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02.18.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by Ari LeVaux
Miracle Whip: Root mayonnaise is wacky. How wacky? It has no eggs but it's a delicious spreadable treat.

Winter Creams

What's a bored locavore to do while waiting for asparagus and peas? Ari LeVaux has the answer: get creative with tubers.

By Ari LeVaux


Anyone can eat locally grown foods in summer, when the farmers market is the most happening social scene in town, edible weeds are sprouting in even the most neglected gardens, restaurant menus are boasting their local ingredient and your neighbors are dumping wheelbarrows of extra zucchinis on your doorstep. During the colder months, though local options are much more limited and often boring. The dreg days of winter can be enough to make an aspiring locavore throw in the napkin, but it's also an opportunity to step up to the plate.

Indeed, the most telling test of your locavoric skills is what you eat in winter. If you did your summertime homework, then you probably have all kinds of yummy morsels squirreled away in jars, in the freezer, in the pantry, maybe even in a hole in the ground. But if you didn't have the opportunity to put away a stash last summer and now have to rely on store-bought food--but stubbornly still want to eat locally--then you're more or less stuck with roots and tubers.

There must be some people who, in the heat of summer, pine for baked squash, mashed potatoes and other such hearty winter foods. But most of us eventually tire of the common presentations of storage crops. That's where roasted root mayonnaise comes in.

Roasted root mayonnaise is a balm for the locavore's wintertime blues. Like a warm ointment rubbed on cold and cracked skin, the many forms of this cream of the earth will rejuvenate your wintertime diet.

The most common ingredients in roasted root mayo are carrot, rutabaga, turnip, celery root (celeriac), garlic and parsnip. There are many different ways you can make it, and I'm going to start by explaining the basic concept. Then I'll give a recipe for one of my favorite versions.

Start by washing and trimming your roots, then cut them into cubes. Toss these cube roots in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You can also add the herbs of your choice: rosemary, marjoram, basil, thyme, oregano and lavender are good options.

Bake your roots at 300 degrees, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes, until they're lightly browned.

This tray of roasted roots can serve as a finished dish all by itself. Any of the above-mentioned roots, plus potatoes (which aren't part of roasted root mayo) can be tossed together, roasted and served this way. The only difference is that if you plan to serve roasted roots as a stand-alone, you might want to cook them a little longer to give them more of a crisp.

But if it's roasted root mayonnaise you're after, wait until they cool, put some oil in a blender, and add the roots, a few at a time, blending until smooth. If it gets too thick, add more oil. Chopped raw garlic can be added at this point as well, as can herbs of your choice. When your roasted roots are blended to a smooth consistency and seasoned to your taste, you're done.

Garlic doesn't have to be added raw to the blender; it can also be roasted with the roots, which makes it sweeter and milder. Also, although I didn't mention beets in the above list, they can be used as well. Just beware: they'll take over the dish in both color and flavor.

Many combinations of roots and herbs will yield tasty and beautiful versions of roasted root mayonnaise. One of my favorites is two parts carrot, one part rutabaga and one part turnip. The carrot adds sweetness, and the rutabaga and turnip contribute bitterness and spiciness. I roast the roots as described above, with oil, salt and pepper but no herbs. I add oregano and fresh garlic in the blender.

Spread it on bread, dip chips in it or scoop a dollop on your plate beside the main event--perhaps after baking again to put on an oven crisp.

So if winter has frozen your local food ambitions, try dabbling in roasted root mayo to pass the cold, dark days. Each combination has its own flavor and color, and each is a unique reflection of the earth it came from. And soon enough, that earth will begin warming toward another summer.


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