The countdown for the biggest food celebration of the year is on! Thanksgiving is a holiday I truly love. On this day, or any of the days around it, the spirit of the holiday is about two positives: food and family.
Food traditions abound with every family. Certain foods only come out for Thanksgiving and everyone has a favorite. With my family, it starts with oysters, on the half shell, poached, and then in oyster casserole. We come from rural DNA so collards, rutabagas, cabbage and field peas make an appearance. Fried turkey with cornbread, apple and sausage dressing are center stage. And my brother-in-law with his need for mashed potatoes with a squirt of mustard instead of gravy. These foods are absolutes, but I always add something new. Nothing outrageous, just something that blends with the rest of the meal.
Think of a summer fruit crumble converted to a savory fall dish. That’s the birth of this recipe. A combination of celery root, that ugly vegetable I wrote about last month to warm you up, carrots, sweet potatoes and parsnips with a walnut and sage topping. It’s texturally delightful, has a country charm in flavor and makes a nice presentation. Here’s the added attraction: nowadays there is a vegetarian in every family. With this one dish, you have created an excellent veggie entrée as well as a great meat-eaters side dish.
Wait. Did I throw you a curve with the parsnips? Parsnips are those antique ivory colored things that look like carrots. Brought to this country by the English in the 1600’s, they don’t get much love, and that is a mistake. Like collards, the first frost sweetens them. Paired with the other flavors in the dish and especially the foil against the sage, they will give your taste buds a treat. Boil them and prepare them like mashed potatoes on another day for a change of pace. Parsnips are also great roasted just like you would a carrot and drizzled with local honey and sage; boy, that’s a treat.
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and give this dish a try some time over the fall and winter. I also hope you have the good sense to make sure that everyone’s favorite dishes are on the table. There’s always enough drama without the “Where’s the (fill-in-the-blank) that we always have?”
Fred Thompson is a Raleigh cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont magazine. His latest cookbook is “Bacon: A Savor the South Cookbook.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Root Vegetables with Walnut Sage Crumble
Perfect for Thanksgiving and all the usual fixings. Don’t stop there though. The earthiness of this dish is great with a beef roast, venison, Cornish game hens, quail and sturdy fish like rockfish and swordfish.
For the vegetables:
1 celery root (celeriac), about 14 ounces
3 carrots, about 6 ounces
1 large parsnip, about 7 ounces
1 sweet potato, about 12 ounces
1 2/3 cups vegetable stock
1 (8 ounces) tub crème fraiche
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
4–5 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
For the crumble:
3/4 cup walnuts
6 sage leaves
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Wash, peel, and chop the celeriac, carrots, parsnip and sweet potato. Cut all the vegetables into roughly the same-size pieces, about 1/2 inch. Chop the white and tender green parts of the leeks into half-moons and rinse thoroughly.
Bring the vegetable stock to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the root vegetables and stir, then add the leeks and cover the pot. Cook for 10 minutes.
While the vegetables are cooking, stir together the crème fraiche, flour, mustard and chopped sage until thoroughly combined. When the vegetables have cooked, stir in the crème fraiche mixture until everything is fully coated. Season with kosher salt to taste. Spoon the vegetables into a 2-quart baking dish and set aside to cool.
Pulse the walnuts and sage leaves together until you have a fine meal. Add the flour and the butter, cut into small chunks, and process until you have a nice crumbly topping. Add the Parmesan cheese and pulse briefly to mix.
Spread the crumble topping over the vegetables. At this point, you can cover the dish and refrigerate several hours or overnight. When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the crumble until heated through and golden brown on top, about 20 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings