I’m not jumping in front of a bus for mashed potatoes.
Don’t think I wouldn’t jump in front of a bus for potatoes au gratin, all gooey and oozing with gruyere. Or duck fat fries. Or homemade potato chips. If I’m going to wear my stretchy pants and watch a Downton Abbey marathon with some form of potato comfort, it will be with one of those.
But if I want to mash something, it’s going to be root vegetables. And there will be bacon.
Waaaaaaaait. Aren’t potatoes root vegetables? No, they’re tubers. When ‘vegetable storage organs’ is a category on Jeopardy, you are so going to want me on your team!
I’m talking those hideous root vegetables. The ones hidden at the back of the produce section that, on occasion, Kroger doesn’t even bother to carry. I’m talking the celery root. The rutabaga. The parsnip. Things that are forgotten in the shadow of trendy kale and shiny rainbow carrots.
You might have heard of this motley crew from the Annals of Horrible Cooking of Days Gone By (that should totally be a peer-reviewed journal!). Chances are your parents or grandparents had to eat boiled versions of any of the three of them, and YES, they were probably nasty. But boiled anything is nasty- even bacon. Roasting them is your best bet, getting that lovely caramelized flavor and color. But we’re talking mashing…
So let’s mash ’em!
While steaming and mashing may not seem much different than boiling, kick your feet back and listen to why it is. First of all, while each of those roots may look rough and dirty, they all have very delicate flavors. The parsnip and rutabaga are actually kind of sweet, with rutabaga offering a lovely orange color and pleasant cabbage-y flavor. Celery root gives you a celery flavor (duh) with a creamy texture. You steam and mash them all together, and you have a multi-tonal, complex-flavored pile o’ mash in front of you.
But until you add the next step, it’s still just a pile o’ mash, and no one wants just a pile o’ mash unless… nope, no one wants just a pile o’ mash. You could do the usual and add a little seasoning, a little butter, a little cream. That would be fun.
Or… you could add bacon vinaigrette. YES.
Fry up the smokiest bacon you can get your hands on, make a piquant vinaigrette with the luscious bacon fat you render, season to taste, and you have yourself a really, really killer side dish. The smokiness of the bacon really plays off the roots’ natural sweetness, and you feel like you’re eating something no one in your group of friends has even thought about trying (i.e., you are on the cutting edge of new side dishes and they can all be jealous as you sit there, triumphant in your stretchy pants).
This is a VERY easy dish to make, but peeling all those knotty, awkward roots can be time-consuming, so if you peel them in advance, the rest comes together in a snap. I served this with steak, and then with whatever we ate the next four nights because it makes a lot.
I know we all want spring to come, like, yesterday. Those sweet strawberries are just around the corner. But until then, take advantage of the lowly root vegetable all snazzed up with a super-sexy bacon vinaigrette.
- 5 lbs mixed root vegetables (such as parsnips, kohlrabi, celery root, turnips, and rutabagas-- I used parsnips, celery root and rutabaga), peeled, cut into 1" cubes
- ½ lb thick-cut smoked bacon (the smokiest you can find!!), diced
- 1 large onion, diced
- ⅔ c apple cider vinegar
- 1½ T grainy Dijon mustard
- 1 T brown sugar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Place a steamer basket inside a large pot. Add water to a depth of one inch. Bring to a boil. Add root vegetables to the steamer basket. Cover and cook, adding water to ½-cupfuls if needed to maintain level of water in pot, until vegetables are very tender but not mushy. This took me about 25 minutes, but the original recipe states 45 minutes, so it is variable. I also did not have to add any extra water.
- Meanwhile, place bacon in a large skillet; set over medium-low heat and cook until bacon softens and fat begins to render, about 5 minutes. Add onion; increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion and bacon are browned and crisp, about 10 minutes.
- Turn off heat and whisk in vinegar, mustard and brown sugar. Season vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper (I added about 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper).
- Drain vegetables and return to pot. Using a potato masher, coarsely mash. Stir in vinaigrette; season to taste. (I added another tsp of salt, no more pepper).