Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much when I finally uprooted these babies from the garden the other day. I fully expected that my first attempt to grow salsify would not have amounted to much, but instead I pulled some reasonably-sized (if somewhat forked) specimens from the ground.
I still wasn’t expecting that much when I cooked them for the first time, despite the reports that these parsnip-like roots tasted, well, much better than parsnips.
I was even skeptical about the recommendation that the best way to enjoy them was to do nothing more than have them boiled. I mean, surely some molecular gastronomist somewhere has come up with something more elaborate that than?
Let me tell you that I was wowed.
Wonderfully flavoursome roots, which tasted very much like asparagus or even artichoke heart to me. Salsify and its dark-skinned cousin, scorzonera, have been around for centuries but, as my copy of Dr. D. G. Hessayon’s Vegetable and Garden Expert notes, in this part of the world, “they still remain oddities”.
I wonder why that should be.
They’re long and thin and don’t attain as much girth as, say, a parsnip. But they’re easy to grow (as evidenced, if nothing else, by the complete lack of attention they received from me), fairly hardy (as evidenced by their survival of the winter we just had) and taste bloody good.
There again, it’s not always about raw talent. Somewhere along the line, you’ll find that parsnips probably had some friends in high agricultural places. Perhaps salsify just needs a better PR machine (and hey, I’m available for a small fee).
So (in my new role as Chief Salsify Officer), I do recommend that you try salsify out if you get the chance. It’s right at the tail-end of its availability here, but you might come across it at farmer’s markets (and for those in Dublin, I have seen the black-skinned version, scorzonera, in Fallon and Byrne). And if you’re of a gardening bent, do consider getting some salsify seeds – I sourced mine from The Organic Centre – it’ll soon be time to plant and they’ll reward you well.
This really is both the simplest and possibly best thing that you can do with salsify.
I followed the cooking advice contained in my Vegetable and Garden Expert, which explained that the secret to achieving top flavour lay in peeling the salsify after, and not before, boiling it in salted, lemony water.
Can I just say that salsify plucked straight from the garden and cooked like this was a revelation. I had to restrain myself from eating the asparagus-like chunks straight from the pot.
- 600g salsify
- approx 1.25l water
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 1 tblsp lemon juice
- butter and chopped flat leaf parsley to serve
- Scrub your salsify very well under a running tap, then, leaving the skin on, trim the ends and cut into pieces approx. 5cm long. Note that when you cut salsify, it will exude a slightly sticky, milky substance, alternatively brown and white in colour. Nothing to be concerned about, just sayin’ it’ll be stickier and messier than dealing with, oh, parsnips, for example.
- Bring around 1.25l of water to a boil, add the salt, lemon juice and salsify and boil until the salsify is fork-tender – approx. 25 minutes or so – less for pieces that are very thin.
- Drain, scrape off the skins and serve tossed in a little melted butter and chopped parsley.
- You don’t have to boil it, of course – you can bake it, batter and fry it, put it in a gratin or even make fritters (see below).
- Serves around 4 as a side-dish
Hugh Fearnley-Whatshisname had an article on salsify recipes in The Guardian a few months back which included lots to interest newcomers to the vegetable, including a recipe for salsify fritters. I have used his version as a template here, swapping out his chili and coriander and using thyme, parsley and parmesan instead, plus some lemon juice to finish – all of which work well with salsify. You can just eat these with a dollop of yoghurt or, if you’re in a brunchy kind of humour, you might just like to have a poached egg alongside too. I know I would.
- 300g salsify
- small pinch of dried thyme (less than 0.25 tsp) or use about 0.5 tsp fresh thyme if you have it
- 2 tblsp butter
- 1 egg, beaten lightly
- 3 tblsp fine wholewheat breadcrumbs
- 2 tblsp grated parmesan
- 3 tblsps chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- 0.5 tsp salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tblsp polenta
- olive oil for frying
- lemon wedges
- natural yoghurt (optional)
- Scrub the salsify, peel them, trim the ends and grate coarsely. The salsify will discolour as you’re doing this, but it doesn’t really matter, as you’ll be frying it anyway.
- Place a large frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the butter and allow to melt.
- When the butter has melted, add the grated salsify and thyme. Stir and fry until the salsify has softened – around 15-20 minutes – then remove from the heat.
- In a bowl, combine the salsify, egg, breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley, garlic, salt and black pepper, then divide the mixture into 6 individual patties.
- Place the polenta in a separate bowl, then dip each patty into the polenta and coat on both sides.
- Place your pan back on a medium heat and add enough olive oil to coat the pan.
- Fry the fritters until golden, around 4 minutes or so on each side.
- Serve with a wedge of lemon and a dollop of yoghurt if you like. Poach up an egg to go with them if that takes your fancy.
- I rather fancied trying these with tarragon instead of thyme, but didn’t have any to hand. I might try that next time.
- 6 small fritters, serves 2 (perhaps 3 if you have a lot of other things on the plate)
And for those of you who were wondering who won that wine and chocolate, the lucky winner was Yvonne Carty, who now has her Easter nicely sorted!