It’s the perfect winter Sunday in Chicago. There’s a blizzard going on outside with screaming winds tossing snow to the ground in horizontal sheets. Lake Michigan is roaring outside our windows with huge white-capped, frothy waves crashing upon the sea wall. And I’m spending the day in the kitchen – warming the house with oven and stove, the cozy smell of soup and roasting vegetables inviting me deeper into the meditation of cooking.
I awoke early this morning to walk the dog so that I would be ready to chop and slice while listening to one of my favorite NPR shows, On Being. Krista Tippett spoke with Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns Farm about his deeply held beliefs on the importance of raising our food well, so that we bring the very best to our tables. Dan’s well-known to the food geeks of the world, but you won’t find him slapping his name on cookware or at the helm of a FoodTV show. Dan is a leader in the small, sustainable farm-to-table movement. His restaurant, Blue Hill sits on 80 acres of farmland gifted to him by no less than the Rockefeller family so that he can focus on sustainable, heirloom farming and preparing beautiful food…all the while welcoming the community to the farm to learn about how good food is grown and raised – before they sit down at the table. He’s my culinary hero.
Listen to the hour-long show online or watch the full hour and a half conversation on video. Put it on while you’re in the kitchen, and just see if you feel happier investing your time in making food for your family. The conversation flows through themes of food, family, spirituality and culture…and how far we’ve strayed from what is natural to eat. Dan distills the wisdom in cooking for ourselves so beautifully – his conversation could be The Whole Kitchen’s manifesto.
“When you are cooking, you are opting out of the kind of food chain that is cooking FOR you. When a food chain is cooking for you, it’s usually processed – using lesser quality ingredients, degrading the environment and providing less nutrients in the food grown.” Preach it, brother Dan!
Dan has no compassion for those who “have no time to cook,” and frankly, neither do I. I’m not some kind of superhero – I work long hours, commute 2 hours a day, exercise and walk the dog – my schedule is as full as yours.
Dan asks us to think “if 25 years ago someone told you that as technology advanced, people would spend an average of 4 hours a day on the internet, and that they would spend $100/month on cable TV and another $100 on a cell phone…People would think you were crazy. Where would you find the time – or the money?!”
Indeed. When friends claim that they don’t have time to cook or the money to eat well, it’s nonsense. Take a look at how you spend your time and money and consider what’s important in your life. I cook for my health – the time and money I invest in food now are as much a part of my retirement planning as my 401K…eating healthy food today will pay out in less illness and medical expenses throughout my entire life.
I come to my kitchen each weekend to create what I need to sustain me for the week ahead. It takes time – sometimes a full day. It takes planning. I read other food blogs or peruse the dozens of cookbooks lining the shelves to come up with meals that will use the vegetables and meats that we receive in our CSA farm shares each week. We eat by the seasons as much as we can, and I will tell you that the winter months are challenging when faced with mountains of turnips and rutabagas that are far from favorites. But it’s important to me to use what we’re given as it has been grown locally, by farmers we trust.
This morning brought me to turnips, salsify, celery root and soup. This is a humble and perfectly seasonal bowl – the contents of my root vegetable drawer used to the best advantage. Roast the chopped veggies first to bring out their sweetness, before tumbling them into the pot of broth. Next time, I think I’d leave out the meatballs entirely – the soup did not need them at all – the broth is flavorful and the vegetables are the star. A few grates of parmesan on top would be a welcome addition.
What’s your favorite way to create wonder in the kitchen with the root veggies of deep winter? Or what inspires YOU to get in the kitchen to cook? Share your seasonal secrets in the comments below.
Roasted Root Vegetable Soup
Adapted from Michael Medlin, of Foodgasm
2 large turnips
3 large parsnips or salsify
3 large carrots
1 medium celery root
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 T olive oil, divided
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
kosher salt & lots of fresh ground black pepper
6 cups homemade chicken stock
1 lb lean ground pork or turkey
1/4 cup steel cut oats (cooked w ⅔ cup water, pinch of salt, pinch of thyme)
Handful of parsley
- Preheat oven to 450˚F and place a sheet pan in the oven while it preheats. Peel and dice the celery root, turnips, parsnips (or salsify) and carrots into 1/2″ cubes and toss them into a large mixing bowl. Drizzle 2 T of olive oil and ½ tsp salt and pepper over the veggies and toss to coat. Remove the hot sheet pan from the oven and spray it with olive oil.
- Spread the root veggies onto the sheet pan in one layer and roast for 20 minutes, then turn them over with a spatula, and roast for another 20-25 minutes, until the veggies start to caramelize and turn golden. Remove them from the oven and set aside.
- As the veggies are roasting, cook the steel-cut oats with ⅔ cup water, a pinch of salt and thyme for 15-20 minutes. Let cool, drain off any remaining liquid if they are still very wet when cooked, then transfer to a large mixing bowl
- Heat a large soup pot over medium heat and add the remaining 2 T olive oil. Scoop the chopped onion and celery into the pot and saute for 5-7 minutes, until the onions are translucent and begin to soften. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme and ½ tsp black pepper and stir for another minute. Pour in the chicken stock, cover and bring to a simmer. Let the soup cook for 30 minutes or so, while you make the meatballs.
- Make the meatballs: Add ground turkey/pork, egg, a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper to the cooked oats and mix with hands until well combined. Form into meatballs, using 1 T of meat per ball. Place the formed meatballs on a plate and chill them in the fridge for a few minutes. Heat a large skillet with some grapeseed oil over medium-high heat and sear the meatballs in a skillet until just browned on two sides, gently turning after 2 minutes. You may need to cook the meatballs in two batches. When the meatballs are cooked, gently remove them and set them on a plate lined with paper towel and set aside.
- Taste the soup and adjust seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Add the parsley to the soup and stir, then gently stir the meatballs into the soup, being careful not to break them up…though if you do, it really doesn’t matter – it will still taste good. If you want to get fancy, add a few grates of parmesan to the top of each bowl.