Nothing inspires me like scouting the farmers’ markets.
New potatoes, tiny turnips, crimson beets with brilliant greens still attached, slender carrots, and whatever else resourceful growers can coax out of our rocky soil, all send me to my pots and pans.
The root vegetables haven’t taken on the sweetness of the first fall frost, but they have a charm that’s impossible to resist. And our greens? Incomparable.
New potato salad
in mustard rosemary vinaigrette
Mayonnaise is just too heavy for the soft, waxy texture of tiny white potatoes. This light and tangy dressing celebrates their newness. With few ingredients each one is important, so use your best olive oil. Ordinary white vinegar will work but won’t have the same subtle flavour. If you can’t find fresh rosemary don’t substitute dried — dill or even parsley would be fine. Use red or white potatoes in this lovely late summer side, and serve to five or six deserving guests.
1-1/2 lbs. new potatoes, scrubbed and trimmed of blemishes
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. coarse, grainy or Dijon mustard
2 tsp. honey
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper (more or less to taste)
3 green onions, white and green parts, chopped in 1/4-inch lengths
1 small fresh red chili, seeded and minced (optional)
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
Size up the smallest potato and cut larger ones into pieces that roughly match it. Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water until tender — check them after 10 minutes. While they are cooking, prepare the dressing.
Whisk together all remaining ingredients. Drain potatoes and while they are still hot, toss with dressing to coat thoroughly — they will absorb much more flavour that way. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled. Stir again just before serving.
Swiss chard, carrot and pasta soup
Apart from being spectacularly nutritious and delicious, Swiss chard is the least likely variety of greens to have wee grubs and other fauna attached when you buy it. There are those in my own family who cringe at the thought of washing fresh leafy things, so I thought I’d mention it to the squeamish cooks out there.
Of course, you can substitute other greens — beet tops, turnip greens, kale — anything with hearty flavour will do the job in this light, brothy soup. As for the pasta, choose whatever size and shape you enjoy, just remember to keep it small enough to fit in the soup spoon and in your mouth.
This amount serves six generously.
2 tbsp. olive or vegetable oil
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 small onion, minced
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
8 to 10 cups low-salt vegetable or chicken broth (or water if you prefer)
1/2 lb. fresh Swiss chard, washed
1/4 lb. orzo (small, rice-shaped pasta)
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Heat up the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Fry carrots, celery and onion until wilted. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook another few seconds, just until the garlic is fragrant. Add broth and bring to a boil. Cut green leaves off the chard stalks. Roll them up and cut into 1/2-inch strips. Chop up the stalks as you would celery — they are tougher than the leaves. Add leaves and stalks to pot and simmer 10 minutes or until tender. Add orzo and cook another five minutes or according to package instructions. Stir in lemon juice and pepper and taste for salt, adding a little if needed. Serve right away, passing the Parmesan at the table for sprinkling on top.
Gratin of Baby Turnips
If you can get white turnips the size of small potatoes, they are really pretty in this dish, but it tastes just as fabulous with slices of medium turnip or even cubed large ones.
If you haven’t tried grating your own nutmeg, it’s easy to do and well worth the extra 10 seconds it takes. Buy the whole nutmegs in the spice section of just about any grocery store. You don’t need to buy a special gadget — a small fine grater or micro-plane will work fine. This dish will disappear fast, so don’t plan on serving a big crowd with this dish.
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed but left whole
1 small onion, quartered
2 lbs. baby turnips or sliced larger turnips
2 fresh or 4 dried bay leaves
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 shallots, minced
4 tbsp. flour
1/3 cup dry white wine
1-1/3 cups milk
1/4 tsp. each white pepper and ground nutmeg
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. olive oil
Place garlic, onion, turnips and bay leaves in a Dutch oven and just cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, add salt, reduce heat and simmer until turnips are tender. Drain and reserve one cup of the cooking water.
For the cream sauce, melt butter in the same pot and fry shallots until wilted. Whisk in flour and cook a minute or two, until bubbling hot but don’t let it brown. Whisk in white wine and milk and cook together until quite thick and smooth. Add about half the reserved cooking water from the turnips and simmer another minute, stirring constantly. Sauce should be the consistency of heavy gravy. If it is still too stiff, add more cooking water until it is the thickness you like. Stir in white pepper and nutmeg and taste for salt. If needed, add another pinch. Be especially careful if you used salted butter to make the sauce.
Nestle the turnips back into the potful of sauce. Combine breadcrumbs and olive oil and sprinkle evenly over the top. Bake uncovered at 375 F for 20 minutes or until crumb topping is crusty and golden brown.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.