A Kitchen Manifesto & Root Vegetable Soup

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
Serves 6

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 egg
1/4 cup steel cut oats (cooked w ⅔ cup water, pinch of salt, pinch of thyme)
Handful of parsley

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

17 thoughts on “A Kitchen Manifesto & Root Vegetable Soup

  1. Mashed turnip is a favorite English Sunday dinner dish. Its usually prepared just like mashed potatoes, boil the turnip until it goes soft and then mash it up. Its a really easy way to use turnip if you’ve got a lot of it on hand.

    I also love to do roast parsnips with a Sunday roast. I par boil them first, then toss them with olive oil, salt pepper and whatever herbs I’m roasting my meat with (sage, thyme, etc.) and then I roast them until they get browned and crispy on the edges. They are so delicious done this way, and usually I do them with carrots and potatoes. It makes such an easy dish with a simple roast because after you’ve par boiled the veggies they can just go in the oven with the meat!

    I’ve also done a “healthier” shepherds pie version with parsnips. Instead of topping the shepherds pie with just mashed potatoes I boil equal parts parsnips and potatoes, mash them up (takes a bit more effort to mash with the parsnips in) and then spread over the top of the shepherds pie. It gives the topping such a different and rich taste, and my husband who has been eating shepherds pie his whole life found it a really interesting twist on a kind of boring dish and loves it.

    • Thanks for the official British word on using roots properly! I have done the mashed turnips before, but I’m generally not a fan of mashes – potato or otherwise. Though I do like a good shepherd’s pie, with the potatoes on top a bit crispy, so I may give that one a try! We are overflowing with neeps and ‘bagas this time of year – so I need all the ideas I can get!

      • Yeah, I find the mashed turnip a bit watery, I really need loads of butter and cream to really like mash. The mashed turnip is such a traditional thing, but I honestly don’t make it very often because its not a favorite of mine. Some English cooks also cut the turnip up into little sticks (like the size of little carrot sticks) and steam them for Sunday dinner. Its a bit more toothy than mash but again very simple.

        I’ve also made this recipe (although you would need to rework the topping) but my husband LOVED this when I made it. http://www.channel4.com/food/recipes/chefs/hugh-fearnley-whittingstall/roasted-pale-roots-crumble-recipe_p_1.html

      • Okay, that roots crumble looks pretty fantastic – and I do love Hugh – he’s totally adorable every time Ramsay pulls him in on the F Word. 😉 I do love a good savory crumble – I do a pretty mean savory sweet potato crisp with bacon fat in place of some of the butter in the crisp topping. It’s awesome.

  2. Mmm… I’m salivating. It was so cold here in the Twin Cities today as well, after a terrible snow storm yesterday (over 20 inches of snow) and a simple, wholesome, meal-in-a-bowl kinda soup is just what I would’ve liked to eat right now.

    And I totally agree with you on what you wrote about people not having enough time to cook. I don’t have kids, but I know that if my sisters can do it with 2 small kids and fulltime jobs, I can too. The idea of processed food comprising the majority of my everyday meals is so alien to me. You could imagine my surprise when I moved to the US and saw practically every mom, regardless of income bracket and social status, serve her kids ready-made chicken nuggets in every meal! I was shocked. Back home, making food from scratch, using fresh seasonal veggies is a given. There really are no two ways about it. And this is true for rich or poor.

    Loved this post specifically because you shared your thoughts on eating fresh and seasonal food.

    • Thanks so much, Sabera! Hope you’re surviving all the snow out there – crazy! Yes, the diet of most Americans is shocking to me – I honestly forget sometimes that most people DON’T eat like we do. I don’t eat out very often because of celiac, and I mainly shop at Whole Foods and our local Mexican produce market so I don’t usually even see the aisles and aisle of processed and frozen foods. Cooking from scratch is a commitment, but it’s not that hard – food doesn’t have to be fancy or take a long time to be good AND healthy. Though I’ll admit that a lot of my food does take a long time to cook…I just really enjoy spending a day in the kitchen, so what’s to rush?!

  3. Completely agree! It took years for me to realize that I do indeed have time to cook, but I’m so glad I did. My mom set the example of feeding us frozen/processed meals nearly every day – something made from scratch was a weekend treat. But thanks in part to your blog, I’ve figured out that I can indeed cook from scratch, real foods that feed my body well and make me feel so much better than the processed junk. It just takes some planning ahead. Rather than buying frozen foods to have around for when life gets crazy, every time I cook something, I make enough that I can put a serving or two in the freezer, plus have another 2-4 servings in the fridge.

    Plus, on cold days like yesterday, the kitchen is the warmest room in the house, so why not spend some time there? I haven’t quite gotten it down to making the entire week’s worth of food on Sundays, but I do typically make one or two big meals that create a lot of leftovers.

    • So true about Standard American Diet = SAD. And it really is SAD. I’m so glad that you’ve taken on the challenge of cooking from scratch and that you feel the difference in your body, too! Like you, pretty much everything I cook is geared to creating leftovers – Mark teases me that I only know how to cook for 6-8 person families, but hey – it gets those lunches knocked out for the whole week!

      And yes, hanging out in the kitchen running the oven is nearly the only way I stay warm in the winter – our heat never really gets the house warmer than 65 on warm-ish days, and the bitter days ahead mean we’re back down around 60 – brr!

  4. Root veggies are so underrated. I think it’s out of some childborn fear that we avoid them as adults, but once you’ve had it well; well, all i can speak from is my own experience. And I haven’t been able to get enough.

    • Thanks for dropping by, Phil! And so great to talk with you this morning! Root veggies really are a wonder. When the snow blows in sideways gusts outside the window, I am more than happy to turn on the oven and roast up whatever roots are on hand. Good stuff.

  5. definitely agree on the part about people who claim to have no time for cooking. cooking can be so fast (which is what all the food magazines are goign for these days) and food is much better when made at home. sure, no one needs to cook for hours (unless they like to – like us!) but still….

    i have some celeriac and turnips hiding in my kitchen and need to just use them already! i did get some salsify the other week and made soup wthi potatoes and roasted garlic – was YUM!!

    • Salsify was a new one to me this season…4 years with a CSA, and this was the first time we had it! And we loved it…might even edge out parsnips in my root veggie love…though nothing can touch my beloved sweet potato. 😉

  6. Your blog is awesome, and this post is right on! I too don’t have any patience for people who have “no time” to cook. I work full-time, commute 1 hour (one way) and have celiac disease and can’t just “grab” something…

    This post reminded me of the sentiments in some recent writing on my blog: http://mysteriesinternal.blogspot.com/2011/01/darkness-comes-early.html

    This phrase you wrote:
    “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.” —- WOW! Spot on….

    • Thanks, Erin! Your comment means a lot – and indeed, we share the same dining life. The job, the commute, the workouts/running, walking the dog…it takes nearly every second of my day, but finding the time to cook – *that* is what gives me life. Without the real food that we cook – we know that we don’t have much in the way of life. Food heals. Food is communion. Food is love.

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