Sunday, March 13, 2011

Where to start with a vegetarian St. Paddy's day...

Roasted rutabaga/turnip/swede (where are you from, anyway?) and caramelized leeks...

The Irish aren't exactly known for their vegetarian fare (oh, wait, there's always potatoes!). That is not fair. In my house we love anything cabbage (browned in butter may just be my favorite, oh, I also like them stuffed, but I digress). With a Scotsman for a husband you can believe me when I say we eat a lot of potatoes. There are tons of recipes out there for colcannon, corned beef, Guinness floats and other tasty Irish treats. But what to cook when you are invited to a vegetarian St. Patrick's Day celebration and dessert, cabbage, boxty and barley are already taken?

I googled “vegetarian Irish food” and my results ranged from stir fry to, well, stir fry. One very lovely friend offered to let me make the leeks she had offered (jumped on that!) and the lovely hostess (with an Irish husband) wondered why nobody was bringing baked beans (a dish served on nearly every plate!). I opted for caramelized leeks and roasted rutabaga with a side of house made baked beans. My baked beans odyssey is too involved to post along with the rutabaga and leek recipe (I’m sure this is why nobody else had volunteered to make it) so look for a separate post on that topic tomorrow (in time for the big fest)…

It is really important to soak leeks in a LOT of water to allow
dirt and grit to fall to the bottom.

As for rutabaga and leeks, to begin, anything in the allium family (onions of all types, garlic, chives, etc.) will caramelize beautifully due to their natural sugar content. The key to true caramelization is time…lots of it. If you really want to understand the chemical reaction (and how it is different from the Maillard reaction), I can recommend several good sources (On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, for one), but if you just want some melt in your mouth, dissolve on your tongue, sweet ooey gooey oniony goodness, follow the recipe below.

Rutabaga, it's not just for breakfast anymore...

As for rutabaga, its connection to that spot over the pond and to the north (aka Scotland and Ireland), what we call rutabagas, they call turnips, and what we call turnips, they call swedes.  Anyway, I know there will be expats who are happy to argue this point, but I’m just going to throw it out there that American rutabagas are the turnips to use if you’re trying to go authentic (plus, you can still get them from Clarion River Organics (sold at the Pittsburgh Public Market, Whole Foods and the East End Co-op...probably other places too) root cellar, so they are even local!).

Caramelized Leeks and Roasted Rutabaga

6 medium leeks, cut into ¼ inch rings
3 large rutabagas
Olive oil (for roasting the rutabaga)
4 tbs. butter (for the leeks, olive oil also works well)
Juice from 1 medium orange (any type of orange will do, I used a blood orange)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Leeks: Swish cut leeks in ample cold water and allow to soak for 10-15 minutes (this allows the leeks to float while the dirt and grit sink to the bottom). Skim the leeks from the top of the water, being careful not to disturb the sediment, and dry thoroughly (a salad spinner makes this job very quick and easy!).
Melt butter over medium heat in large sauté pan, add leeks and a generous pinch of salt. Stir leeks to coat with butter then allow to cook undisturbed 10-15 minutes. If leeks are beginning to brown, give the greens a little stir and turn down the heat. Keep a watchful eye, being certain that the leeks don’t burn, stir occasionally (but not too often, remember, we are trying to develop flavor through caramelization). Cook leeks approximately 2-3 hours until golden and soft (if you are really serious, you can cook them all. day. long.). Deglaze pan with reserved orange juice, being sure to scrape up any lovely brown bits.
Rutabaga: Peel rutabagas and cut into uniform pieces. (The actual size is unimportant, but keep in mind that you want the pieces to all be a similar size and that it is easier to eat if the pieces are small enough to fit on a fork). Toss well with olive oil and salt and pepper, place pieces in a baking dish, preferably in one layer. Roast for approximately 1 hour in a 400 F oven. As pieces begin to brown, stir to coat with oil, and return to oven until soft.
To serve, combine both vegetables on a platter or serving dish, gently tossing to combine flavors.