting player to a hearty entrée. In addition to their natural sweetness, root vegetables are high in nutrients, daily fiber and a range of cancer-fighting substances called phytochemicals. No guilt trip here when preparing any of the above.

ROOT VEGETABLE SOUP WITH DRIED MUSHROOM GARNISH
Dried porcini mushrooms are usually sandy. It is necessary to soak them in water to release the sand.

Serves 6 to 8

1 butternut squash, about 2 to 3 pounds
2 large parsnips
2 leeks
2 ribs celery
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
5 1/2 cups chicken stock or low sodium canned broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

For the mushroom garnish

1 ounce dried porcini mushroom
Drained mushroom liquid

1. Place squash in microwave oven for 2 minutes on high for easier cutting. Lay the squash on its side and cut thick slices. Cut away and discard the shell then cut into cubes. Peel turnips and cut into cubes. Trim leeks, discard any bruised outer layers, then wash very well between the layers. If leeks are very sandy, let them soak in a bowl of cold water. Cut through the layers away from the root end then slice thin. Trim celery and wash well. Cut into thin slices. Chop the garlic.

2. Heat oil and butter in a large, 5-quart saucepan. When butter melts and foam subsides, add all the vegetables to the pan. Toss to coat in butter and oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover vegetables with a square of wax paper to sweat them, then cover pan and simmer on the lowest possible heat for 6–7 minutes. Discard wax paper and pour the broth over the vegetables. Simmer the soup over medium heat for 25–30 minutes, with cover ajar.

3. Meanwhile, soak the dried mushrooms in a small bowl with warm water to cover. Let stand about 5 minutes and lift the mushrooms into a second small bowl. Drain the liquid through a fine sieve into a third bowl. Return mushrooms to the liquid to soak again, and then drain again to be sure the liquid no longer contains any sand.

4. When the vegetables are very tender, puree the soup in a blender or with a hand-immersion blender. Add the drained porcini liquid and the cream to the soup and stir to mix. Taste to adjust seasoning if necessary. Reheat before serving garnished with thin slices of the dehydrated porcini mushrooms.

ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES

Turnips, celery knob, parsnip and carrots make a colorful arrangement. When the garlic is cooked, the clove, squeezed from its skin, is pleasantly sweet.

Serves 8 to 10

2 white turnips
3 parsnips
1 bunch carrots
1 celery knob
Several whole garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 to 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 375°F.

1. Peel and trim the vegetables and cut them into chunky pieces of equal size. To remove the gnarled skin of the celery knob, cut along the sides with a sharp knife.

2. Spread the vegetables in a heavy roasting pan. Toss in the garlic cloves, olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme and toss again to coat the vegetables. The vegetables can be prepped overnight.

3. Cover vegetables with foil, shiny side down and place in preheated oven. Roast covered for 45 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle vegetables with the balsamic vinegar and give the vegetables a toss. Continue to roast, uncovered, for 35 to 45 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender and crusty. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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