Cooking from the Farms: Carrots and Other Roots

When my produce bins and a few of the refrigerator shelves overflow with root vegetables, those stalwarts of cool weather gardening – onions, potatoes, carrots, turnips, rutabaga, celeriac and others – I like to make stew.

And I especially like to make stews on Saturdays.  Saturday is usually a day that is broken up between stretches of time around the house and stretches of time spent running errands, a schedule which accommodates the preparation and braise phases of making a stew.  I can spend an hour or so prepping meat and vegetables, then an hour or two driving people to and fro once the casserole dish is popped into the oven.  It only seems like I’ve slaved away when we all sit down at the table to fork tender meat, a splendid array of vegetables, and a creamy puree meant to soak up all the sauce.

Yesterday, with two bunches of finger length carrots crying out to be dealt with, stew is what I made.  I had three tomatoes to help round out the sauce, enough tiny potatoes to throw into the pot with the carrots, and a really large celeriac for my puree.  I trimmed up a boneless leg of lamb, removing as much of the fat as possible, and then cut up the pieces into stewing size cubes.

Any combination of root vegetables can substitute, and beef will work just as well in the recipe.  Give the celeriac (also called celery root) a try, though, if you haven’t already.

It’s not the root of the celery stalk as its name would imply, but a knobby root vegetable in the celery family.  Celeriac has the same clean, fresh aroma and taste of celery, and is as luscious in texture as starchier, cream-enriched mashed potatoes.  Some recipes call for cooking the celeriac pieces in cream and milk but I find the puree is just as smooth (and actually tastes more of celery) if cooked in chicken stock.  Either way,  celery root is the perfect base for any kind of braise with a rich sauce.

Lamb Stew with Carrots

  • 1 boneless leg of lamb, about 4-4 1/2 pounds
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 or 2 bunches of carrots, depending on the size of the carrots, washed and cut into halves or quarters
  • 1/2 pound small potatoes, any variety
  • 3 whole tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. thyme, divided
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Trim the lamb well, removing as much fat as possible and cutting away any silverskin and connective tissue.  Cut the trimmed meat into uniform size cubes.  If you find lamb stew cubes and prefer to use this, go ahead and substitute 3 pounds for the boneless leg.  But this is one of those times when the effort of breaking down a whole piece of meat is worth it.  You’ll have so much more control over the quality and cut of your meat.

Set the meat aside while you prepare your vegetables.  Chop the onions and garlic.  Wash and quarter the carrots.  Wash and halve the potatoes.  Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large dutch oven or enameled cast iron casserole over medium heat.  (Dish of choice must have a good fitting cover.)

Toss together in a large plastic bag the flour, salt, pepper, and 1/2 tsp. of dried thyme. Add the meat cubes to the flour and shake well to coat.

Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, add the meat to the hot oil, shaking the excess flour off the cubes and back into the plastic bag before you do.  Sear one side until you have a golden brown crust, then turn and sear the second side (about a minute or two per side).  Remove the meat to a plate as you work on the remaining meat in batches.

Set seared meat aside.

To the saute pan, add the onion and garlic and stir, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Cook until just tender.  Add the carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, bay leaf, 1/2 tsp. thyme, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of black pepper.  Stir to combine.

Return the meat to the pan.  Pour the vinegar and chicken stock over.  Bring the liquids up to a boil.  Cover the pot and place it in the middle of the preheated oven.

Cook the stew, covered, for 1 1/2 hours.  Remove the cover and cook for another 30 minutes.  Serve with mashed potatoes or

Celeriac Puree

  • 1 celeriac (celery root)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 tsp. salt, plus additional if necessary
  • ground black pepper to taste

Halve, then quarter the celery root and peel the quarters.  Some areas around the root shoots require more careful peeling.

Once cleaned of the tough skin, rinse the quarters well under cold water, and cut each quarter in half again.  Place these in a medium saucepan.  Cover with the chicken stock.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover the pan and bring to a boil.

When the stock boils, reduce the heat, crack the cover, and maintain a simmer.  Cook until each piece is tender when pierced with a fork.

Using a strainer set over a large measuring cup, drain the celery root pieces and collect the broth in the cup.  Place the celeriac in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil or butter and process with a few pulses to begin pureeing the vegetable.

With the motor running, add some of the hot broth back into the puree in a slow stream.  The amount of broth you use will depend on the amount of celeriac you have.  You want something close to the consistency of very creamy mashed potatoes.  Taste until you have the desired consistency.  You will not need all the broth, so save the leftover broth and freeze it to add to soup in the future.

The puree can sit over a very low flame for the last few minutes of the stew’s cooking time.

Serve the stew hot, ladled over the celeriac puree.

©2010  Jane A. Ward