Wednesday, November 30, 2011

5 autumn vegetables

This one came together fast as I was planning Thanksgiving dinner. I was shopping at Whole Foods for the annual feast, and I saw Jerusalem artichokes. I didn't have any of Ted McLaren's Jerusalem artichokes left, and I wasn't sure the general availability of them throughout the year, so I figured I better get on it.

The other four Autumn vegetables were all things I knew I could pretty much get anytime. Butternut squash. Leeks. Parsnips. Celery root.

About celery root. It's sort of ugly.

But it cleans up nice.

The first time I had celery root was at a grand tasting at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival in 1999. Tom Gray, the chef at Bistro Aix in Jacksonville, was there and served a mashed potato and celery root puree with seared halibut. I immediately loved the taste of the puree, and decided I would, henceforth, ALWAYS puree celery root with my mashed potatoes, because it was so good.

I've tried it a bunch of times. Never really got it right. Invariably, I don't cook it enough and it ends up chunky and texturally unappealing. I've tried other dishes where it is roasted, and it just never seems right. It always seems undercooked.

So imagine my surprise when I read the directions for this dish, and there is no step in which the celery root is cooked. It is cut in julienne, and thrown in raw.

And it was the first time I've ever made celery root where it tasted right. Go figure.

The other thing with this dish was it called for goat cheese ricotta. No one here has that. Well, except the Dancing Goat lady at the farmer's markets around here, but i didn't have a chance to get to a market she was at before Thanksgiving. I have made goat milk ricotta before, and it would have been perfect for this application, but my cooking timeline didn't really have room to add "make ricotta." So I looked for alternatives.

My favorite cheese store makes ricotta, and that would have been a good choice. More on that later. That store also had a very fancy brand of goat cheese that I had not seen there before, one that is oft suggested in the book. It isn't ricotta, but I figured I'd splurge and use that. I got two packs of it, for a total of about 8 oz., and about twice that many dollars.

So the dish is ready. I had anointed the salad with pumpkinseed oil that was also about twice as many dollars as it was ounces. I got the toast off the grill and opened the fancy goat cheese. It was brown. Like, grossly brown, with warts. Maybe this cheese is sooo fancy that it has a rind, I thought. So I cut the edge off. Still brown. Then I cut it in half. Brown all the way through. Took a sniff. Lost my breath. Opened the other package. Repeated every step. Was distressed. Tore apart refrigerator and my cooler looking for the ricotta that I thought I had in reserve. Couldn't find it anywhere.

Guests were arriving in about 15 minutes. It was a holiday, so Publix, the closest supermarket, would be closed. While I finished everything else, Pam and Cyndi ran out to Winn-Dixie and bought a carton of ricotta and a small log of goat cheese. We mixed equal parts of the two and spread them on the toast. It wasn't remotely fancy, but it tasted fine.

And that's how Winn-Dixie contributed to this project. Will probably be the last instance. But thanks!

Between the goat cheese that I pitched and the pumpkinseed oil, this might have been the most expensive dish of the project. Certainly the most expensive without meat. Of course, truffle season is here. And there are two truffle dishes I need to do.

As for the salad itself, I liked it a lot. All those vegetables at the top? Here they are all chopped up and ready to go: 

Loved the celery root (remember, best way to cook it: don't). That was the primary flavor, I thought. Everything else was good. But I'll remember this as a celery root dish.

Oh yeah, the toast with goat cheese. Here it is with that. 

Up next: Not sure. Still trying to catch up on those pork chops.

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