What might deter some from cooking seasonally is the common misconception that from the moment the clocks go back, all we eat is root vegetables. Parsnips, potatoes, carrots – these are the more humdrum root vegetables that paint a perhaps uninspiring picture of what’s on offer in the garden from November to March. A keen grower – or indeed chef – would hasten to point out that there are varieties each of these staples which can stand on their own two feet, flavour wise. However I am here, not to defend the rightful place of these vegetable bastions of British cookery, but instead to champion the odd men out.
Consider the Jerusalem artichoke. Unfairly held back by its propensity to trigger not just the taste buds upon consumption, these curiously-shaped characters are a goldmine of flavour. Sidestep the sometimes tricky task of peeling by simply giving them a good scrub and you’ll find that these nutty tubers make a brilliant sidekick to game. It’s the slight hint of mushrooms, that foraged flavour of autumn that makes them such a wonderfully natural pairing to wild meat. I also find that their misleading name a great conversation starter and well worth the time lost to reading up on its etymology.
Slightly higher up the ranks you’d find beetroot, popularised but sadly misrepresented by its best known performance: the salad beetroot, preserved in malt vinegar and tightly-bound in plastic. Fresh beetroot, particularly at this time of year when it’s still young and hasn’t developed any of its winter woodines, has much more potential that we give it credit for. Grated raw, you’ll find that its earthiness goes wonderfully with creamy new season dried walnuts and a few roughly-chopped handfuls of parsley or chervil. Roasting unleashes the full flavour, caramelising its natural sugars and bringing a very pleasing stickiness and deep blush to your Sunday roast tray of carrots & parsnips.
Last but by no means least is celeriac, the wonderfully weird-looking root that supermarkets are yet to enter into their catalogue of commonly-eaten foods. I can’t overemphasise quite how revelatory the experience of my first celeriac was. In a matter of minutes, a more clued in chef than I had transformed the rough-looking vegetable into a rich, smooth and silky sensation. An immediate and delicious ugly duckling to swan transformation.
In their various different guises, be it the varieties of each grown or the way in which they’re cooked, these autumn roots can summon up just as much colour in our lives as the changing leaves. I’ll certainly welcome the shoots and buds of spring when they come, but in the meantime, I’m happy to live a mole-like existence.
Bonfire night sausages with celeriac mash & roast beetroot
This combination of roots stirs up a culinary sense of a classic Guy Fawkes feast: slightly charred sausages, nutty mash and sticky, sweet beetroot. Perfect to come home to after a likely damp evening around a bonfire. For a proper sense of occasion, cook the sausages in the hot embers!
6 raw beetroot, whole
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs runny honey
12 sausages (best you can find)
A large celeriac, around 650g
Large knob butter
600 ml whole milk
2 tbs wholegrain mustard
Juice of half a lemon
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Cut the beetroots into ⅛ ths and toss in a bowl with the olive oil, honey and a good sprinkling of salt.
- Place on a roasting tray large enough to allow for the sausages later and cook for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel and cut the celeriac into 2cm cubes. Celeriac will discolour quite quickly, to be sure to place the cubes straight into a pan with the milk, lemon juice and seasoning.
- Once the 10 minutes for the beetroot is up, add your sausages to the pan. Set the timer for the recommended cooking time (I expect it will be around 25 minutes).
- Bring to the celeriac to the boil and cover, turning the heat down to low. Simmer gently for 20 minutes until tender, stirring occasionally. Drain, putting any excess milk aside for later.
- Mash the celeriac with butter, mustard and a grating of nutmeg. If the purée seems a little stiff, mash in some of the excess milk.
- Dollop a good spoonful of mash onto the plate, top with sausages and sticky beetroots. I like an extra blob of wholegrain on the side, too.