Salsifis and the Masochist Shopper

mas’och•is’tic adj. – A willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences…

Who gave me the bright idea to wake up at 7 am and go to an open air market every Wednesday in the middle of winter in Belgium; endure a wind storm with pouring rain and get a bunch of black roots called “salsifis“?

This morning it was really nasty, the wind was so strong, rain entered my clothes from every angle. I got home and I was soaked! On top of it, my loyal husband François, who carries my bags and helps me every Wednesday, had put on his new Italian suede shoes and was in a terrible mood as rain was going to “ruin” them… who buys suede shoes for Belgium… hellooo? It rains here!

BUT… If somehow, with this blog, I inspire you (and myself) to eat real unprocessed food, seasonal vegetables and roots, have more fun in the kitchen, experiment with new ingredients and techniques, then: it was all worth it. The idea is not to give you precise recipes to follow but rather to inspire you to use ingredients differently and allow you to do your own food your way with a few ideas you picked up from me.

OK, back to the market. We actually started by going to a french bakery for breakfast on the rue Sainte Catherine right by the square. There you can sit at a counter from which, through a giant glass, you have the full view of the bakers making the dough, shaping it and baking it in giant ovens. Gorgeous! After warming ourselves up, we headed for the Place.

My friends at Bio Champ d’ail were there and were kind enough to put together another “panier de douze” for me. She asked if I wanted some “salsifis“. How could I refuse a vegetable that looks like black sticks? “Bien sûr, merci!”

At the cheese stand, remembering they had started milking the sheep again, I bought a nice fresh sheep’s milk cheese with herbs and some sheep’s milk ricotta. From them I also bought a beautiful chicken and some fresh farm eggs.

On the rue Sainte Catherine where we parked, I discovered a fantastic Thaï Supermarket and bought giant tiger prawns, galangal root, banana leaves, thaï basil, kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass… yum.

I came home and ran upstairs to go on the internet. Everyone here knows what salsifis is of course… and though I have seen it at the market before, I have never bought it, I never served it in my restaurant nor have I seen it on a menu in my favorite restaurants in New York. I can hear my sister say “you NEVER had salsifis”? I use all the time! But of course!

OK, here it goes: Salsifis in english Salsify or Scorzanera is refered to as the Oyster root (Oyster?), Asparagus or Artichoke root due to its pleasant sweetness and the fact that it is in fact part of the artichoke family.  Rich in fibers it is called the “intestinal sweeper”, nice! Very digestible and delicious with white meats. Packed with potassium, calcium, vitamins E, C and B, it is full of antioxidants.

Ha! Not bad. This might have to be one of those vegetables I use everywhere!

Here is my weekly vegetable list:
Endives
Salade de Blé (similar to a larger mâche)
Mushrooms
Chinese cabbage
Carrots
Salsifis
Potatoes – do you want “fermes” or “farineuses” ? she asked… “Farineuses!” I replied
= firm or floury?… No one had asked me that before.

Fewer items than the first time but more of everything.

Here is what I am thinking…
“Risotto with Salsify and Pecorino fondue with lemon zest”
and 
“Marinated Tiger Prawns  in Banana Leaves on a bed of mashed carrots & potatoes with coconut milk” with a side of “Chinese cabbage with mushrooms & ginger”

Risotto is simple if you understand a few basic rules and don’t skip any of the steps below. As for the rest, you can add whatever you most love:

1)  You need 3 cups of liquid for every cup of rice (which yields 2 cups of risotto) and very important: your liquid has to be boiling or very hot so it does not constantly stop the rice from cooking.
2) You have to “toast” the rice for 2 minutes to seal it. In essence when you first add the rice to your hot olive oil, let it cook with no liquid for 2 minutes moving it around twice.
3) Add 1 or 2 ladles of liquid at a time and allow the rice to absorb most of it before adding more.
4) Cook your ingredients separately (mushrooms, vegetables, whatever) and add them to the risotto halfway through the cooking of the rice.
5) When the risotto is ready, remove from heat, add 1 more ladle of liquid and some cheese and either 1 tbs of olive oil or butter and stir well to get the “creamy” consistency you want. Do not allow the risotto to be “dry”, if it is, add a bit more liquid.

And here is the recipe for the “Risotto con Scorzanera e Fonduta” which I made for lunch today.

Before doing anything with the rice or Salsify, I started a little vegetable broth for the risotto. I figured by the time I was done peeling and chopping the broth would be well-flavored.
Simply add 1 carrot, 1  onion, some parsley, a parsley root and some sage to a pot of cold water. (Add whatever vegetable you have). I also added the juice of 1 lemon. Cover and bring it to a boil and then lower to a medium flame and keep it going. Note: I did not add salt to the broth to avoid over salting.

Then I prepared the ingredients for the Risotto.

I wanted to contrast the Salsify with a nice creamy cheese fondue so I grated a young Sheep’s milk cheese and some parmigiano.
Chopped some shallots, used the zest of 1 lemon and chopped some parsley.

Next I prepared the Salsify. For this you need to prepare a water bath with lemon to put your salsify in as you peel them as, just like their relatives the artichokes, they will oxidize quickly. When you remove their peel, they reveal a gorgeous milky white color and a sort of “sap” comes out (very sticky on the hands). Cut them in rounds and drop in the lemon water.

In a sauté pan, add 1 tbs olive oil and half of the shallots a pinch of salt and slowly soften the shallots then add the drained salsify. cook slowly for a good 10 minutes. (you can add some of the broth to speed the cooking time)

In your risotto pot, add another tbs of olive oil and the rest of the shallots and a bit of salt. Again melt the shallots slowly. Then add the rice, (I used 1 and half cups as I wanted 3 servings – 1 cup = 2 servings) toast it for a couple of minutes and add half a glass of white wine of champagne or whatever you have open. Stir and add 2 ladles of broth and start the process of making your risotto. Halfway through, add the salsify and continue cooking.

Once done, I removed it from the heat and added the cheese (about 100 grams total), 1 ladle of broth and 1 tbs of olive oil and stirred until a nice even cream was covering the rice evenly. Taste for salt and if necessary adjust. Do not add salt before adding the cheese and tasting it as the cheese will add a lot salt.

I used the “Salade de Blé” (Mâche) to garnish my plate but also to cleanse the palate and put a little salt and olive oil on it. Placed the rice in the middle and topped it with lemon zest (to contrast the cheese) and a sprinkle of parsley and fresh ground pepper.

The texture: creamy and dreamy.
The flavor: a very subtle artichoke heart with a really nice sweetness.

Tomorrow night I will cook the prawns in banana leaves and report back.
Until then, eat well!
Catherine @ Sainte Catherine

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Vicky Elabd says:

    This looks beautiful!! I love risotto, but have never tried to make it myself. Now I a inspired to, even if i can’t find salsify! Thanks and hugs from sunny Saudi! :+)

  2. Elisabeth says:

    Yummy, and yes, salsify is standard fare here and apparently related to dandelions… And no, I will not say you never had them, say what? I remember having them at school as a kid, but always in a creamy sauce.

  3. Kim Vincent says:

    Bravo ! Glad you made it back safely. I also was intimidated by salsifis but no more. If it’s not stringy, I’m in !

  4. swimturtle says:

    Wow! Non ho mai cucinato salsifis personalmente and I only had it in sauces, never like a vegetable in its own right. Corro subito a comprarlo, che il risotto is one thing the kids and I agree on unanimously!

    Tanti baci and I love your blog!!!

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