Friday, February 18, 2011

Dancing to a Turkish Beet: Beet and Carrot Tzatziki

It's almost March. Well, okay, it's almost late February. In Portsmouth, the chickadees, cardinals, and bluebirds are singing their spring songs. But both there and in Boston, there's still lots of snow on the ground. And it's not that pretty fluffy, white stuff. No, this snow is hard as cement and grey as the sky is all too frequently these days. All this leaves me yearning for colorful, wild, tasty ways to use some of the vegetables from our Heron Pond Winter CSA.

I'd roasted some beets over the weekend to use in a salad with winter greens, walnuts, and Maytag blue cheese. There were leftover beets, but alas, no walnuts, greens, or Maytag blue. And as dinner itself was leftovers -- Paula Wolfert's Lazy Lady Bulgar Pilaf, with lamb, pistachios, and walnuts, (the last of the walnuts, mind you) -- I wanted something that would add both some color and a fresh taste to the meal.

The night before, I'd served the pilaf with a cucumber tzatziki, so I guess I was thinking in that vein when I remembered that Ana Sortun, owner and chief chef of Oleana, one of my favorite restaurants in the greater Boston area, has a recipe for a tzatziki made from beets in her cookbook, Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean. After a quick perusal of the fridge, I determined I not only had everything I needed to make that recipe, but some CSA carrots as well.

Is there such a thing as a beet and carrot tzatziki?
The quick answer is yes, indeed. I used it as a dressing of sorts for a salad of the remaining roasted beets. It was quite delicious, if decidedly neon. Kind of like a gorgeous late February sunset over Sagamore Creek!

Beet Salad with Beet and Carrot Tzatziki
Adapted from Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, by Ana Sortun

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups hole milk yogurt or sheep's milk yogurt (I used NH's own Brookford Farm non-fat yogurt, which I drained for 10 minutes.)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
2 to 3 smallish raw carrots, peeled and grated
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked shredded beets -- about two large or 4-5 golf ball size beets
1 large beet, sliced (See Note)
Feta cheese, crumbled

NOTE: For those who want a more subtle color, Sortun recommends chioggia (pink) or golden beets.
Beets can be boiled or roasted, but I'm partial to the latter. I cut off tops and tips, wrap in tin foil, and season with salt, thyme, -- if I have it on hand -- and olive oil. Put the beets in a 350-400 oven and roast until fork tender. They're relatively easy to peel once cooked, thought the red ones will stain your hands.

1. Combine the lemon juice, garlic and salt in a bowl and let stand 10 minutes. (Sortun says this takes some of the heat out of the garlic.) Stir in the yogurt, olive oil, and pepper. Fold in the beets, carrots, and dill and re-season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Root of Comfort: Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

Is there anyone who doesn't love walking into a home where a chicken is roasting the oven? Okay, it may not be the aroma of choice for a vegetarian or vegan, but for me it's a promise of comfort and goodness. Ironically, that's not because this is a smell that takes me back to dinners in my childhood. I grew up loving my mother's oven-fried chicken and being rather ambivalent about the stewed chicken that was something of a Sunday staple at my grandmother's house. No, roast chicken is an addiction of my adulthood.

It's a kind of freedom, really. Because I'm not bound to a "but that's the way my mother did it" recipe, I'm open to any interesting technique or combination of ingredients. For a couple of years now, Judy Rodgers "Zuni Roast Chicken", with her salt-and-season ahead approach, has been my standby, even if the chicken is destined to be rotisseried on the grill, instead of roasted in the oven. Then the other day, I was thumbing through the copy of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home that I'd given to my brother-in-law Dave for Christmas. (Is it unseemly to give someone else a cookbook you're dying to have? I certainly hope not!) There was a recipe for roasting a chicken on a bed of root vegetables.

Since we'd just picked up our Heron Pond winter CSA, we certainly had root vegetables. We also had one of  New Roots Farm's pasture-raised chickens in the freezer, which would easily defrost over night. (Luckily the Ad Hoc chicken does not need to be salted ahead of time. In fact, Keller recommends leaving the chicken uncovered in the refrigerator for at least a day -- it dries out the skin, which helps it crisp up nicely during roasting. Another secret Keller swears by: letting the chicken sit at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours before roasting.)
While it takes a little time to cut up all the vegetables, this really is a relatively easy dish to make. (We made it a little more difficult because we flipped the chicken to make sure the skin got brown and crispy on all sides.) The smell of the roasting chicken and vegetables was truly divine. Plus the way the vegetables infuse the chicken with their flavor -- and the chicken infuses the vegetables with its juices -- makes the entire dish a satisfying treat. And the warmed up leftovers the next day? Remarkable!

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables
from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home

One 4 to 4 1/2 lb chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
6 thyme sprigs
2 large leeks
3 tennis-ball-sized rutabagas
2 tennis-ball-sized turnips
4 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut in half
1 small yellow onion, trimmed, leaving root end intact, and cut into quarters
8 small (golf-ball-sized) red-skinned potatoes
1/3 cup canola oil
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

2. Preheat the oven to 475 F.

3. Remove the neck and innards if they are still in the cavity of the chicken. Using a paring knife, cut out the wishbone from the chicken. (This will make it easier to carve the chicken.) Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper, add 3 of the garlic cloves and 5 sprigs of thyme, and massage the inside of the bird to infuse it with the flavors. Truss the chicken.

4. Cut off the dark green leaves from the top of the leeks. Trim off and discard the darkened outer layers. Trim the root ends, cutting around them on a 45-degree angle. Slit the leeks lengthwise almost in half, starting 1/2 inch above the root ends. Rinse the leeks well under warm water.

5. Cut off both ends of the rutabagas. Stand the rutabagas on end and cut away the skin, working from top to bottom and removing any tough outer layers. Cut into 3/4-inch wedges. Repeat with the turnips, cutting the wedges to match the size of the rutabagas.

6. Combine all the vegetables and remaining garlic cloves and thyme sprig in a large bowl. Toss with 1/4 cup of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in a large cast-iron skillet or a roasting pan.

7. Rub the remaining oil over the chicken. Season generously with salt and pepper.

8. Make a nest in the center of the vegetables and nestle the chicken in it.

9. Cut the butter into 4 or 5 pieces and place over the chicken breast.

10. Put the chicken in the oven and roast for 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 F and roast for an additional 45 minutes, or until the temperature registers 160 F in the meatiest portions of the bird--the thighs, and under the breast where the thigh meets the breast--and the juices run clear. If necessary, return the bird to the oven for more roasting; check it every 5 minutes.

11. Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 20 minutes.

12. Just before serving, set the pan of vegetables over medium heat and reheat the vegetables, turning them and glazing them with the pan juices.

13. Cut the chicken into serving pieces, arrange over the vegetables and serve.