Paul Flynn: My favourite meals with vegetables in the starring role

I love meat, but vegetables deserve better than to be reduced to a mere supporting act

Sticky parsnips with sherry and smoked bacon

Sticky parsnips with sherry and smoked bacon

 

I never got the allure of baby vegetables. In fact they always annoyed me and turned me into a grumpy old man. They were jumped-up, overpriced little upstarts that in my mind required tweezers to pirouette them on to the plate. Not my style of cooking, I would pompously harrumph. I suffer the occasional baby beetroot, but only to indulge the frilly vanity of the occasional gravadlax. 

November is Food Month in The Irish Times. irishtimes.com/foodmonth
November is Food Month in The Irish Times. irishtimes.com/foodmonth

I like my vegetables big and butch – something that can take the hardship of an Irish winter. Cutting them into manly chunks gives me enormous satisfaction. I invariably roast them, bathed in cider, butter, cinnamon and a bit of fresh thyme or a bay leaf. They cook into a less gaudy version of Sinbad’s treasure. Their dusky, nutty glaze awaits to comfort and soothe you .

Jerusalem artichokes make me happy. I scrub these knobbly roots, then slowly roast them in duck fat, thyme and skin-on garlic. A whisper of golden-brown sugar at the end and they are sweet, crispy and gooey, all in one mouthful. This to me is cooking – the transformation of a humble ingredient into something surprising by just being thoughtful and curious.

I want to be brave enough to change the way I cook. I love meat but sometimes I feel that placing vegetables as merely a supporting act grossly under-rates them and doesn’t challenge me. I would be happy to sit down to a plate of glistening roasted roots, punctuated with a small bit of sticky oxtail or duck, with a cooling river of horseradish cream to complete the picture. We are driven by the consumption of meat and we are conditioned to the idea of meat and two veg. This is both primal and traditional.  

This week’s dishes are favourites of mine because we have a mixture of everyday and fancy. The parsnips I love to have with almost anything, but especially roast chicken. The Jerusalem artichokes are unsung heroes of mine. Not all that easy to get, unfortunately, but if you do come across them, this is a wonderful dish. And there is also a quirky cheese dish that can be anything you like – starter, lunch or cheese course. It dignifies the turnip and is robust enough to stand up to this beautiful blue cheese. 

STICKY PARSNIPS WITH SHERRY AND SMOKED BACON

Serves 4

Sticky parsnips with sherry and smoked bacon
Sticky parsnips with sherry and smoked bacon

Ingredients
6 medium parsnips, peeled
100ml of water
1 packet smoked bacon lardons
100ml of cream sherry (optional)
Drizzle of honey
Salt and pepper
1 large knob butter
Drizzle of olive oil
Sprig of fresh herb (thyme, sage or bay)

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, or equivalent.

2. Cut the top off your parsnips and cut them in half lengthways. Lay the parsnips flat on a roasting tray and add the water, sherry and herbs. Scatter over the bacon and dot the butter on top. Drizzle the oil and season with salt and pepper.

3. Cover the tray with foil, making sure it’s nice and tight so no steam escapes.

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4. Place in the oven and cook for 20 minutes (you can do this in advance if you wish and finish the dish later).

5. Take the foil off, drizzle over the honey and turn the parsnips in the juices.

6. Return the tray to the oven for another 15 minutes until the parsnips are cooked and the bacon is crisp.

WARM SALAD OF JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES, LEEKS AND PARMA HAM

Serves 4

Warm salad of Jerusalem artichokes, leeks and Parma ham
Warm salad of Jerusalem artichokes, leeks and Parma ham

Ingredients
100ml olive oil
8-10 large Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and halved
2 garlic cloves, sliced
8 whole sage leaves
16 walnut halves
2 small leeks, trimmed and cut into 1cm slices
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Juice of ½ a lemon
8 slices Parma ham
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method
1. Preheat an oven to 180 degrees, or equivalent.

2. Add a drizzle of olive oil to a roasting tin.

3. Add the artichokes, tossing to coat, and cook in the oven for 10 minutes.

4. Add the leeks, walnuts, sage and garlic and the remaining oil. 

5. Stir, then place in the oven for a further 15 minutes.

6. Season, add the vinegar, lemon and maple syrup.

7. Serve warm with a slice of Parma ham draped on top.

CIDER GLAZED TURNIPS WITH CROZIER BLUE AND CHARD

Serves 4

Cider glazed turnips with Crozier Blue and chard
Cider glazed turnips with Crozier Blue and chard

Ingredients
Knob of butter
1 small turnip, peeled and diced into 1 cm pieces (you will need a good knife for this as it can be a little tricky)
300ml cider
1 tbsp demerara sugar
Pinch of ground allspice
Sprig of fresh thyme
200g Crozier Blue cheese, broken into uneven chunks
Handful of chard (can be hard to get, use whatever greens you can find)
Drizzle of olive oil
A few drops of red or white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method
1. Preheat an oven to 180 degrees, or equivalent.

2. Place the butter, cider, turnip and thyme in a frying pan. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

3. Remove the lid, add the sugar, salt and pepper and cook the turnips gently down into a sticky glaze. 

4. Dress the greens with the olive oil and vinegar. Season and alternate on top of the warm turnips, along with the Crozier Blue. 

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