Root Vegetable Tagine with Parmesan Polenta

As the cool {and today, downright cold!} air signals a new season, we've begrudingly put up the picnic provisions, storing them away until next year. It's time to stock the woodpile and pull out the heavy-bottomed casserole pots. Fall abruptly tugs us away from the abundance of summer and high sun into dark, early mornings and a cooling earth.

Much like the vegetables that have been planted deep into the earth, we find ourselves nesting in to the warmth and comfort our homes. Life takes on a slower pace. What’s growing in the garden slows down as the cold seeps in to the soil. The foods we buy and the ingredients we cook have changed to accommodate the season. Ingredients are earthy. Meals are hearty. Dishes are slow cooked, allowing flavors to blend and stocks to thicken. Stews and roasts. A rainbow of root vegetables. Dense brown bread with butter. We even tend to settle ourselves a bit longer at the table, lingering over one more glass of red wine or an extra piece of bread to sop up any remaining traces of sauce left on our plate.

Some of my favorite recipes in fall and winter include ingredients that were once only eaten by the poor families who could only afford to grow their own. Today, local farmer’s pride themselves on these once humble offerings as if they were gold being unearthed. They are. Parsnips and leeks, rutabaga and ruby red- centered carrots. Leeks and kale. Squash and sweet potatoes add a splash of color to the legume bounty. That which is pulled from the ground, grounds us. Humble beginnings makes for a formidable feast. It is sustenance that nourishes and nurtures. Coming back to our roots tastes good.


You can use a heavy bottom casserole dish or a large ovenproof ceramic tagine. A tagine cooker is a traditional Moroccan dish with a cover, typically made of clay.

3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup leeks, washed, green stems removed and cut into ¼ inch half moon slices
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup celebry, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 cup turnips, peeled and cut into quarter
1 cup peeled and coarsely chopped rutabaga
1 cup peeled and coarsely chopped butternut squash
1 cup parsnips, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup peeled and coarsely chopped sweet potato
1 bulb fennel, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped apple
1 + ½ cups kale, washed, ribs removed and leaves sliced into ribbons
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock.

In a large casserole dish or tagine, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, carrots, fennel and garlic. Season with the salt and pepper. Cook until the mixture is soft and translucent, but not browned. Add the remaining ingredients to the pan with the stock. Bring to a gentle boil. Cover, remove from heat and place in the oven. Cook until the vegetables are tender and easily pierced with a fork and the broth is thickened, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

I like to use local producer Anson Mills for my polenta. I make a mix of 1 part yellow polenta and 1 part white grits. The combination of the two makes for a creamier texture.

4 cups boiling salted water or whole milk
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 cup polenta or ½ cup polenta and ½ cup grits
1 cup parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the water or milk with the rosemary over medium heat. Warm the liquid until it is gently boiling. Remove the rosemary sprig and discard. Sprinkle in the polenta and stir continuously to avoid clumping or sticking to the bottom. Continue stirring until the polenta is soft and tender to the bite. When the polenta is cooked and creamy in its consistency, add the Parmesan cheese and butter. Stir, season to taste.

Buon appetito!
copyright 2009 Alisa Barry

No comments: