Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

spring

The Season of Root Vegetables in More Ways than One

Rutabaga Gratin Recipe and Simmergreat Product Endorsement/Discount

Always something of a rebel, I grew up loving foods most people don’t like or at least think they don’t like just because it seems like nobody else does. For me, these rebel roots translate to an enduring love of root vegetables – including turnips, parsnips, and rutabagas. Being winter and very early spring vegetables, I always start thinking about them in February, which is when I bought my last rutabaga. It survived a move and a couple months of waiting on my counter before I finally put it into the delicious recipe that follows.  Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about how root vegetables, especially parsnips and turnips, are becoming hot in culinary circles.  For added proof of the trend, I ran into James Beard awarded superstar and local chef Mike Lata at Harris Teeter several weeks ago with a bunch of parsnips in his hands, that he intended to put to use in a pasta dish.

As if that wasn’t enough inspiration, I have a pound of fresh spring potatoes in my pantry, so I decided to do as the Swedes do, and pair the rutabaga with some potatoes and cream. But, rather than puree them, I layered very thin slices in a gratin and bound them with Half & Half infused with lots of fresh thyme, black pepper, mascarpone, sour cream, butter and a nutty Parmesan finish. The results were fabulous – sweet, creamy, nutty, crunchy, smooth bites of root vegetable goodness, just in time for spring and Mother’s Day.

(Note: It’s very important to cut through both the outer skin of the tough, waxy rutabaga, as well as the inner skin, which is about 1/4″ thick. Discard these and then proceed to slice the rutabaga whisper thin, so thin you can practically see through them.)

Well-Thyme Rutabaga and Potato Gratin

(Yields about 8 servings)

Well-Thymed Rutabaga and Potato Gratin

Well-Thymed Rutabaga and Potato Gratin

Equipment needed:  One 5-quart, shallow gratin or casserole dish (about 2″ deep, one foot long, and 8″ wide)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter to coat the pan

For the cream mixture:

1 1/2 cups Half & Half

1/2 cup whole sour cream

1/2 cup mascarpone

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (leave whole)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Vegetables:

1 large rutabaga, peeled, quartered and very thinly sliced (about six cups)

2 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, halved and very thinly sliced (about 2 cups)

Topping:

1/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese

Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375F. Spread the 1 tablespoon of butter evenly along the sides and bottoms of the gratin dish. Combine the Half & Half, sour cream, mascarpone, garlic, thyme, seasonings and remaining tablespoon butter in a medium sauce pan. Whisk together over medium heat-low. Bring up to a gentle simmer and cook to infuse the flavors for five minutes. Remove from the heat. Discard the garlic cloves. Whisk in the Dijon. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Arrange half of the sliced rutabaga in a tight, overlapping single layer in the bottom of the gratin dish. Add a second layer of tight, overlapping sliced potatoes. Cover with half of the cream mixture, distributing evenly.  Top with the remaining cream mixture, spreading with a spatula to distribute evenly. Press the top lightly with your fingertips to “tighten” the layers. Sprinkle a dusting of salt and pepper over the top. Cover with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan Reggiano and bake anther 45 to 50 minutes, or until the top layer is golden and slightly crunchy and the rutabaga yield easily to a knife when pierce. Rest 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with a few fresh thyme sprigs. Delicious with roast chicken or pork, or a salad for a meatless meal.

New Product Endorsement – Simmergreat

If you’ve ever cooked with me, or taken one of my classes, you know that great knives and great pans aside, I’m not much of a gadget girl when it comes to cooking. However, I recently discovered a truly great product that made me wish I’d known about it back when I was simmering all of those soups and daubes for The French Cook – Soups & Stews last year. During that time, I struggled getting a steady simmer rate on my aging, moody gas stovetop. Simmergrate is an ingenious contraption that sits above your low gas flame and magically tempers your pot to a steady simmer. All you have to do is put it over the flame, place the pot (any pot) on top, set your burner to low and voila, you’ve got an unwavering simmer. I used this when I was simmering the cream for the recipe above. I didn’t touch the dial once, and no scorching, boiled over cream. It’s still on my stove where it will remain for many future uses, whether it be roasting peppers, making sauces, and more. It even works on a gas grill. I’m a fan and I think you will be, too. Perfect for home cooks, professional chefs and anyone who enjoys cooking. Perfect for Mother’s Day, too. If you visit Simmergreat and make a purchase,  once it is in your cart, click on the coupon code and type in “holly” and you get a 10% discount on your total purchase. Happy simmering!

Simmergreat is made from indestructable ductile iron and provides excellent thermal heat distribution to enable perfect simmering every time.

Simmergreat is made from indestructable ductile iron and provides excellent thermal heat distribution to enable perfect simmering every time.

Don’t forget to visit www.simmergreat.com.

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Simply Saturday

In today’s column on my new blog, The Permanent Tourist – Charleston, I offer a recipe from Simply Saturday’s column on seasonal, fresh cooking. In this case, a delicious turnip soup and a cookbook giveaway of Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Come follow me there if you like!

http://charleston.thepermanenttourist.com/simply-saturday/

Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Photos by Rick McKee.

Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Photos by Rick McKee.

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Wearin’ of the Green St. Patrick’s Day Asparagus Soup

I call this soup “triple threat asparagus” because the flavors are layered in a stock based upon trimmings, roasted fresh asparagus for maximum flavor and color, and a finishing garnish of roasted asparagus tips. A perfect starter for your St. Patrick’s Day feast, this will whet the palate for corned beef and potatoes like no other.  Adapted from the soon-to-be-released The French Cook: Soupes and Daubes (Gibbs Smith, September 2014).

Soupe d’Asperge Cremeux

Triple Threat Creamy Asparagus Soup

(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

Special equipment needed: China cap or fine colander

A shining example of French method and frugality, this purely asparagus soup uses every part of the tender spring spear, and precious little else. A quick asparagus stock is assembled with the tougher outer-layer peels and feet of the spears. Next, the tender asparagus themselves are roasted to intensify flavor and are added near the very end of cooking to maximize color and texture. Leeks provide a bit of onion brightness and a tiny splash of cream at the end is the finishing touch on this exquisite, brilliant green and slightly textured soup.

2 large bunches (about 40 spears) fresh green asparagus, rinsed, tough foot (cut about 1” above the bottom) removed and peeled, starting about 1” below the tip to the bottom. Reserve the removed feet and peelings together in a small bowl. Reserve the peeled asparagus separately.

For the asparagus stock:

1 onion, halved, peeled and thinly sliced

2 stalks celery, rinsed and thinly sliced

7 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

5 sprigs fresh thyme bundled together with kitchen string

Reserved asparagus peelings and trimmings

Asparagus stock in the making, using every scrap possible to build flavor and eliminate waste.

Asparagus stock in the making, using every scrap possible to build flavor and eliminate waste.

 

For roasting the asparagus:

Reserved, prepped asparagus spears

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Generous dash freshly ground black pepper

To finish:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 shallot, peeled, halved and finely chopped

2 leeks, tough green leaves removed to 1” above white (save the green leaves in the freezer for later use in a stock), quartered lengthwise, well-rinsed, and finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Reserved roasted asparagus spears, cut into 1/4”-lengths (put aside 1/4 cup for garnish)

3 tablespoons whipping or heavy cream

1 teaspoon Dry Vermouth

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450F. In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven or similarly sized soup pot, combine onion, celery, water, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, fresh thyme bundle, and asparagus feet and peel trimmings. Bring up to a boil over high heat, reduce to a mild simmer over medium/medium low and cook uncovered, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, to roast the asparagus, on a full, edged baking sheet, toss the prepped asparagus spears in the extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer. Place on the middle rack of the preheated oven, and roast for 20 minutes, or until tender and just starting to take on a little golden color. Toss once midway through cooking. Set aside. When cool enough to handle, cut the asparagus into 1/4”-lengths, reserve.

Strain the finished stock through a China cap or fine colander into a large bowl, pressing against the solids to extract flavor. Discard the solids. Keep the strained stock off to the side. Rinse the Dutch oven or soup pot if needed. In the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When melted, add the shallot, leeks and seasonings. Stir to coat and cook for 5 minutes, or until just softened. Sprinkle evenly with the flour and stir to coat. Cook for one minute. Add the reserved stock, stirring. Bring to a boil over high and reduce to a gentle simmer over medium/medium low. Cook for 20 minutes uncovered. Remove from the heat. Add all but 1/4 cup of the reserved asparagus spears to the pot. Puree with an emulsion blender, traditional blender or food processor until chunky smooth. In the same pot, bring the puree up to a low boil over high heat. Stir in the cream and the dry vermouth. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve the soup very hot in individual bowls, each garnished with five spear tips. (Note: The soup and garnish can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen. However, only add the cream, vermouth and final seasonings just before re-heating and serving.)

Finished and ready to serve.

Finished and ready to serve.

Bon appetit!

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Farmers’ Market Opening Day – An Early Spring Rite of Passage

Early spring selflessly affords us with so many wonderful things to celebrate. Here, in Charleston,  the air is sweet with the heady frangrances of jasmine, wisteria, and budding trees everywhere. It’s so breathtakingly beautiful, it mandates automatic forgiveness for the pollen that clogs the air and heads of the allergy afflicted masses.  Here and elsewhere baseball season begins, Easter and Passover’s celebrations are underway, marathons are being run, and the thing that makes me happiest of all, Farmers’ Markets are dusting off their tents and setting up shop for another long and delicious season.

Nothing puts spring in my step like farmers’ market opening day. The vendors and farmers are rested from their early winter break (although farmers’ work never ends) and tables are bursting with the bounty of spring – tender, sweet onions, asparagus, fresh-from-the-earth potatoes, strawberries, rhubarb, turnips, greens – some of my favorite things. I’ve long held an internal debate about what seasonal foods I most prefer. As much as I adore the tomatoes and peaches of summer and the squash and apples of fall and winter, I always come back to spring as my #1 top pick. I don’t know if it’s because the silence of the winter season seems so long, but there is something about these foods that render me virtually giddy.

Opening day Farmers' Market Finds

Opening day Farmers’ Market Finds

So, this past Saturday morning, when Charleston’s downtown Farmers’ Market opened, it felt like I was seven years old on Christmas morning, the anticipation level was that high. I pulled out my trusted, striped farmers’ market basket, donned a beaming smile and headed straight for Marion Square. As always, it was a feast for the senses and the soul. The smell of baking bread co-mingled with the sweetness of strawberries, familiar farmers and vendors smiled and sold their wares, even as more new faces and vendors did the same. It was intoxicating!

I loaded up with all my favorites and headed home to figure out how to best put these goodies to use. This was another reminder of why spring produce is especially idyllic. It needs precious little prep or ingredient additions to render it just about perfect. Super fresh produce responds very well to roasting which does a simple and fantastic job of coaxing the sugars and flavors of the supple produce out of them and directly into your happy mouth and stomach. Hence, the recipe that follows.

Roasted Spring Veggie Medley with Bacon and Scallions

(Yield: 4 to 6 servings)

In this delicious and nutritious warm veggie side, potatoes, spring onions, summer squash (though not yet quite in season), spring onions and asparagus are roasted separately (or alongside each other in the same pan) to retain their individual flavors and then tossed together, topped with sauteed bacon and scallions just prior to serving. Look for the freshest, thinnest skinned new potatoes you can find and leave the skin on. They will take just a little longer than the vegetables to cook, but the short wait is well worth the while. Non-meat eaters feel free to omit the bacon.

Roasted Spring Vegetable Medley with Bacon & Scallions

Roasted Spring Vegetable Medley with Bacon & Scallions

10 well-scrubbed small, fresh potatoes, quartered

3 spring onions, trimmed to 3″ length of the green stems, and halved

1 yellow squash, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2″-thick slices

10 spears asparagus, washed trimmed (cut about 1″ off the bottom) and gently peeled about 3″ up from the base

Extra Virgin Olive oil

Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

To garnish:

4 slices bacon, sauteed and crumbled into large chunks

3 scallions, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 425F. Prep the vegetables. In a large roasting pan, arrange each of its kind together in a single layer, side by side. If the pan is too small, roast any remaining vegetable kind (for example asparagus) in a separate pan. Drizzle the veggies generously with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss each group together to coat. Roast at 425 until tender and barely colored/golden, tossing once or twice. The potatoes will take a little longer than the rest. After 20 – 25 minutes, remove the asparagus, onions and squash with a slotted spoon and transfer to a serving bowl. Keep warm by covering with a piece of aluminum foil. Increase the oven to 450F and continue roasting the potatoes until very tender and just golden, another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, saute the bacon over medium high heat until crispy. Drain on paper towels. Crumble or chop into a small dice. Toss the potatoes together with the warm vegetables. Topp with the bacon and scallions and serve immediately. This is a delicious dish on its own, or would work magic as a side to poultry, fish, pork or steak.

Mom’s Stewed Strawberries and Rhubarb

(Yield: About 2 1/2 cups)

Me and my siblings were basically sweet and dessert deprived as kids because my mother didn’t believe in them. However, she always obliged when strawberry and rhubarb season came around with this simple and delicious compote. Serve it warm over ice cream or cold over yogurt for breakfast. Unlike Mom, I add a little cinnamon and vanilla, but feel free to omit if you want it “plain.”

4 rhubarb spears, trimmed and cut into 1/2″-thick pieces

2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1 vanilla pod, cut in half vertically

Generous pinch ground cinnamon

Combine all of the ingredients together in a medium sauce pan. Bring up to a boil over high heat and reduce to medium. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until the rhubarb has broken down into a sauce and the strawberries are still chunky, but very soft. Remove the vanilla pod and discard. Serve warm or cold as suggested above. Refrigerate, covered, for 2 to 3 days. This will also freeze well for several weeks.

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

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Turnips, Parents, and the March of Time

Every spring, my parents make their annual trek from their winter home in Naples, FL to their summer home in Kansas City. Along the  winding Amtrak railways they make a stop first in Charleston to visit me for about a week, and then head up to Boston to do the same with my twin sister, Heather. It’s a familial tradition that always includes lots of laughs, a few tears, lots of delicious food, lots of wine, lots of long walks, and countless hands of Hearts.

Mom and Dad, affectionately known as Hen and Herb, completed the Charleston leg of their journey two days ago.  All the usual suspects were at play, including lunch at two of my mothers favorite restaurants, Hominy Grill and Magnolias. And, even though she is loathe to deviate from her preferred Charleston restaurant path, Hen (and less reluctantly, Herb) agreed to try some of my newer favorites, including Zen Asian Fusion and Martha Lou’s Kitchen. Of course, there were many meals at my kitchen table, which Hen and Herb, sweetly, declared “the best of all.”

Enjoying lunch in my kitchen with my sweet, hungry dog Tann Mann, Hen, and Herb.

 

But, there was a new,  sad element at play on this occasion. It was evident in my Dad’s and dog’s slowing gaits, my Mother’s increased nap time, and my own aching shoulder. It was even more evident in conversations, many heavily peppered with memories of those long passed, like my Nanna, and those of recent passing, like several of Hen and Herb’s friends. But, it was most evident to me as I sat with my father at a Riverdogs game and watched my nearly 80 year-old father beam with the joy of the small boy he was almost as many years ago when he met his idol, Babe Ruth, and began a life-long love of baseball.  He loved explaining the game to me, and even as he did, I realized with powerful clarity that I wouldn’t always have my Dad or Mom. Tears seeped from my eyes as he described the job of “The Closer,” even as I squeezed my Mom’s hand that much tighter during the fireworks she so loves.

Of course, I’ve always known we won’t always be together in this life, but it really hit home on this trip. Father Time is catching up with all of us. All the more reason to appreciate what we have while we have it, and boy, do I. The house has been painfully silent the last few days as I’ve re-lived the many memories of this past visit both while waking and in dreams. Reality struck this morning, again, when I finally decided to get on the scale after all of that indulgence. The numbers told a cruel, three pound weight gain story.

Small matter, nothing that salads and lots of veggies won’t cure. The recipe that follows is one of my favorites from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook that is the perfect seasonal ticket for light and delicious eating, using two of spring’s sweetest, onions and fresh, creamy turnips, one of my Nanna’s favorites. Both elegant and simple, it’s perfect for early spring entertaining. And, it’s so healthy, it will help stave off Father Time and create memories to last a life time, like my past week with Hen and Herb.

Creamy White Turnip Soup with Spring Onions and Roasted Garlic. Photo by Rick McKee.

 

Creamy White Turnip Soup with Spring Onions and Roasted Garlic

(Serves 4 to 6)

1 head roasted garlic

1 bunch (about 4 cups) white turnips, peeled (outer layer discarded), and cut into 2-inch cubes

1 medium spring onion, root and green top trimmed to 1-inch lengths from the bulb and cut into 8 wedges

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 slices prosciutto, cut into thin strips and 1-inch lengths

1/4 cup creme fraiche or whole cream

Green onion tops to garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Trim the top of the garlic and wrap with foil. Place in the middle of the oven and roast until soft to the touch, about 30 to 45 minutes. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the soft pulp by pressing the blade of a chef’s knife against the bulb to release the roasted flesh; discard the papery casing.

Place the garlic, turnips, onions, and chicken stock in a large saucepan. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, until the turnips are tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the stove and puree until smooth with a handheld blender or food processor. Return the soup to the pan. Add the nutmeg, prosciutto, and creme fraiche. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring to blend. Taste and adjust seasonings as required. Garnish with a sprinkling of freshly chopped green onions and serve immediately.

Note: This soup can be prepared in advance and frozen or stored in the refrigerator. However, if you plan to do so, add the cream just before serving, not before storing.

Bon appetit!

 

 

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