…but not taught to the tune of a hickory stick. The ways we unwittingly age ourselves.

I was briefly hijacked by another project and the pre, mid and post holiday revelry. Now it’s retour au train-train quotidien as the calendar bluntly reminded me. So, without further ado and the usual palaver, behold some root cellar fare to serve on a chilly evening.

RISOTTO WITH TURNIPS & PARSNIPS

3/4-1 C medium parsnips, prepped as below
3/4-1 C medium turnips, prepped as below
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

7-8 C chicken stock

Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 1/2 C arborio rice
1/2 C dry white wine, e.g., sauvingnon blanc

1 t fennel seeds, roasted and ground
3 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Fresh tarragon leaves, stems removed (not chopped)
3/4 C Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 400 F

Peel the parsnips, quarter them lengthwise, and remove the tough core with a paring knife. Cut into 1/2″ shapes. Peel the turnips, cut lengthwise and also cut into 1/2″ shapes. Place cut roots in a large glass bowl and coat lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange both roots on a sheet pan or in a roasting pan. Consider lining the sheet or roasting pan with aluminum beforehand.

Roast until tender and slightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes for the parsnips and a little longer for the turnips. Pierce with a fork to check doneness. Remove from the oven, season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside, tented.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy sauce pan, heat stock on low until hot, nearly simmering.

Heat the oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven, add the onion, and sauté over moderately high heat until it softens and becomes translucent. Add the rice and stir until coated and opaque, about another 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and cook until the alcohol evaporates.

Then, begin the beguine. Add a ladleful of hot stock, and cook, until liquid is absorbed. Continue adding stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed each time before adding more. The rice will become tender and creamy but still al dente after about 18 minutes. Do check by tasting a spoonful.

Remove from the heat, gently yet thoroughly fold in the turnips, parsnips, fennel, butter, tarragon, and parmigiano reggiano and stir well for about a half minute or so.

Mound in the center of shallow serving bowls and serve with spoons.

Pourboire: this same calendar proclaimed ce sera mon année as well! Does that mean a year of boundless creation, flukish wealth or certain death?

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Armistice Day & Soup

November 12, 2011

There never was a good war, or a bad peace.
~Benjamin Franklin

11.11.11.11.11—it turned 11:11am on November 11, 2011. The War To End All Wars, World War I, ended 93 years ago yesterday.

The Armistice was signed in a railway carriage in the Compiègne Forest on November 11, 1918 near 5:00am, but was not effective until 11:00am that same day, allowing commanders to spread the word along the fronts. The inglorious eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The Armistice was executed in a carriage of Maréchal Ferdinand Foch’s private train, CIWL #2419 (Le Wagon de l’Armistice), and terms addressed such issues as the prompt cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of German troops to behind their borders, prisoner exchanges, promises of reparations, the internment of the German fleet, and the surrender of munitions. A fragile peace had been reached.

By the time the Armistice had been signed, military and civilian casualties stood at some 35 million. The French countryside had been decimated—buildings, homes, farms even entire villages were leveled; armies would soon leave behind devastated factories, bridges, roads, railroads; shell craters punctured pastures as far as the eye could see with unexploded munitions scattered everywhere; solitary torn, burnt trees strained to rise above the rubble; stiff horse and livestock carcasses lay motionless far and wide; wrecked tanks, gnarled helmets, barbed wire, twisted scrap iron in all shapes were surreally strewn on barren land; and abandonned trenches after trenches were bizarrely carved into once fertile fields. A post-apocalyptic, almost lunar landscape.

And sadly, the final day of World War I still produced nearly 11,000 troop casualties; more than those amassed on D-Day, when Allied forces landed on the beaches of occupied Normandy less than three decades later.

Precious young life and limb was lost on this last half-day when some field commanders, knowing that an Armistice had already been signed, insisted on forging ahead in battle. Major General William Wright, of the 89th American Division, was one such culprit. Having received word that there were bathing facilities in the nearby village of Stenay, he ordered his men to storm the town just so his exhausted, filthy troops could refresh themselves. The town would have been peaceably handed over to these forces in a matter of hours. Wright’s lunacy cost some 300 casualties, many of them battle deaths, for reasons beyond comprehension.

That same day in the nearby Argonne region, American private Henry Gunther was part of a pointless, inexplicable charge against astonished German troops who knew the Armistice was about to occur. Ironically of German descent, he was shot dead less than a minute before 11:00am on that day. Pvt. Gunther carries the infamous label as the last soldier to be killed in action in World War I…and senselessly so.

It is a somber day. While vets should doubtless be honored for their sacrifices and losses, it should also be remembered that the predominant victims of modern warfare are civilians, not soldiers. World War I began that inexorable trend toward considerably more innocent men, women and children dying in war than combatants (without even taking into account the untold civilian displacement, disease, destitution, and famine). Those disregarded, soon forgotten and collaterally caught in the crossfire tend to suffer most.

How to rise from such gloom? Breaking bread is a start. Food nags us at times of both celebration and sorrow. A simple meal is sustenance, ritual, comfort, even quiet joy…a gentle, peaceful kiss. So, please share some primordial fare.

MUSHROOM & ROOT SOUP

2 T dried mushrooms (porcini, morels or shitakes)
1/2 C chicken stock + 1/2 C water, heated

3 T butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium leek, trimmed and roughly chopped
2 medium parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium celeriac, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
3 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 C chicken broth

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Pinch of dried thyme

Fresh chives
Crème fraîche

Soak the dried mushrooms in the warm stock and water about 20 minutes, until plump. Strain the soaking liquid through cheesecloth to remove grit. Reserve the reconstituted mushrooms, until needed. Reserve the soaking liquid as well.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a deep heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leek, parsnips, celeriac, carrot, thyme and bay leaf. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks are soft, translucent and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Then, add the broth and the soaked dried mushrooms. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to a quiet simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large, heavy skillet. When the oil is shimmering and hot, add the wild mushrooms, stirring with a wooden spoon, and allow to just lightly brown. Season with salt and pepper, then turn the heat to medium and sauté 5-7 minutes, until the mushrooms are just soft and cooked through. Add the garlic and thyme and cook 1 minute more.

Add the sautéed mushrooms to the soup and allow to simmer until the parsnips, celeriac and carrot are tender, about 15 minutes or so.

Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Purée the soup in a food processor fitted with a steel knife, a blender or even an immersion stick. Correct the seasoning and thin with the mushroom soaking liquid and/or broth, if necessary.

Ladle into shallow soup bowls. Garnish with chives and a drizzle of crème fraîche. Serve with toasted baguette slices.

Roundabouts & Roots

September 29, 2011

…You got me goin’ in circles
Oh, ’round and ’round I go
Goin’ in circles
Oh, ’round and ’round I go
I’m strung out over you…

~Luther Vandross

It makes me sad to utter this. But, something has run amiss, almost amok here.

In an ever dumbed down America, now even the most simple ideas are often illogically, even rabidly, rejected and then find trouble gaining traction. Our populace has strayed from critical analysis, from free thought, from historical cognizance, from educational enlightenment…rejecting sound reason in favor of wicked demogoguery. Faith, and not knowledge, reigns. Most good ideas “foreign” are blindly rejected without humility as if this land remains some divinely touched insular utopia. You often hear the herd-like anger: while this may work there, it will never work here. Words voiced by a few perturbed by fear and suspicious of change, evoking little but gossip, gripes and poor judgment.

Take roundabouts—those ring intersections through which traffic flows in a counterclockwise circuit, simply yielding to those already inside. First appearing in Great Britain in the early 60’s, there are over 30,000 in France alone (an area slightly smaller than Texas) and only some 2,000 in this entire country. In study after engineering study, roundabouts have been proven to reduce harmful emissions, allow smoother traffic flow, reduce lights and signs, and decrease severe collisions. Yet in the states, whenever some communities are faced with the specter of a roundabout, irrational wrath soon becomes seething apathy, sometimes even squelching the proposal. Then, despite all engineering logic, the collective psyche insists upon the status quo of traffic signals and signs, halted traffic, enhanced CO2 emissions, and grisly wrecks. Allo?

Thankfully, roundabouts are experiencing a slight upsurge here…and where fear ebbs and they are finally constructed, public opinion invariably soars in favor of these sometimes unwelcome circles.

Knobby and gnarly, celeriac is not smoothly round, orb-like in a natural state. But, like root cousins turnips, parsnips, beets, carrots and potatoes, it makes one simple yet exquisite soup.

CELERIAC SOUP

3 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 medium leeks, cleaned, peeled and chopped
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t dried cumin, roasted and ground
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 lbs celery root, peeled and cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
6 C chicken stock

1 C heavy whipping cream

Fresh tarragon leaves, for garnish

Place the butter and oil in a heavy large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat until melted. Add the leeks and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 4-6 minutes. Add the cumin, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. If the pot begins to brown too much on the bottom as they cook, add another pat of butter or pour of olive oil.

Add the celery root and stir to coat, then add the stock and briefly bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat so that the stock simmers gently and cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery root until soft and easily pierced with a paring knife, about 20 minutes more.

Allow to cool slightly off the heat, then purée in batches in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or a blender. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a sauce pan, whisk in the cream and reheat over medium low. Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve in shallow soup bowls garnished with tarragon.