Winter may take some stick for being the dullest of seasons when it comes to vegetables, but the harvest is only as limited as your imagination, says Graeme Pallister, chef patron of 63 Tay Street, Perth.
Vegetables like carrots, neeps and beets are made all the sweeter for our cold, Scottish frost and after autumn’s bounty of ‘above ground’ crops it’s time to dig deep and unearth our root veg.
This is when we connect again with the land, getting our hands dirty and pulling out the hidden gifts under the soil. As a chef I feel I owe it to Mother Nature to make the best of this wonderful season and with just a little thought winter’s dishes can be every bit as exciting as summer’s.
The first thing to accept is that although these veg aren’t as attractive as some – there’s not a celeriac bulb out there you’d put in a beauty contest against a strawberry – they bring an endless list of health benefits to the table.
The goodness lurks just under that tough, fibrous skin and to ensure you pack in as many of these vitamins, fibre and nutrients as possible I’d suggest you start by scrubbing rather than peeling.Once you’ve got it cleaned up and polished off a wee bit you can decide whether it needs to have any skin removed. Even a neep can be done skin on – because let’s face it, you take your life in your hands when you go at those bad boys with a knife!
Coat a whole neep in olive oil and black pepper, place on an oven shelf at around 180 degrees C for an hour and you’ll never look back! Scoop it out – it’s like a glorious earthy pear – and serve with lamb chops or a winter stew. Because of their firmness, root veg make the perfect trestle for a joint of meat; place your meat on top of your veg in a roasting tin for fewer pans, less hassle and more taste! I promise you will enjoy a gravy unlike any other.
Of course, these veggies are perfect for soup and I roast mine before adding to the pot; they’re much easier to chop and the amazing flavour released when their sweet natural taste mixes with a juicy ham shank or bit of boiling beef is, in my humble opinion, the food of the gods!
All root veg are sweet and lend themselves well to roasting with some of the tougher herbs – softer varieties such as basil and coriander don’t work when roasted for long periods of time. Keep your carrots and beets whole and pop into a tinfoil parcel on a baking tray with rosemary or sage, or try adding fennel seeds or star anise to give a warm liquorice flavour.