We “subscribe” to Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, which is a service that delivers fresh local vegetables to your door in the city once a week. As the weather gets colder, “local vegetables” increasingly means “root vegetables”, so last weekend we found ourselves with a vegetable drawer filled with beets, turnips, Japanese sweet potatoes, sunchokes and several other starchy root staples.
I’ve gotten fairly sick of the standard medley of roasted tubers, and wanted to do something a little different. Irv and Shelly included a recipe which suggested preparing the turnips as a gratin, which sounded much more appealing. I generally approach gratins with some hesitation, as they are often ponderous affairs laden with heavy cream, mushy potatoes and overwhelming cheese, but with turnips and a different approach to béchamel, I figured I’d give it a try. On the beet side, beet salads are a personal weakness of mine, so that automatically fit the bill.
First let’s talk béchamel
, the standard flour-thickened white sauce that is the base of everything from mac ‘n’ cheese to pancake lasagna
. I’ve often seen it paired with nutmeg, which I find atrocious. Instead, I simmered garlic and rosemary in butter for a few minutes before adding flour to make the roux. I tend to add more flour than strictly suggested by the French — I add until everything is crumbly. After browning the flour, I poured in 2% milk and freshly cracked pepper and simmered until it was thick. What a difference — 2% milk, less butter than normal, garlic and rosemary turned this into a sauce that I could eat from a spoon. Once the white sauce was finished, I layered it on top of the turnip slices (cut with a mandolin, although you could use a sharp knife instead), fresh-grated parmesan, more black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Into the oven it went until brown on top.
For the beet salad, I started with cubed roasted beets. Alongside those went a dollop of whole milk ricotta, topped with black pepper and pistachio kernels. I had pea tendrils from the Fresh Picks box, so I clipped them and added to the plate for some additional color. The dressing was a simple mix of fresh lemon, good olive oil from my friend Taso, salt, pepper, and a dash of dijon mustard to help emulsify everything. The lemony richness complemented the sweetness of the beets and the creaminess of the ricotta perfectly.
The pork chops, while good, were the least “interesting” part of the meal. I seasoned them with a rub from Spice House made of dried shallots, salt and pepper, and then cooked them on a hot cast iron skillet until golden brown on each side.
While they aren’t pictured, Japanese sweet potatoes completed the meal. They’re interesting too — taste just like sweet potatoes, but have pale yellow flesh. All in all, we did a pretty good job of clearing out the root vegetable drawer, although we still have some more to go. I see some more gratins in my future!