Test your recognition of weird vegetables

Every spring, I want readers to know that local farmers, foragers and food producers have returned to Medford and Ashland.

And every spring, I cross my fingers that an unexpected freeze doesn’t wipe out what vendors plan to sell at the year’s first sessions of Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market. Despite a weekend downpour, temperatures should have been kind enough to vegetables still residing in the fields. There should be many more than last year for sale Tuesday at the Ashland Armory and Thursday at the Medford Armory.

Among those will be celeriac, or celery root, featured in last week’s A la Carte. I happen to love this vegetable, still somewhat obscure in the United States. So I hoarded celeriac recipes for more than a year waiting for an opportunity to unload them all in the newspaper’s weekly food section. Of course, we couldn’t have a story without a photo of this strange specimen, which may appeared to some readers like we Photoshopped a few stumpy stalks of celery on top of a bloated, foreshortened parsnip.

As with any new food, don’t judge celeriac — or other market veggies by outward appearance alone. Whether colorful and symmetrical or out-at-elbows, vegetables’ true characters will emerge with some careful cooking. Still, there are plenty that evoke a “what-do-I-do-with-that?” response.

Before heading to market, take this pop veggie quiz, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune. Then try to envision what you’d do with the ones you’ve never cooked. Some tips follow each.

Some undoubtedly will be available at this week’s markets. And no matter how well-versed you think you are, there are a couple in this list that could stump even the most prolific cook or farmer.

 MCT photo

MCT photo

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1. Baby bok choy: Overcook it, and it gets mushy. Instead, blanch 1 minute in boiling salted water; drain. Cook lightly in a bit of oil or butter. Sprinkle, perhaps, with Gruyere cheese.

2. Parsnips: Sweet delicious. Peel, halve large ones, slather with olive oil, then roast 50 minutes in a 375-degree oven.

3. Cauliflower: Plays nice with spices. Plus some vitamin C and fiber. Spread florets in shallow baking pan, top with strips of bacon cut in 2-inch pieces and slow-roast in a hot oven until bacon crisps.

4. Shallots: Like tiny onions, but much milder. Cook a bit of chopped prosciutto in olive oil. Add a layer of whole shallots. Cook until golden. Add splashes of sherry, sherry vinegar, prune juice. Simmer covered until tender. Uncover, reduce to glaze. Serve with roasted meat.

5. Fennel: Lovely, fragrant bulb and fronds. Puree 1⁄4 cup fronds with lots of parsley, some green onions, garlic, olive oil and lemon for a sauce to serve with cold meats, fish. The bulb? Lavish halves with olive oil and roast.

6. Rainbow chard: Vitamin rich, mild-flavored leaves. Cut off the greens, slice ribs thinly crosswise. Steam or saute ribs a minute or two. Add greens. Cook to tender. Stir into a cream sauce or sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

7. Parsley root: Looks like a parsnip but has a crisp parsley taste (naturally). Grate into a potato-based soup seasoned with bay, chopped parsley and shallots.

8. Broccoli rabe (rapini): Beautiful color, bold flavor, rich in vitamins A and K. Trim tough stem ends; cut stems in 1⁄2-inch pieces. Chop leaves; small florets stay whole. Saute sliced garlic cloves to golden in olive oil; remove. Add stems, cook to barely tender. Add greens, cook until tender-crisp. Add garlic, salt, pepper and a red wine-vinegar drizzle.

9. Leek: There’s vitamin A and K plus a lovely, gentle, onion flavor. Cook the root end and a good part of the green leaves. Rub with olive oil and roast 20 minutes or so in a 375-degree oven.

10. Jicama: Low-calorie and crisp substitute for water chestnuts. Stir-fry julienned jicama with carrots and chopped watercress leaves, flavoring with soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and black sesame seeds.

11. Spaghetti squash: Rich in vitamin C and B-6 with mild flavor, spaghetti-like strands are a great foil for many sauces. Bake them whole, punctured to prevent explosions. When tender, halve, remove seeds and scrape out flesh. Toss with cheese and butter or top with a favorite tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese.

12. Turnips: A character foil for potatoes, plus vitamin C. Trim, peel and cut 1⁄2 pound each of turnips, sweet potatoes, parsnips, rutabaga into 1-inch cubes. Toss with olive oil, ground cumin and coriander, plus salt and pepper. Place in a shallow, foil-lined baking pan. Roast at 400 F until tender and browned. Shake vegetables in pan every 15 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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