Four recipes at the root of fresh fall cooking

Linda Murphy

As the trees slowly give away their leaves, coating the ground with a vibrant palette of reds, yellows and oranges, New Englanders’ tastes shift from summer’s corn and tomatoes to fall’s bounty of squashes and root veggies.

“It’s all about cooking seasonally,” said Joe Simone, owner of The Sunnyside restaurant on Water Street in Warren, R.I. “In a nutshell, fall veggies are very different from summer veggies. Corn, peppers, tomatoes, peas … they’re very perishable. By the end of summer I’m sick of them and I’m ready to move on to onions, potatoes, turnips and butternut squash — the vegetables that last throughout the winter.”

At the gourmet breakfast and lunch spot overlooking the Palmer River, Simone incorporates the seasonal harvest into soups, pancakes and salads. One of his favorites, the Macoumber turnip, milder than a purple top or rutabaga, is boiled and pureed into an apple sausage and potato chowder seasoned with thyme. He serves up pumpkin pancakes studded with pecans, and pairs the slightly grotesque looking celery root with apples into a salad served with grilled chicken or duck.

“I love celery root for the same reasons I love celery, but you get a different texture from celery root,” said Simone.

He serves parsnips, another of his favorite root veggies, grated into savory pancakes, parboiled and served with carrots and brown sugar or simply simmered in chicken stock and tossed with butter. Simone also suggests parboiling Brussels sprouts, another hearty fall vegetable, and baking them with a little chicken stock, olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

“Our parents, and definitely our grandparents, didn’t have asparagus flown in from Chile. This is what they ate — the vegetables that kept through the winter in root cellars,” said Simone. “For those of us who grew up in New England, they reflect our heritage and our taste. And as Yankees we’re cheap — we don’t want to spend a lot of money for corn flown in from somewhere. This is the bounty of our harvest.”

At Bittersweet Farm in Westport, Mass., head chef Craig Bazinet said, “It’s all about the butternut squash right now. We’re overwhelmed with it.”

At the rustic barn on Main Street in the heart of the farm-rich seaside town, Bazinet marries mashed butternut squash with cinnamon, sugar and butter and bakes it in another seasonal treat: the mini jack pumpkin. He also crafted a risotto featuring butternut squash served with seared scallops for a recent event.

“It’s time to celebrate the harvest of fall vegetables,” said Bazinet. “Mini jacks, butternut squash and fresh potatoes.”

In the next few weeks, another local favorite crop, the oddly shaped potatoes grown at Sampson Farm, will be arriving at the restaurant, he said.

“They’re really strange looking but they make delicious baked potatoes,” said Bazinet.

Spuds are also the star of Bittersweet Farm’s potato pancakes, made by combining cooled mashed potatoes with garlic, salt and pepper and pan frying them. He also suggests serving them with a poached egg on top, and he said it’s even better with a cheese sauce.

Bazinet coaxes the mild flavor of squashes and root veggies by roasting them slowly, as he does with a chicken dish he makes at the restaurant that’s served on top of roasted carrots and parsnips with a port wine reduction.

“Their flavors are so mild it’s difficult to make them the main ingredient in a dish,” said Bazinet. “They slowly work their way into your palate as you eat them.”

Bazinet also pairs them with stronger flavors as he does in the recipe for sweet potato hash made with chourico served with cod.

“The sweetness of the potato works really well with the saltiness of the chourico,” he said. “And the hash brings out the mild flavor of the cod.”

The following recipe is from Chef Craig Bazinet of Bittersweet Farm in Westport, Mass.:

Baked New Bedford Cod Fillet Served with Chourico and Sweet Potato Hash

Serves 2

For the hash:

3 large sweet potatoes, diced small

1 link of chourico, diced small

One half of a white onion, diced small

Half teaspoon chopped garlic

Quarter teaspoon thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sauté pan, cook chourico at medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes, then add onion and sweet potato.

Cook for 5 minutes, and then add thyme and garlic. Toss, cook at medium heat for another 5 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are tender.

For the fish:

2 10 oz. fillets of scrod

1 teaspoon butter, melted

Half cup of water

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 and place scrod fillets in a roasting pan. Add water. Pour butter and lemon juice over scrod and bake for 10 minutes. Top with hash. Enjoy.

The following recipes are from Chef Joe Simone of The Sunnyside restaurant in Warren, R.I.

Roasted Beet Salad with Greens and Goat Cheese

Serves 4-6

About 1 pound beets, any variety

Juice from half an orange (to taste)

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

4 tablespoons olive oil

About 6 cups mixed salad greens, including arugula if possible

½ cup goat cheese, crumbled

Note: Select beets that are roughly the same size so that they take the same time to roast.

Preheat oven to 400F. Trim the roots and stems from the beets and rinse in cold water. Place the beets in a baking dish (Tip: Spray the pan with cooking spray before adding the beets to make for easy cleanup). Add 2 tablespoons cold water to the pan and cover with aluminum foil. Roast until tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 35 to 40 minutes for medium beets and 1 hour for larger beets. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. The beets can be stored in the fridge for up to two days. Allow to come to room temperature before proceeding.

Peel the beets using the back of a paring knife and then cut into quarter-inch pieces. Place in a large non-reactive bowl and add the orange juice and balsamic vinegar. Let marinate for 5 minutes.

When ready to serve, stir the beets and then add the greens to the mixing bowl. Season with salt to taste and then drizzle the olive oil around the edges of the bowl. Gently toss the beets and greens and then top with goat cheese. Serve at once, passing the pepper mill.

White Turnip Chowder with Apple Sausage and Potatoes

Serves 6-8

2 to 3 Idaho potatoes

3 tablespoons butter

2 cups white turnips, peeled and cut into half-inch pieces from 1 large or 2 medium-sized turnips. (“I prefer the mild Macoumber or similar variety,” Simone says.)

1 cup diced onion

1 pound chicken and apple sausage, casings removed and chopped coarsely, or other sausage of your choice

1 teaspoon dried thyme

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup heavy cream

Peel the potatoes and cut into quarter-inch pieces. Place in a sauce pan and cover with cold water. Add a generous pinch of salt and set over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are just tender. Take off the heat and when cool enough for safety, drain the potatoes, reserving the liquid.

Meanwhile melt the butter in a large pot. Add the onion and the sausage and cook over medium heat stirring often for about 10 minutes until the onion is soft and the sausage is cooked through.

Add the thyme and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute and then add the flour and stir. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, gently stirring all the while.

Add the reserved potato cooking water and enough cold water to cover the turnips by 2 inches. Bring to a simmer and cook about 10 minutes until the turnips are very tender and you have a lightly thickened soup. Add the reserved potatoes and the cream and simmer 5 minutes more. Serve with oyster crackers or bread.

Celery Root and Apple Salad

(Simone says this salad goes well with grilled chicken or duck.)

Serves 4-6

1 celery root, about 1 pound

3 to 4 crisp, sweet-tart apples such as Macoun

¼ cup slivered scallions (white and green parts)

1 cup, or to taste, Emulsified Vinaigrette (below)

About 5 cups mixed salad greens

1-2 tablespoon sherry vinegar or other mild vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of salt to taste

Trim away the coarse, dirty exterior of the celery root, and working quickly cut the tender white insides into very thin batons. Store in acidulated water (about 1 tablespoon lemon juice per 1 cup of cold water) up to 3 hours.

Core the apples and cut into very thin slivers. Drain the celery root and add to a mixing bowl along with the apple slivers and scallions. Toss with the emulsified vinaigrette.

In another mixing bowl, place the salad greens. Season with salt and then drizzle the vinegar and olive oil over the greens. Toss to combine and then transfer to a serving platter or individual plates. Top with the apple/celery root salad and serve at once, passing the pepper mill.

For the Emulsified Vinaigrette

Place the following ingredients in a blender:

1 egg

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

¼ cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

About 15 peppercorns

1 teaspoon sugar

1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard

Generous pinch of salt

Blend on low speed for about 1 minute then add the following in a slow stream:

¾ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup olive oil

Taste for seasoning and store in a non-reactive container in fridge for up to three days.