Root Vegetables: Slow-roasted goodness


If you find fall root vegetables unfamiliar and baffling, you’re not alone. Turnips and rutabagas are often big and unwieldy; they’re hard and seem to need forever to cook. Celery root can be shaggy, dirty, and mottled green. And sunchokes look like — well, like nothing else in the market. They’re knobby and woody on the outside, like bloated ginger root. Once you get past their looks, however, there is plenty of delicious local flavor to be unlocked in these fall vegetables.


Rutabagas and turnips are like siblings who are constantly being mistaken for one another. In fact, what Americans call a rutabaga or a Swede (to the great amusement of the rest of Scandinavia) is called a turnip in some other English-speaking countries.


The difference is almost moot. Anything you can do with a turnip, you can do with a rutabaga. Both are purple on the outside (the rutabaga tends to be darker), while the turnip is white on the inside and the rutabaga is yellow in the inside. Rutabagas tend to have more bitter notes than turnips, but there are variations among varieties as well.


Cubed and boiled, turnips and rutabagas add a little sweetness to chicken soup. Many who make their own chicken broth also swear by including a turnip along with the other vegetables.


In Scotland and northern Europe, turnips and rutabagas are often served boiled and mashed, either mixed roughly half and half with potatoes or on their own. If your root vegetables are small, they are also prime candidates for salt roasting.


Turnips can even be eaten raw. Cut them into matchstick-sized sticks (julienne) and toss them with a strong-flavored vinaigrette. Rutabagas aren’t as tasty that way, however. 


The leaves of both turnips and rutabagas are edible, but you won’t find them still attached to the vegetables in the late fall, however, when they will have already died off. If you find young vegetables with the tops attached, wash them well and sauté them.


Hakurei turnips, also called Japanese turnips or salad turnips, are something else entirely. These are available in the early summer and are more like radishes, with small, nearly spherical, pure white bulbs. They are tasty raw, whether in salads or sprinkled with salt. You can also sauté them with their greens.


Celery root, or celeriac, is the root of a celery plant, a close cousin of the celery you eat for the tops. It tastes of celery, lemon, and radish, and it looks just ferocious. Its outside is gnarled and nobbled and covered in little roots, often packed with dirt. To get to the good stuff inside, you need to cut a flat base and stand it on your cutting board, then work your way around it with a knife, taking a good quarter inch off the outside. It tends to brown quickly when exposed to air, so it’s good to have some lemon juice on hand.


Celery root can also be mashed with potatoes or cubed and added to soups. It also makes a lovely smooth soup: Cook it with a little butter, garlic, onions, and salt. Cover it with water or broth and boil until it’s soft. Then puree. It’s that easy. But celery root gets to take its star turn in remoulade, a condiment made from the grated root, mustard, mayonnaise, horseradish, and lemon. Serve it alongside a roast on your holiday table, or spread it on a sandwich. 


Sunchokes are also known as Jerusalem artichokes, not because they are any relation to the artichoke, but because that’s the closest analogue for their flavor. They’re actually the roots of a plant in the daisy family. Inside their woody skin, they should be crisp and even slightly juicy, not dense like other root vegetables. The skin is edible but can be a little tough in larger roots, so it’s up to you if you peel them or not.


One easy way to serve them is to slice them and toss them with a little olive oil and salt, then roast them in a 450-degree oven for about fifteen minutes. They should turn out brown and crispy. You can peel, boil, and puree sunchokes, but they are so watery and mild-flavored, not to mention low on starch, that those techniques are rarely satisfying. Sunchokes are, however, prime candidates for salt roasting, since they are smaller and easier to cover in salt. If you’re not afraid of the deep-fryer, thinly sliced sunchokes make delicious chips. You can also peel them, slice them, and brine them overnight in a mixture of vinegar and spices.


At the market, look for smooth, bruise-free vegetables. A little dirt — or a lot, in the case of celeriac — still clinging to them is okay. Root vegetables are usually cured after harvesting, meaning they are kept in a cool dry place until the cut at the top where the greens were removed has healed, so it’s normal not to see a fresh cut at the stem side.


Slow-Roasted Garlic Winter Root Vegetable Gratin

From Twin Cities journalist David Brauer, adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone 


You can make this with just about any combination of root vegetables, including peeled and cubed butternut squash, parsnips, and carrots. In fact, this should be your go-to recipe when you’ve got fall and winter vegetables and are wondering what to do with them.


2–2 1/2 pounds root vegetables, peeled cut into 1" cubes

5–10 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 cup chopped parsley

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons flour

1/4 - 1/2  cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to oil the pan

1/2 cup chopped parsley


Preheat oven to 325˚F. Oil shallow glass or earthenware baking dish. (A 9x13" pan works well.)


In a large bowl, toss root vegetables with garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper. Add flour until pieces are lightly coated; don’t worry if some falls to the bottom. Pile the mixture evenly into the dish and drizzle oil generously over the top. Bake, uncovered, until the mix is tender and the top is browned, about 2 hours.


This article is an excerpt from Minnesota Farmers Market Cookbook: A Guide to Selecting and Preparing the Best Local Produce (Voyageur Press). 




Tricia Cornell is a Minneapolis writer who contributes to the food blog The Heavy Table. She the author of a number of books on local travel and food.