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The Golden Roots

February 25, 1993|SCHUYLER INGLE

I recently stood patiently in the vegetable section of the local market waiting for a woman to finish selecting her Brussels sprouts, each of which she turned in her fingers before dropping into her bag. I was waiting to get to the parsnips and didn't want to reach across her.

She finally noticed me. "Am I in your way?" she asked pleasantly enough.

I told her to take her time, that it was nice to see someone actually being careful about what they bought to cook. "I'm after the parsnips," I said, pointing to the back bin.

And that launched us into a brief discussion of root vegetables. She had often wondered about parsnips, but had never eaten them, something I found just this side of preposterous.

Until I began checking with my friends. Few of them knew the flavor. Most of them confused parsnips with turnips. Turnips are round and white and often have bleached purple tops. Parsnips look like fat, albino carrots.

How do you cook them, the woman wondered. I said, just like carrots, and often with them.

You can smell the sugar in a parsnip, a sweetness that will be yours at the table for little effort. Choose medium to small parsnips, as the larger ones can tend to be woody. Peel, cut, slice, all in the manner similar to carrots, and then cook just the same, though for a shorter time. Parsnips soften quickly. I mix them with carrots, for the lovely color as much as the combination of flavor. When I do, I am careful to cut the carrots a bit smaller than the parsnips so that all cook evenly.

*

The rest is simple enough. A little butter melted in a pan, a sprinkle of saffron, then in with the vegetables, stirring them around. I add a little maple syrup and continue to coat the vegetables. And finally, a splash of white wine. Cook off the alcohol, lower the heat, apply a lid and cook until tender. It doesn't take as long as you might think, so watch carefully. Then I remove the glazed vegetables to a bowl, reduce the liquid in the pan to a thick, redolent syrup and pour that over the vegetables just prior to serving.

I have noticed that any of my friends who have tried parsnips at my table--in this way, or cooked with orange juice and fruits in the style of Josephine Araldo, a legendary chef who taught a whole generation of San Francisco cooks to revere humble vegetables--add at least this root vegetable to their own winter kitchen repertoire, and begin to experiment with others.

One good way to try several root vegetables at once is to make a meal of giambotta , the Italian vegetable stew. The list of ingredients in this recipe may seem imposing, but fear not and plunge right ahead. The results are remarkable in that all you have to do is fill a pot with vegetables and herbs, a little olive oil, a little water and cook 30 minutes. How so much flavor can come out of so little effort is one of the mysteries of the kitchen.

Root vegetables, however, play no small part.

This recipes comes from "A Breton Vegetable Garden: The Vegetable Cookery of Josephine Araldo," by Josephine Araldo and Robert Reynolds (Arris Books, $22.95). CARROTS DU VERGER

2 bunches young carrots

2 parsnips

1/4 cup butter

Grated zest 1 orange

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Salt

1/2 pound plums, pitted and halved

1/2 cup fresh or dried prunes, diced, optional

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon honey

2 to 4 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

Freshly ground pepper

Julienne carrots in 1-inch lengths, or shred through large holes of grater. Prepare parsnips in same manner.

Melt 2 to 3 tablespoons butter in skillet large enough to hold vegetables. Add orange zest and juice, then vegetables. Add generous dash salt and simmer on low heat about 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and most of liquid is absorbed.

Melt remaining butter in skillet over medium heat. Toss in plums (in winter I forgo plums) and prunes to coat and heat to same temperature as vegetables (they should only be warmed, not cooked, or they will disintegrate). Add fruits to vegetables.

Gently but thoroughly mix in mustard, honey, parsley and tarragon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

242 calories; 205 mg sodium; 21 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 43 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 2.79 grams fiber.

There's a lot of chopping and slicing in this recipe, but it's really simple to make. It comes from "The Art of Low-Calorie Cooking," by Sally Schneider (Stewart, Tabori & Chang).

GIAMBOTTA

1 medium red onion, sliced

2 leeks (white and tender green parts) sliced crosswise on diagonal, 1/4-inch thick

2 sweet yellow or red peppers, or combination, cut into 1-inch strips

2 plum tomatoes, diced

1 fennel bulb, sliced 1/2-inch thick

1 carrot, sliced crosswise on diagonal, 1/2-inch thick or 3 ounces baby carrots

1 small celery root (celeriac), cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces

1 medium parsnip, sliced crosswise on diagonal, 1/2-inch thick or 3 ounces baby parsnips

2 turnips, sliced 1/2-inch thick or 3 ounces baby turnips

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