Thursday, December 17, 2009

Back to our Roots

Vegetables mashed
It's smart to eat when you're stressed
Comfort food is best.

I believe we are supposed to eat vegetables in season. Just because we can get fresh asparagus in December doesn't mean we ought to be eating it. Our past generations ate off the land, thriving on the nutrition in what was easily accessible from the ground. People did not have a vast array of out-of-season foods at their fingertips. The taste and nutrients of freshly harvested vegetables have always been unsurpassed by those shipped over land and sea, perhaps even preserved in some manner.

When I'm out grocery shopping, I breeze by displays of corn and sugar snap peas that could not grow right now in my area; I glare at hothouse tomatoes like uninvited house guests, no matter how perfect they look on the outside. I did all those this past summer, when I couldn't get enough of blossoming summer squash, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes, speckled beans, and others that basked in the sun on stalks and vines. (Don't get me wrong: I am a proponent of the colorful plate and eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. I just don't want to get ours from another country.)

Appropriately, my current food obsession is creamy mashed roots. When the weather outside is frightful and cold, it is coincidentally the time when underground root vegetables are ready to dig up out of their hibernation. And because this season is a little harried and dinner is the last thing on my mind as I rush around from work, holiday activities, shopping -- and just generally trying to keep life on track, I am grateful for this desire for simple, close-to-home-grown comfort food.

So I'll simmer or roast, then mash potatoes with celeriac or parsnips or sweet potatoes with rutabagas. We'll eat roots in soups and stews until the first stalks of asparagus push up through the dirt. By then, my mood will have changed and I'll be ready for green and other vibrant colors of spring vegetables and fruits. Until that happens, for the most part, the muted shades of winter roots, supplemented with winter greens and frozen and canned vegetables, will sustain us well.

Mashed Celeriac and Potatoes
3 cups diced peeled celeriac (1/2-inch dice)
12 ounce russet potato, peeled, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks (about 2 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Cook celeriac in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add potato and boil until both are very tender, about 15 minutes more. Drain. Return to saucepan over medium heat; cook and stir until vegetables are very dry. Mash until mostly smooth. Stir in milk, cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

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