Roots and Tubers

Roots and tubers are the stalwarts of the vegetable kingdom; they are earthy, rustic and simple but amongst the most useful of all. They include the many varieties of potato, which can be divided into two basic groups: old or main crop varieties, with tough skins that can be stored in a cool dark place, and new, young crop potatoes, which do not keep well and should be scraped or scrubbed to remove the thin skin, or simply rinsed and cooked with the skin on.
    Yams, sweet potatoes and cassava are also included in this group of vegetables, along with carrots, parsnips, salsify, celeriac (celery root), swede (rutabaga), turnip, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichoke and beetroot (red beet). Finally, we mustn’t forget the mouli, or large winter radish, and the varieties of small summer radish, mostly used for salads.

To dice root vegetables

  1. Peel thinly with a potato peeler or sharp knife, if necessary.
  2. Cut in half lengthways.
  3. Hold between your thumb and middle finger and cut into strips.
  4. Turn the vegetable, still holding it firmly, and cut at right angles to the first cuts. For large dice, make the cuts wide apart. For smaller dice, make them closer together.

To prepare and boil root vegetables

  1. Peel, thinly, with a potato peeler or sharp vegetable knife, or scrape or scrub, as necessary. To cook beetroot (red beet), wash, then boil whole, without peeling or removing the top or the root. This will prevent them from ‘bleeding’ into the water.
  2. Cut into even-sized pieces (large chunks for potatoes, slices or sticks for carrots, chunky wedges for parsnips, for instance). Leave baby new potatoes or carrots whole.
  3. Place in a pan with just enough cold water to cover and add a very little salt.
  4. Cover with a lid and bring up to the boil over a high heat. When bubbling, turn the heat down to moderate and let the vegetables boil gently until they feel tender when a knife is inserted in them. This could be 5 –15 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces and the type of vegetable, so test at intervals.
  5. Tip into a colander in the sink to drain. (If you want the cooking water for making gravy then put the colander over a mixing bowl).

To make chips (fries) or sauté potatoes

  1. Wash or scrub the potatoes (leave the skins on – they add extra texture and fibre). Cut each one into thick slices, then cut the slices into strips to make chips or into cubes. Wrap in a clean tea towel (dish cloth) to dry.
  2. Pour about 2.5 cm/1 in oil into a frying pan and heat until your hand feels hot when held 5 cm/2 in above the surface. If you have a deep-fat fryer, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Use a fish slice to slide the chips or diced potatoes down into the pan and allow to fry until golden, gently turning them occasionally. Drain on kitchen paper (paper towels).

To prepare and cook scalloped potatoes

  1. Wash or scrub the potatoes (don’t peel unless you want to). Cut into thin slices. Wrap in a clean tea towel (dish cloth) to dry.
  2. Heat the oil as for chips (fries) or sauté potatoes (above). Slide in the potato slices and cook until golden brown, turning once if necessary. Drain on kitchen paper (paper towels).

To prepare and cook mashed root vegetables

  1. Prepare and boil as above, then drain and return to the saucepan.
  2. Mash well, with a fork or potato masher, adding a knob of butter or margarine, some salt and pepper and a little milk.
  3. Once mashed, give the mixture a good beat with a potato masher or a wooden spoon to make it smooth and fluffy.

To prepare and cook creamed potatoes

  1. Prepare and cook as for mashed root vegetables but use single (light) cream instead of milk.
  2. An egg yolk can also be beaten in to enrich the vegetable.

To prepare and roast root vegetables

  1. Prepare as for boiling but boil for 3 minutes only. Drain.
  2. For potatoes, put a lid on the pan and shake vigorously to roughen the surface.
  3. Heat just enough oil to cover the base of a roasting tin (pan). When sizzling, add the vegetables. Turn to coat in the hot oil.
  4. Roast near the top of a preheated oven at 190°C/375°F/gas 5 for about 1 hour, turning once or twice, until golden brown and cooked through.

To prepare and cook jacket-baked potatoes in the oven

  1. Choose large, even-sized potatoes. Scrub, then prick the skins all over with a fork.
  2. Rub the skin with oil and salt, if liked.
  3. Place on a baking (cookie) sheet or directly on the middle oven shelf and cook in a preheated oven at 180°C/350°F/gas 4 for about 11⁄2 hours until really tender when squeezed. The time and oven temperature are not vital: cook for longer in a slow oven for longer or more quickly in a faster one. However, the flavour is best when cooked slowly.

To prepare and cook jacket-baked potatoes in the microwave

  1. Scrub, prick with a fork and wrap each one in kitchen paper (paper towels).
  2. Microwave on High (100 per cent power) for about 4 minutes per potato, depending on size and the output of your microwave (check manufacturer’s instructions).
  3. Top with your favourite topping: minted yoghurt with chopped cucumber; soured (dairy sour) cream and snipped fresh chives or chopped spring onion (scallion); baked beans and grated cheese; tuna, sweetcorn and mayonnaise; prawns in mayonnaise with a spoonful of tomato purée;  cream cheese; cottage cheese; crisp, crumbled bacon, chopped tomato and mayonnaise; grated Mozzarella cheese, chopped sun-dried tomatoes and olives.