Welcome to the snow trapped Gotham, the root vegetable edition!
As I type this post the blizzard of the century has left the city, leaving behind countless piles of snow the size of Mont Blanc, the muffling sound of tires trapped in slush, and the concerto of shovels digging into thundersnow's leftovers, pounding against asphalt in a desperate attempt to clean sidewalks or release vehicles from their captivity. Our car is trapped somewhere in the side streets of Tribeca, under a Kilimanjaro of brown snow, and I am afraid that we will not get it back until March.
But yesterday, yesterday was quite a different story. The story of Gotham asleep. It does not happen often, because even the blizzards are not what they used to be, but when it happens it is something to remember. Oh, how well I remember my very first New York City blizzard from 17 years ago. The storm arrived swiftly, solidifying our neighborhood under a thick coating of snow and ice, stilling the buzz, stopping the cars and subways, and emptying the restaurants. Dr. V and I sneaked into an empty Nobu, got a table for six, ordered steaming miso soup, black cod and warm sake, and celebrated the symphony of absolute quietness. Later on, warm with sake, we built a small snowman in the middle of West Broadway. Together with a carrot.
There is a certain quality in a stalled city that I absolutely adore. The excitement of the blizzard approaching comes with guilt, because I know how costly it is to press a pause button on a city that never gets tired. But I can't help it; watching this gigantic city mediate, listening to its silence, letting myself resonate with the frequency of Gotham's stillness is a unique feeling. It is worth more than hundred movie tickets, more than a front row seat for the Swan Lake at the Met, more than a table in a coveted Michelin star eatery, more than the fireworks on the 4th of July and Macy's parade combined. This symphony of absolute quietness is a reminder that we all, Gotham included, must stop from time to time. To reflect. To replenish. To recharge.
A day before the blizzard arrived, the citizens of Gotham, usually composed and levelheaded in the face of natural disasters, gave me quite a surprise, as they lined up in supermarkets and grocery stores to get their edibles like there is no tomorrow. A snake-like formation of desperates waiting to enter Trader Joe's in Chelsea curled around the building for what looked like two blocks, the Fairways next to Miss Pain's school appeared to be a bit more composed, but it still guaranteed a decent wait, while my local Whole Foods looked as if all hell broke loose and poured its misery onto the supermarket floor. I do not stand in lines. It's a tiny scar I bear from having to do so during Yugoslavian wars. I might not remember anymore how it felt standing in the lines for food -- this leakage of our memory is our defender -- still, today, I refuse to stand in lines. Not even at the museum, movie theater, not even at the shoe sale at the Bergdorf. There is no object or event, no matter how rare and precious it might be that will make me join a line. Dr. V does not quite understand where it comes from, and I do not bother explaining.
But rest assured, our three little halves family -- moi, Dr. V and Miss Pain -- we were not hungry when the blizzard arrived, thanks to truckloads of tubers that take possession of my kitchen crate every year as soon as we hit that last stretch of the winter. At the turn of the century, my wooden crate was used to house apples, but ever since I salvaged it from an antique store in New Paltz, it's been put to a good use as a storage place for whatever food does not fit into the pantry or the fridge. Parsnips, celery, rutabaga, turnips, three kinds of sweet potatoes... I love to cook with roots. I turn to them as soon as we hit that food barren precipice between January and February. The infertile and greenless culinary reality of the late winter months calls for a great deal of culinary imagination, and I find my inspiration in tubers and taproots.
Root vegetables occupy the most neglected and underappreciated corner of our food pyramid, and here I stand, bravely, in their defiance. Root vegetable ratatoulie, parsnip pure, curried cream of parsnip and pear soup, root vegetable lasagna, root vegetable French fries, roasted root vegetable broth, faro risotto with root vegetables, these are some dishes I've cooked up over the years, and will continue to do so until culinary mankind acknowledges their understated beauty.
And with one long month to go, I have not even begun. So stay tuned...
Rustic Roasted Root Vegetable and Goat Cheese Tart
for the dough
* 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 tsp sugar
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 6 tbsp very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into pea-sized bits
* 1 large egg
* 1 teaspoon ice water
for the filling
* 1 small rutabaga, about 4 oz
* 1 small turnip, about 3 oz
* 2 - 3 medium parsnips, about 7 oz
* 1 small celery, or a piece of a large one, about 4 oz
* extra virgin olive oil
* freshly ground white pepper
* freshly ground black pepper
* 3 eggs
* 6 oz goat cheese
* 1/2 cup whole milk
* 1/4 tsp nutmeg
* 9 to 9 1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom
* pie weights
To make the dough: In a bowl of food processor, combine flour, sugar and salt. Pulse a couple of times to blend. Add the butter and pulse several more times, until butter is coarsely incorporated into the mixture. In a small bowl, beat the egg with the ice water. Pour about the third of the egg mixture into the dough and pulse once or twice. Repeat two more times. Pulse only once or twice after each addition, and do not over-process the dough. (The dough shouldn’t form a ball or ride on the blade, but just barely come together in a moist, malleable mass.) Place the dough on a work surface dusted with flour, gather into a ball, and then gently flatten into a disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and place into refrigerator for at least three hours or overnight.
To roast the vegetables: Heat the oven to 375°F convection (400°F regular).
Peel the vegetables, wash, and cut into 1/4-inch dice. Drizzle the vegetables generously with olive oil, season with salt, generous amount of white pepper, and a pinch of black pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and begin to develop golden crust around the edges. Mix the vegetables often with a spatula, to prevent them from getting charred. Remove the vegetables from the oven and let them cool. (Roasted vegetables can be kept overnight in a closed container.)
To make the tart: Heat oven to 375°F convection (400°F regular).
Butter and flour the tart pan. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a round. The rolled-out dough should be about 1/4 inch thick and at least 12 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to the pan without stretching it, and press gently against the bottom and the sides. Trim the edges. Transfer the pan to refrigerator and chill the dough for about one hour.
Using a fork, prick the dough all over. Cover the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove paper and weights and bake for additional five minutes until it is lightly golden. Remove the pan from the oven and let the dough cool before adding the filling.
Reduce the heat to 350°F convection (375°F regular).
In a small bowl, work the goat cheese with a fork, until it is smooth and pasty. Slowly add milk, a tablespoon at time, until fully incorporated. The mixture should have the consistency of heavy whipping cream. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs. Add the cheese mixture, nutmeg and a pinch of salt. Arrange the vegetables in the tart and then slowly pour the egg mixture over. Bake the tart until filling is set and pastry is golden brown, about 45-50 minutes. Let stand for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.