Root vegetables Chairoscuro

This time of year, parsnips are your friends. They are sitting patiently out in the garden waiting for you to get to them, never demanding any special attention or winter storage. During hot weather they weren’t worth eating and you tended to forget about them, but while you were catering to the flighty tomatoes and peppers, they were biding their time. When the needier vegetables gave in to the frosts, they started to convert their stored starches to sugars. Now, whenever you can pry them out of the cold ground, they’re ready to meet you halfway with a sweet flavor that repays your labor. I love them roasted, but for whatever reason I’m not big on white vegetables, and I started looking for something to relieve their snowy monotony. Finally I settled on their visual opposite, the deep purple carrots that become almost black when roasted, to create a dish with a little drama.
Clean two big parsnips and cut them into chunks no more than an inch on any side. Thoroughly scrub 3 large purple carrots and cut them into chunks somewhat smaller than the parsnips. Combine a quarter cup of good olive oil, a few tablespoons of white wine, half a teaspoon of salt or to taste, and two cloves of chopped garlic. Now this part is important: Put the carrots and the parsnips in two separate bowls and toss each with half the olive oil mixture. Don’t toss them together, because the carrots will “bleed” and stain the parsnips an unattractive magenta in places. If you are using regular orange carrots, separation doesn’t matter. Put the pieces in a cazuela big enough to hold them in one layer, or use a 9X13 heavy pan lined with parchment paper. Roast at 325. Don’t toss them around during roasting, because of the staining problem from the anthocyanins in purple carrots. The timing will vary a lot depending on the tender/tough ratio of the roots and on your personal taste. I like winter root vegetables roasted until they are soft and well caramelized, and it usually takes close to 2 hours at this low heat. If you like yours with some crunch you can stop cooking them sooner, but taste them before turning the oven off. These are not the tender roots of summer, they’re big meaty winter roots, and you may not like the amount of crunch they retain. If necessary, cook longer. Sprinkle a little bit of minced parsley over the top. If you want to be sure they’re done in time for dinner, cook them a little earlier in the day and leave them slightly underdone, then return to the oven for a final 20 minutes before dinner.

A big serving of these “white and black” roots on a red plate makes a great main course with a little piece of something meaty in the center. A few thighs of good pastured chicken seasoned with thyme, garlic, and olive oil can be roasted in the same oven for the last hour or so of cooking and will accent the roots nicely without overwhelming their flavors.

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