Season of Root Vegetables


Oh, this really is a tough time of the year for many , the month of reckoning after the Christmas splurge and all for what…. Can we even remember what we spent a lot of our hard-earned cash on or the presents we got….?
It’s an especially good time of the year to get creative in the kitchen, using inexpensive but deliciously satisfying ingredients in response to the cost-of-living crisis that’s spooking us all…
So back to basics… What’s in season at present, well of course the citrus fruits are at their very best but let’s think veg…
Once upon a time, root vegetables were our winter staples, they stored well at a time of the year when fresh fruit and vegetables were not so readily available.
Does anyone make a Root Pit anymore?
I remember when I was little, beetroot, carrots and Bramley apples were carefully stored for Winter in the garden in straw lined pits, covered with soil, a traditional way of preserving vegetables.
When I visited Faviken, the legendary 3 Star Michelin restaurant in Northern Sweden in the late 1990’s, Magnus Nielsen proudly showed me his root store beside the restaurant.
Well, one way or the other,  a wide range of root vegetables are now available in our shops and supermarkets. Try not to buy washed vegetables, they have less flavour and quite possibly,  less nutrients due to leaching as a result of the industrial washing process.
Think swede turnips, parsnips, celeriac, beetroot, black radishes, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes… Of course, carrots are also a root vegetable but many of the carrots available at present are imported, partly because it’s becoming virtually impossible for Irish vegetable growers to stay in business because they’re not paid nearly enough to cover the cost of production…
We’re all losers in this race to the bottom. If this continues and sadly, I don’t see much reason to expect change any time soon there will be virtually no Irish vegetable grower left within a couple of years…
Seek out fresh produce from local producers.  Small local shops and farmers’ markets are the best place to source this kind of produce, packed with the vitamins and minerals we need to get us healthily throughout these winter months.
Back in the kitchen, spices and fresh herbs are your friend to perk up root vegetables but don’t just think savoury. Virtually all the roots  can be incorporated into sweet dishes too and are also brilliant to spin out a little meat or to bulk up a stew or casserole.
The other advantage of root vegetables is their keeping qualities, you can use half a Swede turnip and use the remainder a week later.
Best to store roots in a cool dark place and they don’t need to be in the fridge, a covered box in the garage is fine.
 So here are a few suggestions for delicious rooty recipes, both sweet and savoury.  I particularly loved a pot of Bodice and Roots that I made recently with a sheet of bacon spareribs from my local butcher that cost just €7 and made a fine supper for eight of us.
If you are in Cork city, go along to the butchers in the English market,  particularly Kathleen Noone’s & O’Reilly’s Stall to find a whole selection of less expensive traditional cuts of pork and bacon. skirts and kidneys, pig’s tails, tripe and drisheen,  fresh and salted ribs…. The latter are endearingly known as bodice in Cork… all are delicious with root vegetables even if it’s just a big bowl of carrots and parsnip mash with a blob of good butter melting into the centre….

Mary Jo’s Bodice with Root Vegetables

This recipe makes a great big comforting, tasty pot that will feed the entire family for a few Euros.

Serves 8

1 bodice (bacon ribs), cut in 8 pieces

1 medium onion, 150g (5oz) approx.., cut into 8 wedges

300g (10oz) carrots, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) chunks

300g (10oz) parsnips, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) chunks

3/4 Swede turnip, cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) chunks

a  sprig fresh thyme, bay leaf and 2-3

parsley stalks

10-12 peppercorns

4-6 potatoes, peeled and cut in half 

1 small or 1/2 medium cabbage, sliced


2-3 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley

Cover the bodice in cold water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer

for 30-45 minutes before adding the onion, carrots, parsnips, swede turnip, sprig of thyme, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns.

Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for a further 30 – 45 minutes,  then add the halved  potatoes. Continue to cook for a further 10 mins, add the cabbage and cook until fully tender.  It should be soupy.  Remove the sprig of thyme, parsley stalks and bay leaf.

Taste , correct the seasoning (it may need more salt depending on how salty the ribs are).  Scatter with lots of coarsely chopped parsley and serve with lots of butter and mustard… 

Venison and Jerusalem Artichoke Stew with Gremolata

There is lots of delicious venison around at present but a shoulder of lamb or goat (if you can get it) also works excellently in this recipe.

Serves 6

900g (2lbs) potatoes, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

250g (9oz) onions, sliced or roughly chopped

250g (9oz) leeks, sliced

3 cloves garlic

500g (18oz) artichokes, peeled and sliced crossways into 1cm (1/2 inch)

500g (18oz) carrots, peeled and sliced crossways into 1cm (1/2 inch)

1 teaspoon salt

900g (2lbs) venison or lamb shoulder cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes

1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) venison, lamb or chicken stock

1 sprig of thyme

To Serve

Gremolata (see recipe)

Season 900g (2lbs) potato cubes well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion and crushed garlic, toss and add the carrots and Jerusalem artichokes.  Stir and cook for 4-5 minutes until just beginning to colour at the edges.  Transfer to a casserole.  Add the venison or lamb and toss in batches over a high heat.  Add to the casserole with the stock and the sprigs of thyme and rosemary.  Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the diced potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and continue to cook for 15-30 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are cooked (lamb cooks faster than venison). Remove the thyme and parsley.  Taste and correct the seasoning and sprinkle with gremolata or just chopped parsley. 


Gremolata is a fresh tasting mix of chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest. We use it to sprinkle over roast or braised meats, pastas or anything pan-grilled – delicious!

4 tablespoons preferably flat parsley, chopped

1 generous teaspoon grated or finely chopped lemon zest

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and use soon.

Swede Turnips with Caramelised Onions

Best in Winter and early Spring, a little frost sweetens the flesh.  Swede turnips are so versatile, brilliant value and take on lots of flavours.  The caramelised onions add a whole new dimension to the mashed swedes here.  Lots of freshly grated Parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil is another option. 

Serves 6 approximately.

900g (2lbs) swede turnips

salt and lots of freshly ground pepper

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

Caramelised Onions (see recipe)


finely chopped parsley

Peel the turnip thickly in order to remove the thick outside skin.  Cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes approx.  Put into a high sided saucepan.  Cover with water.  Add a good pinch of salt, bring to the boil and cook until soft – this can take between 45-60 minutes.  Strain off the excess water, mash the turnips well and beat in the butter.  Taste and season with lots of freshly ground pepper and more salt if necessary. Garnish with parsley, sprinkle with caramelised onions and serve piping hot.

Caramelised Onions

These keep for ages and are also a brilliant condiment to have in the fridge for another time.

450g (1lb) onions, thinly sliced

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan. Toss in the onions and cook uncovered over a low heat, scraping the base of the saucepan regularly with a wooden spoon for whatever length of time it takes for them to soften and caramelize to a rich golden brown, 30-45 minutes approx.

Roast Winter Vegetables

This gratin tastes different every time I make it. A versatile technique that can be vegetarian or vegan with added tofu, or you can include chunks of bacon or spicy sausage. Remember you don’t need all these vegetables, just three or four would be brilliant – gutsy winter herbs really add oomph! Substitute 1 teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and maybe some smoked paprika for the herbs if desired.

This gratin tastes different every time I make it. A versatile technique that can be vegetarian or vegan with added tofu, or you can include chunks of bacon or spicy sausage. Remember you don’t need all these vegetables, just three or four would be brilliant – gutsy winter herbs really add oomph! Substitute 1 teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and maybe some smoked paprika for the herbs if desired.

Serves 8

2kg (4 1/2lbs) winter vegetables of your choice from:

carrots, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces

parsnips, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces

pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces

Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces

red or white onion, peeled and cut into wedges of quarters or sixths, depending on size

leeks, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) rounds

beetroot, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces

celeriac, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces

8 garlic cloves, unpeeled

extra virgin olive oil

1-2 tablespoons rosemary and/or thyme, freshly chopped

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Toss the prepared vegetables into the gratin dish, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with freshly chopped herbs. Toss well so each chunk is lightly coated. Roast for 30-40 minutes, tossing occasionally, or until the vegetables are fully cooked and starting to caramelize at the edges. Serve immediately.

Tuck in as soon as the roast vegetables come out of the oven, if they sit around in or out of the oven, they’ll quickly go soggy and you may wonder why you bothered.

Carrot and Cardamom Cake

Light, tender and delicious, this carrot cake is perfect for afternoon tea, but has also been much enjoyed for dessert. It will also keep really well for a week or more in an airtight container.

Serves 8–10

50ml (2fl oz) vegetable or sunflower oil, plus extra for brushing

150g (5oz) plain flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

pinch of salt

2 large organic eggs

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

55g (2 1/4oz) soft brown sugar

50ml (2fl oz) natural yogurt

175g (6oz) carrots, finely grated

10g (scant 1/2oz) pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped

fresh mint leaves

For the icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Brush a 20.5cm (8 inch) round springform cake tin with oil and pop a round of baking parchment in the base.

Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cardamom and salt into a bowl. Whisk the eggs, sugars, yogurt and oil together until smooth. Gently mix the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, add the carrots and pour the mixture into the tin. Bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely while you make the icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, add enough strained lemon juice to make a thickish icing. Pour onto the top of the cold cake. Spread quickly with a palette knife so it begins to dribble down over the sides of the cake. Sprinkle the surface with coarsely chopped pistachio nuts and decorate with fresh mint leaves if available.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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