26 June, 2014

Scorzonera. Such a strange name for a vegetable. Of course I had to grow it!

I came across this seed in a seed catalogue and bought it purely for its name. Yes, I am that shallow.

Scorzonera, and its close relation salsify, is an old root vegetable which time has almost forgotten. But luckily gardeners have not. It is closely related to dandelion, and as such has a long tapering root, not unlike a carrot or thin parsnip, which like those other roots is rather tasty.

I have only been qualified to make that statement as of this evening, when I ate my first ever scorzonera crop.

It was not a particularly large crop.

These plants have been growing in my garden for around 18 months. No they do not usually take that long to produce, but I've just been lazy with harvesting. I simply didn't get around to harvesting them yet.

If any good has come from my laziness, it is learning that scorzonera can be left untended with no ill effects. 

This is the entirity of the harvest.

At their thickest the roots had a two centimeter diameter. But they were quite long and needed the long tined garden fork to make sure I got all the roots out.

Where the roots broke, you can begin to see the amazing white flesh, which you would never expect from such a dark skinned veg.

Also amazing was the creamy ooze that seeped from the cut. 

Inside and with a bit of a clean up the culinary potential was beginning to show.

Peeling was quite fascinating as the white flesh contrasted with the knobbly black exterior.

All the peeled and chopped roots went into lemon juice tinted water, as these roots oxidise and go brown quite quickly otherwise.

I decided to follow the only cooking example of scorzonera I've ever seen, which was to make a gratin a la HFW in the River Cottage 'Winter's on the Way' DVD. The scorzonera batons were poached in water with a little verjuice (the original did wine but I wasn't going to open a bottle just for this recipe), bay, salt and pepper until just cooked. The drained scorzonera went into a casserole dish, then a little cream was added to the cooking liquid and it was boiled until reduced and then thickened with a little cornflour to make a sauce which went on the scorzonera. This charmingly creamy, starchy concoction was then topped with breadcrumbs (panko in my case) and a little grated cheese (Holy Goat hard cheese), then baked to a golden, crunchy top.

(Sorry there are no pictures of the finished dish, but at the dinner hour I lack both the good light required for photography, and the patience to photograph my dinner before I eat.)

Flavour wise it was good. It tasted a little like a mildly flavoured celeriac, with a softer texture more like a parsnip than a carrot. I reckon it would do well in a mash, or with other roots in a roast. But I can't in all honesty wax lyrical about it's flavour; it was neither amazingly complex or fabulously delicious (if it were either I'm sure it would have remained part of the culinary landscape). But it was really nice, and interesting enough for me to want to grow again.

And I love it just for those reasons. And for being something I can't buy in a supermarket. Which (to me) is one of the best things about growing your own.

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