|Photo by Ari LeVaux
Although I call one of my favorite spreads “roasted root mayonnaise,” it isn’t truly mayonnaise because it has no eggs. But like mayo, this rich, earthy treat improves almost anything you add it to or spread it on. And unlike mayonnaise, you could make a full meal of the stuff, especially in winter, when roots take center stage in a good local diet.
Anyone can eat locally during the summer, when the farmers’ market is the most happening social spot in town, edible weeds are sprouting in even the most abandoned gardens, restaurant menus are boasting their local ingredients and your neighbors are dumping wheelbarrows of extra zucchinis on your doorstep. But during the colder months the local options are much more limited—and, all too often, boring. The dregs of winter can be enough to make many aspiring locavores throw in the napkin, but it’s also an opportunity for the truly hardcore locavores to step up to the plate.
Indeed, the most telling test of your locavoric skills is what you eat in winter. If you did your summertime homework, then you probably have all kinds of yummy morsels squirreled away in jars, tucked into the freezer, the pantry, and maybe even a hole in the ground. Each such morsel has its own stories and memories locked inside, ready to provide a narrative to your meal. A peach huckleberry cobbler from your canned fruit, for example, might tell the story of berry picking on sunny hillsides, and backyard peach trees heavy with fruit. A pasta sauce from frozen tomatoes might recount a farmers’ market adventure, or the bounty of your backyard garden.
If you didn’t have the opportunity to put away some food last summer, but you still fervently and stubbornly want to eat locally, then you’re mostly stuck with roots and tubers.
There are some people who, in the heat of summer, pine for baked squash, mashed potatoes and other such hearty winter foods. But most of us eventually tire of the common presentations of storage crops. That’s where roasted root mayonnaise comes in.
Roasted root mayonnaise is a balm for the locavore’s wintertime blues. Like a warm ointment to be rubbed on your cold and cracked skin, the many forms of this cream will rejuvenate your wintertime diet.
The most common ingredients in roasted root mayo are carrot, rutabaga, turnip, celery root (celeriac), garlic and parsnip. There are many different ways you can make it, and I’m going to start by explaining the basic concept of how it’s made. Then I’ll give you a recipe for one of my favorite forms of the winter earth cream.
Start by washing and trimming your roots, and then cut them into cubes. Toss these cube roots in olive oil, or the local oil of your choice. (In Montana your best local option would be safflower or sunflower oil.) Season with salt and pepper. You can also add the herbs of your choice—rosemary, marjoram, basil, thyme, oregano and lavender are good options.
Bake your roots at 300 degrees, stirring every 10–15 minutes, until lightly browned.
This tray of roasted roots can be served as a finished dish. Any of the above-mentioned roots, plus potatoes (which aren’t part of roasted root mayo) can be tossed together, roasted and served this way. The only difference is that if serving as roasted roots, you might want to cook them a little longer to give more of a crisp.
For the cream, put some oil in a blender and add the roots, a few at a time, after they’ve cooled, blending until smooth. If it gets too thick, add more oil. Chopped raw garlic can be added here too, as can herbs. When your roasted roots are blended to a smooth consistency and seasoned to your taste, it’s done.
Garlic, in addition to being added raw to the blender, can also be roasted with the roots, which makes it sweeter and milder. I didn’t mention beets in the above list, but they can also be used—just beware they will take over the dish, in both color and flavor.
There are many combinations of roots and herbs that will yield tasty and beautiful versions of roasted root mayonnaise. One of my favorites is two parts carrot, one part rutabaga, and one part turnip. The carrot adds sweetness, and the rutabaga and turnip add bitterness and spiciness. I roast the roots as described above, with oil, salt and pepper, but no herbs. In the blender I add oregano and fresh garlic.
Spread it on bread; dip chips into it. If winter’s frozen your local food ambitions, try dabbling in roasted root mayo to pass the cold dark days. Each combination has its own flavor and color, and each is a unique reflection of the earth it came from. And soon enough, that earth will be warming toward another summer.
Ask Ari: Preparing for end days
Hey Chef Boy,
(Sorry, just can’t give up that name.)
I’m preparing for the economic Apocalypse, but I suspect the 15 cans of pickled beets, one bag of dried morels and half-dozen or so jars of unidentifiable tomato-based something-or-other left in my pantry aren’t going to last very long after the Super Wal-Mart shelves are looted. So, what do I need to do to start preparing a garden now so when spring comes, I’ll be ready to farm my way into another year of existence? Any seed suggestions or other preparations for a year-one raised bed garden?
You’re not the only one thinking along those lines, A.C. Listening to a right-wing AM radio show recently, I heard about a website called www.survivalseedbank.com. Its business model is built on the basic premise of your concern. The website says:
“You don’t have to be an Old Testament prophet to see what’s going on all around us. A belligerent lower class demanding handouts. A rapidly diminishing middle class crippled by police state bureaucracy. An aloof, ruling elite that has introduced us to an emerging totalitarianism, which seeks control over every aspect of our lives. As the meltdown progresses, one of the first things to be affected will be our nation’s food supply. Expect soaring prices along with moderate to severe shortages by spring.”
For $129 you get enough seeds to plant an acre of veggies, a bottle of fertilizer and waterproof packaging so your “Survival Seed Bank can be buried to avoid confiscation.”
Or, for a lot less money, you can order your own seeds. What you order, of course, depends on what you like to eat, and what you think you can buy at the farmers’ market when the shit hits the fan. For more info, read my Jan. 8, 2009 full-length column on the subject by visiting www.missoulanews.com and searching the archive under “Mango Melon.”
Send your food and garden queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.