Continuing our tutored tasting series, we look at the diversity of popular root vegetable varieties.
The delicious earthiness of root vegetables makes them the perfect ingredient in soups, stews and other warming dishes popular at this time of year. In season in Britain in autumn and winter, they are packed with vitamins and minerals - as well as being a tasty addition to any dish.
There are a number of root vegetables widely available at New Covent Garden Market, from the more common carrots, parsnips, beetroot and swede through to the more exotic celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, salsify and parsely roots. Competitively priced when in season, and with a range of colours, flavours and textures, root vegetables are a seasonal must for menus.
Several chefs had the opportunity to try a variety of root vegetables provided by Wild Harvest and discuss their flavour profiles and ideas for dishes at New Covent Garden Market.
Tim Lee from Wild Harvest UK says: "British carrots and winter radishes are at their best this time of year, but we have also imported varieties to add to our extensive range of exotic roots. These may be a bit more pricey but a little goes a long way and we're hoping that more UK growers will give them a go. It has been great to see the innovation of the chefs involved in the tutored tasting - they have provided some fantastic application ideas."
Here Lee guides us through some popular varieties.
Crapaudine (French beetroot)
Properties Its long, tapered roots have rough, dark coloured skin which looks like tree bark, but they are easy to peel.
Usage Very sweet soft flesh when cooked, delicious in salads.
Notes A very old French variety of beetroot. "Crapaudine" refers to the rough skin, coming from the French word for a female toad.
Properties An old variety of carrot, baby purples are short, mauve taproots with a crisp texture.
Usage Baby purples tend to be used in salads for their novelty value. However, they can also be used in soups, stews, grated, boiled, blanched or steamed.
Notes Baby purples contain anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant that can give the carrots a purple hue.
Properties This striking beetroot has pink and white circles to add eye-catching colour to any dish.
Usage Best sliced or grated into salads for deep, earthy sweetness.
Notes Once cooked, it turns a uniform pink
Properties Native to the Mediterranean, it closely resembles a parsnip, but has a pale white colour rather than creamy yellow.
Usage Serve fresh, fried, sautéd, or baked.
Notes Select those that have fresh, dark green leaves and/or firm, plump roots that do not contain blemishes.
Crosnes (Chinese Artichoke)
Properties Small, convoluted, and indented tubers, making them difficult to cook.
Usage The flavour of the tubers is delicate, and they can be prepared similarly to Jerusalem artichokes.
Notes In season from October.
Properties A kind of celery, grown as a root vegetable primarily for its large and bulbous hypocotyl rather than for its stem and leaves.
Usage May be used raw or cooked.
Notes Also known as celery root, turnip-rooted celery or knob celery.
Properties Produces thick, carrot like tap roots.
Usage Popular in French cuisine, most often used in soups and stews.
Notes Sometimes called turnip rooted chervil or tuberous-rooted chervil.
Black long radish
Properties Long, fat and looks like some strange sausage variety. They look a lot worse than they taste.
Usage Can be used in much the same way as a traditional radish.
Notes Extremely popular in French cuisine, it was a common garden variety in England and France during the early 19th century.
What the chefs said
Russell Bateman, head chef, Colettes at the Grove hotel, Hertforshire
"I make a celariac soup with truffle oil, but it is also great roasted, blanched or puréed. It's a versatile vegetable and alongside the soup I serve cubes of celariac caramelised to blackness on one side. The sweet smoky flavour adds another dimension to the dish.
"The chervil root is sweet and earthy with a great texture. It is another versatile vegetable due to its dense texture and high starch content.
"Crapaudine (French beetroot) can be showcased by salt-baking. Simply bake the root in salt held together with egg white and seasoned. Break apart the casing and peel the skin of the crapaudine to reveal the sweet, delicate and almost floral flavour inside.
"Parsley root has a delicate, earthy quality with a slightly bitter flavour, close to celeriac. To look at they are very similar to parsnips but they hold their firm texture better than parsnips when cooked. They have quite a high sugar content and look and taste amazing with some caramelisation. Wonderful pairing with truffle, honey and parmesan.
"The Spanish black long radish looks like a black yam on the outside. It has a slightly spicy taste and a crisp texture and can be pickled or raw. It also works as a crispy palate cleanser".
Colin Layfield, executive head chef, the Paramount restaurant, Centre Point
"Candy beetroot is really good visually, and sweet in flavour. It's great with a bright, vinegar dressing or in salad to show off its vibrant colour & flavour. Who doesn't want to eat pink food?
"Baby carrots are sweet in flavour. Why not try a roasted root vegetable salad using baby carrot and black radish cooked in lemon and harissa dressing with spring onions."
Ben Tish, executive chef, Salt Yard Group (Salt Yard, Dehesa, Opera Tavern)
"The Crosnes (Chinese artichoke) doesn't have a great look and the flavour is slightly metallic.
"I would roast or pan-fry them or use them as a garnish as they are really unusual."
Wild Harvest http://www.wildharvestuk.com" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">www.wildharvestuk.com 020 7498 5397
New Covent Garden Market, London's premier fruit and vegetable wholesale market, provides 40% of the fruit and vegetables eaten in London restaurants.
For more information on the market or to request a guided tour contact 020 7622 6746. For a free copy of the New Covent Garden's monthly Market Report detailing what's in season and for other information visit www.newcoventgardenmarket.com