ArchiveFebruary 6, 2022

Winter Roots (Sweet)

A few days ago, someone asked me, out of the blue, how we managed for homegrown vegetables in Winter – was there anything in season in the garden or greenhouse?  Somehow the perception is that there’s nothing to enjoy during the Winter season – well how about all the wonderful Winter roots – carrots, parsnips, swede’s, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes and beetroots,  they all grow underground and are packed with the vitamins, minerals and trace elements that we need to get us through the Winter…I haven’t even mentioned the greens such as kale, leeks, chard….

Nature always provides what we need in season.  A touch of frost concentrates the sugars and sweetens them further.  Sweet potatoes usually imported although they will grow in Ireland are packed with Vitamin A and beta-carotene.  They are a powerful antioxidant, lots of Vitamin B too and of course lots of fibre as do all the root vegetable.  Fibre is super important to keep our digestive systems functioning and to save us from constipation….

Virtually all the root vegetables can be used in sweet as well as savoury dishes.  Think of your favourite carrot cake, ‘angel hair’ (carrot) jam, then there’s parsnip cake with a cream cheese and maple syrup icing and parsnip crisps – always a surprise.  Grated beetroots make a morish little loaf that disappears in a flash, I even tried a Jerusalem artichoke cake recipe I found recently online.  Sweet potatoes too are all delicious roasted and paired with cinnamon and honey or how about a favourite American Thanksgiving combo sweet potato and marshmallow – now that’ll take a leap of faith but best to keep an open mind – all in the way of research!

This week, I’ve decided to include sweet Winter root recipes but next week, I’ll share some of my favourite savoury root vegetables dishes.  Meanwhile, look out for knobbly Jerusalem artichokes at your local Farmers Market or greengrocers – they are the most exciting Winter vegetable of all, in fact, they deserve a whole column to themselves…

Parsnip and Maple Syrup Cake with Parsnip Crisps

The cutest cake and also delicious with parsnip crisps piled on top.

Serves 8

175g (6oz) butter, plus extra for greasing

110g (4oz) Demerara sugar

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) maple syrup or honey

3 large organic eggs

250g (9oz) self-raising flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons mixed spice

175g (6oz) parsnips, peeled and grated

1 medium eating apple, peeled, cored and grated

50g (2oz) pecans or hazelnuts, roughly chopped

zest of 1 small orange

1 tablespoon orange juice


parsnip crisps

icing sugar, to serve


300g (10oz) cream cheese

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 x 20cm (8 inch) deep sandwich tins buttered and lined with parchment paper

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

Melt the butter, sugar and maple syrup in a pan over a gentle heat, then cool slightly.  Whisk the eggs into the mixture, then stir into the flour, baking powder and mixed spice.   Next add the grated parsnip, apple, chopped pecans, orange zest and freshly squeezed juice.  Divide between the two tins or pour into the loaf tin and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until just starting to shrink from the sides of the tin.

Cool on a wire rack. 

Just before serving, mix the cream cheese and maple syrup together.  Spread over the base of one cake and top with the other.  Alternatively, if making in a loaf tin, spread icing  over the top of the cake to decorate.

Garnish with parsnip crisps.  Dust with icing sugar just before serving.

Parsnip Crisps

Here I pile them onto a cake but we also serve these delicious crisps on warm salads, as a garnish for roast pheasant or guinea fowl and as a topping for Parsnip or root vegetable soup.  Also a welcome school lunch snack.

Delicious crisps may be made from other vegetables apart from the much-loved potato.  Celeriac, beetroot, leek and even carrots are also good.

Serves 6 – 8

1 large parsnip

sunflower oil


Heat good quality oil in a deep fryer to 150°C/300°F.

Notice the lower frying temperature because of the high sugar content in root vegetables. 

Scrub and peel the parsnips.  Either slice into wafer thin rounds or peel off long slivers lengthways with a swivel top peeler.   Allow to dry out on kitchen paper.

Drop a few at a time into the hot oil, they colour and crisp up very quickly.  Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Beetroot and Walnut Cake

This recipe comes all the way from the Sun House in Galle on the south coast of Sri Lanka.  I’ve adapted it slightly for our ingredients (dairy-free).

Serves 10

3 free-range organic eggs

150ml (5fl oz) sunflower oil

25g (1oz) soft brown sugar

150g (5oz) white or spelt flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

100g (3 1/2oz) beetroot, grated

60g (2 1/4oz) sultanas

60g (2 1/4oz) walnuts, coarsely chopped


175g (6oz) icing sugar

zest of 1 lemon

3-4 tablespoons lemon juice to bind

To Decorate

deep-fried beetroot (see end of recipe)

toasted pumpkin seeds

1 loaf tin 13 x 20cm (5 x 8inch)

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

Line a loaf tin with a butter paper or baking parchment. 

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and sugar until smooth.   Sift in the flour and baking powder, add a pinch of salt and gently mix into the egg mixture.  Stir in the grated beetroot, sultanas and walnuts.   Pour into the prepared tin.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack. 

Next, make the icing.

Sieve the icing sugar, add the lemon juice gradually to a stiff but spreadable consistency. Spread evenly over the cake, allow to drizzle down the sides, leave for 5 minutes and scatter with deep-fried beetroot (see below) and pumpkin seeds and a little grated lemon zest.

To Deep-fry Beetroot

Peel the outer skin off the beetroot.  Using a peeler, slice thin rounds off the beetroot.  Allow to dry on kitchen paper for 20 minutes.  Deep-fry until crispy (no higher than 150°C/300°F).  Dry on kitchen paper. 

‘Angel Hair’ Jam

An enchanting name for carrot jam.  Sophie Grigson shared this recipe when she taught a course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 1993.  I’m loving Sophie’s new book ‘A Curious Absence of Chickens: A journal of life, food and recipes from Puglia’.

600g (1 1/4lbs) carrots

500g (18oz) caster sugar

zest of 2 large lemon, cut into strips

freshly squeezed juice of 2 large lemon

6 cardamom pods, split

Trim and scrape the carrots.  Grate on a medium sized grater.  Put into a pan with the sugar, lemon zest and juice and the cardamom pods.  Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then boil hard until the mixture is very thick. 

Place into a warmed, sterilised jar and seal tightly. 

Serve on scones, wee buns or with goat’s cheese.

Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Casserole

Jared Batson, Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni from Chicago shared this recipe from Prairie Grass Café. They piped a meringue mixture on the top of individual ramekins for each guest during Thanksgiving time. They loved it…

Serves 8-10

1.1kg (2 1/2lb) sweet potatoes, washed with skin on (OR use half sweet potatoes and half butternut squash)

2 eggs

75g (3oz) butter (melted)

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

pinch of ground clove

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cups miniature marshmallows

25g (1oz) pecans, roughly chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6.

20.5cm x 20.5cm (8 x 8 inch) baking dish

Pierce the skins of the sweet potatoes with a fork. Bake sweet potatoes (whole) (and squash flesh side down if using) on a baking tray with parchment paper for 45-60 minutes or until a small knife easily pierces through the flesh without resistance. Cooking time will depend on the size of the potatoes.

Meanwhile, lower the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Allow the potatoes to cool to room temperature. Scoop out the flesh of the potatoes being careful not to include any parts of the skins. Pass through a mouli and whip in the beaten eggs, melted butter, sugar and spices. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish. Top with the marshmallows and then with chopped pecans if desired. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the top is golden-brown and the mixture is nice and hot. Serve immediately.

Jerusalem Artichoke Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

This cake keeps really well.  The crisps softened but it was still moist and delicious almost a week after it was made.  One could of course omit the Jerusalem artichokes crisps but they’re delicious when the cake is freshly made. 

Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons brandy

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) sultanas

80g (3 1/4oz) hazelnuts

200g (7oz) Jerusalem artichokes – scrubbed & peeled

150g (5oz) unsalted butter

150g (5oz) light Muscovado sugar

3 large eggs

200g (7oz) plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

large pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

good grating of nutmeg – about 1/2 teaspoon

50g (2oz) milk chocolate drops – 36% cocoa

3 tablespoons milk

Cream Cheese Icing

180g (6 1/4oz) cream cheese

40g (1 1/2oz) light Muscovado sugar

freshly squeezed juice of 1 organic lemon

2 teaspoons chopped rosemary, optional


Jerusalem Artichoke Crisps (see recipe)

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) round spring-form tin

Line the tin on the base and sides with parchment paper.

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

Soak the sultanas in the brandy in covered bowl for at least one hour, but better still overnight.

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan for a few minutes until the nuts brown a little and the skins loosen.  Allow to cool, rub the nuts in a piece of kitchen towel to remove the skins then roughly chop.

Grate the Jerusalem artichokes.

Cream the soft butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy, add in the plumped-up sultanas.  Beat in the eggs, one by one, alternating with a little of the flour.  Sieve in the remainder of the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and spices, stir gently into the mixture, add the nuts and chocolate then fold in the artichokes.  Add 2 tablespoons of milk to make a dropping consistency.  Spoon the mixture into the lined cake tin.  Bake for 50 minutes approx. until well risen.  A skewer inserted into the cake will come out almost clean when cooked.

Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Icing

Whip the cream cheese and sugar together.  Grate in the lemon zest and nearly half of the freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Add the chopped rosemary, stir and beat it all together then slather over the top of the cooled cake.

Decorate with artichoke crisps (see recipe) and sprigs of rosemary. 


Past Letters