Root Vegetables are plant roots used as vegetables. They are generally storage organs, enlarged to store energy in the form of carbohydrates. Starchy Root Vegetables are important staple foods, particularly in tropical regions. The most commonly used Root Vegetables are of course the potatoes and carrots, but there are other very popular Root Vegetables.
Most Root Vegetables are available all year round, but they tend to be best picked and bought when the weather is cold. Root Vegetables keep very well for several months if stored correctly in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place, either on racks or in breathable bags. Don’t wash them before storing. A covering of earth will help keep them fresh. Many Root Vegetables can also be blanched and frozen.
Parsnip – chirivia
The Parsnip is a root vegetable closely related to the carrot and parsley. Its long tuberous root has cream-coloured skin and flesh and can be left in the ground when mature as it becomes sweeter in flavour after winter frosts. If unharvested, it produces a flowering stem, topped by an umbel of small yellow flowers, in its second growing season. By this time the stem is woody and the tuber inedible.
The Parsnip is native to Eurasia. It has been used as a vegetable since antiquity and was cultivated by the Romans, although there was some confusion between Parsnips and carrots. It was used as a sweetener before the arrival in Europe of cane sugar.
The Parsnip is usually cooked, but can also be eaten raw. They resemble carrots and can be used in similar ways, but they have a sweeter taste, especially when cooked.They can be baked, boiled, pureed, roasted, fried or steamed. When used in stews, soups and casseroles they give a rich flavour. Parsnips are high in vitamins and minerals, especially potassium. They also contain antioxidants and both soluble and insoluble fibre. Parsnips can be cultivated in deep, stone-free soils. They can be attacked by the carrot fly and other insect pests, viruses and fungal diseases, of which canker is the most serious. Handling the stems and foliage can cause a skin rash if the skin is exposed to sunlight after handling. Roast Parsnips are considered an essential part of Christmas dinner in some parts of the English-speaking world and frequently feature in the traditional Sunday roast. Parsnips can also be fried or thinly sliced and made into crisps and can also be made into a wine that has a taste similar to Madeira.
In Roman times, Parsnips were believed to be an aphrodisiac. However, Parsnips do not typically feature in modern Italian cooking. Instead, they are fed to pigs, particularly those bred to make Parma ham. In traditional Chinese medicine, the root of Chinese Parsnip is used as a herbal medicinal ingredient.
Sweet Potato – batata
The Sweet Potato is a large, starchy, sweet-tasting, tuberous root. The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens. It is native to the tropical regions in the Americas. The Sweet Potato is only distantly related to the potato but many are poisonous. The plant is a herbaceous perennial vine with an edible tuberous root which is long and tapered, with a smooth skin. The colour ranges between yellow, orange, red, brown, purple, and beige and the flesh ranges from beige through to white, red, pink, violet, yellow, orange, and purple. Sweet Potato varieties with white or pale yellow flesh are less sweet and moist than those with red, pink or orange flesh.
The Sweet Potato is often called a yam which is native to Africa and Asia and are grown in tropical and warm temperate regions where there is sufficient water to support their growth and does not tolerate frost. They are served as a favourite dish in many Asian countries. Europe has only a very small Sweet Potato production.
Sweet Potatoes can be cooked in similar ways to the potato, but they cook much more quickly. Bake, mash or roast Sweet Potatoes, or use them in vegetable soups and bakes. Alternatively, add them to risottos, pasta dishes and curries.