"Things won are done,
Joy's Soul lies in the Doing."
- William Shakespeare

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Diggable Roots

Let me begin by giving a little nod of acknowledgement to all the men and women who cook for their families.  Particularly those who were mucking about in the kitchen before the internet made it so incredibly easy to find new and innovative recipes.  I've been thinking about this a bit lately, since the Thanksgiving meal planning and purchasing commenced.  And it occurred to me, in the midst of searching for a new and exciting ways of preparing the very traditional (and dare I say, to me, verging on boring?) turkey, stuffing, mash, cranberries...You know the drill.  So, it occurred to me that these cornerstone dishes, while perhaps not breaking new ground in the culinary realm, are about satisfying the soul, as much as the belly. 

I don't feel very rooted in tradition, myself.  I dig the idea of cultural institutions, of a heritage passed down from one generation to the next, that the descendants of those who began, ever so long ago, to feast on a particular day, in honor of a particular cause, may identify more closely with who they are, and where they come from.  But I can't say that I've ever seen myself as especially tied to a specific place, or culture.  The ease with which we are able to traverse the globe, or even to pull up information on a faraway land (or a recipe from abroad), perhaps has weakened our sense of identity, at least in regards to a food culture.

It's very easy for me to revere other cultures for their strongly rooted food traditions.  India for its overwhelming, heady spices...Italy for beautiful and straightforward cucina povera...France for its sophisticated simplicity...Thailand for intense heat and color.  You get my drift.  For better or for worse, I don't really identify with my own homeland's cuisine so much, though.

But here I sit, in all my aspiring to Laura Ingalls-ness, thinking about what it all means.  Are we better off now, where we can hop on the computer, type in a few ingredients that we have in our internationally stocked pantries, and pull up a recipe from across the world?  Or, were folks from 100, 50, or even 20 years ago, more blessed to have their own signature dish, passed down from one cook to another, generationally?

Me?  I don't have a signature dish.  In fact, much of the time I forget what I've made altogether.  (This does to make it tricky to remember if I enjoyed something or if it was a dismal failure...but on the positive side, every meal is a new one!  This wee blog does help with the sieve of a memory I possess.)

So, having just finished the day of feasting that is Turkey Day, I found myself thinking about all this.  I didn't come up with a definitive answer.  I don't really think one exists.  We live in the here and now, we have access to an astoundingly overwhelming number of recipes, and also perhaps some traditional ones from the past...let's go with it, best of both worlds, really.

I realize I'm getting somewhat long-winded here, but I haven't had this much access to the computer in weeks, so bear with me.  Just one more wee story...

Back when the Mister and I were dating, and living in Portugal, I was first introduced to the rather modest dish of roast potatoes.  So very strange that I'd never eaten these, in all my 25 years of life, up to that point.  I actually thought they were quite exotic, to be perfectly honest.  (Yep, dumb American overseas, I know.)  Anyway, the Mister took me to a dinner over at some fellow surf lovelies' flat, where they were making a traditional English roast dinner.  (Not all that different from Thanksgiving, in essence.)  These guys, while somewhat inept in the kitchen, having eaten their mums' roast dinner every Sunday for their entire lives, knew the basics of how it was done.  I can't recall which kind of meat they served (I was a vegetarian at the time), but I will never forget those potatoes.  For themselves they tossed halved or quartered potatoes in the juices released from the meat, and roasted them to perfection:  browned and crispy on the outside, fluffy and soft on the inside.  They even put up with my odd herbivorous self, by tossing some potatoes in olive oil, and sweetly (though perhaps rather ineffectively) dividing them from the meat with a little roll of aluminum foil.  I didn't care.  These were a revelation!

To this day, we eat roast potatoes with some regularity.  And truly, they are soul food at its finest.  Simple, quick to prep, and ever-so-satisfying when they grace the table.  So, when I stumbled upon this recipe for mustard-roasted potatoes, on smitten kitchen, I could not have been more excited.  And ready to get some going for dinner.  Except that I didn't have enough potatoes...

Never fear!  I did have the next best, or perhaps even better, thing:  a humble, but lovely bunch of root veg.  A rutabaga, a giant sweet potato, and some gorgeous blue potatoes (the last from our CSA box).  And here's my adaptation of smitten kitchen's gorgeous recipe.  If I may say so, these are some seriously diggable roots.

Mustard-Roasted Root Vegetables - adapted from smitten kitchen
- serves four as a side

Ingredients (amounts of roots are approximate)
1 large sweet potato, about a pound or so
1 small to medium rutabaga
about 1/2 a pound of blue potatoes (or any smallish variety you like)
1/4 cup grainy dijon mustard
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs melted butter
1/2 to 1 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 large, or 2 small, garlic cloves, minced
1/2 Tbs dried oregano
1/2 tsp coarse kosher, or sea salt

Note:  The original recipe calls for spraying a baking sheet with cooking spray, which I did, but to warn you, it does make a bit of scrubbing afterward, for clean up.  You could also put foil or parchment paper atop a baking sheet, I think, for less elbow grease afterward.

Preheat oven to 425 deg F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine mustard, butter, olive oil, and well, everything but the roots, and give a whisk until thoroughly combined.

Chop the roots in approximately even-sized pieces, keeping in mind that rutabagas tend to take a wee bit longer than the others, so keep them a bit smaller.  Halve or quarter the potatoes, and roughly base the sizes of the rest of your cuts from there.

Add the root veg to the mustard sauce, and give it a toss.  Spread the veg onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving any remaining clumps of sauce in the mixing bowl.  (They will burn in the oven.)  Bake for 20 minutes, then give a toss around on the pan, and rotate pan front to back, and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, or until browned and crisp on the outside, and easily pierced with a fork.

We served ours up with a runny fried egg atop them, and a side of steamed broccoli.  Yum.

When asked the usual question of a meal, "Is it blog-worthy?" the kiddos and I resoundingly said Yes!  The Mister, down with a cold, couldn't taste much.  Which seems a shame.  But I do believe these will become part of my repertoire, maybe a little dish that graces our table from time to time, woven into the tapestry of our family's food culture.  I think I'll teach the Boy and the Girl to make these too.  Keep it in the family, you know.

I hope you enjoy!

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