The best winter vegetables of all

By Peta Mathias

Very early in the morning when it's raining and you are overwhelmed by the poetry of it all, protected by soft duvets and lulled by shimmering trees; your sleepy mind might turn to remembrance of meals past.

Some people love winter for the layers in the food, the layers in the clothes, the layers in the weather - only superficial people like endless, soporific sun.

In the sun you might turn to steamed, brightly coloured vegetables but in the winter you need depth, warmth and sweetness - the incomparable pleasure of root vegetables like carrots, beetroot, celeriac, swedes, turnips and parsnips. They are delicious pureed, enviable in a savoury tarte tatin (an upside down caramelised tart) and indispensable with game.

It's rather fashionable now to roast roots and for good reason - roasting brings out the considerable natural sugar in these vegetables and it's my absolute favourite way of eating them.

Par boil them first as they tend to dry out too much if you roast from raw. Then roast the half-cooked vegetables till you have a crisp outside and moist inside. You really want that ideal balance of sweetness with just enough caramelisation, but not so much that they become bitter. Red onions and garlic are good with roasted roots, as are strong herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme, and roasted hazelnuts.

Parsnips look like white carrots and actually do belong to the carrot family. They have a delicate, sweet, slightly nutty flavour and are traditionally mashed with carrots. You could make a parsnip cake which is a carrot cake but with parsnips. Swedes, though, are closer to turnips and cabbages, the flesh is yellow orange and purees beautifully, the taste is really delicious and the leaves are good in salads. Cooked turnips are rather good with lamb and raw, they have a delicate peppery flavour which is very snappy in salads. Here are some other suggestions for a good roasting:

Make up some couscous and toss in your roasted root vegies with feta cheese, chick peas, roasted almonds and a handful of fresh coriander.

Try adding finely chopped roasted roots to mashed potato made with cream and olive oil then stirring in fried cumin and coriander seeds.

Try covering cooked roots with cream and gruyere cheese, grilling it and calling it a gratin.

Try making a soup from roasted roots, potatoes and fresh chicken stock. Puree in the food processor and serve with a big dollop of sour cream or spreadable goat cheese (from Maison Vauron).

Try making up a Thai green curry (buy the paste) with coconut cream. When it's nice and thick throw in your chopped roasted roots and a slash of lime juice. Garnish with lots of Thai basil and Vietnamese mint.

When we were children, our mother made us sandwiches from left-over roast vegies.

She squashed them between two slices of bread, put on lots of salt and pepper and they were absolutely divine.

- Detours, HoS

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