With a discernable reappreciation of old food farming practices and recipes being very much in vogue these days, it should come as no surprise that so-called “forgotten” vegetables are also once again a coveted comestible among trendy foodies. So what exactly are forgotten vegetables? Dutch food designer Marije Vogelzang sums it up as follows: “Sometimes vegetables get ‘forgotten’ because they don’t grow fast enough, are too delicate to transport, are considered ugly or other varieties are more resistant. Sometimes they just become out of fashion.” For the purpose of this article, we’re focusing on the forgotten vegetables that have rather unprepossessing features and were, until recently, considered a bit too pedestrian to incorporate in haute cuisine.
The anaemic sibling to the common orange carrot, the parsnip is said to be one of the oldest cultivated vegetables on Earth. It’s currently enjoying a revival thanks to its earthy, sweet taste and versatility. Shave ribbons of the root and fry until crispy for a delicious snack, mash with potato and plenty of butter for a stellar side, incorporate into a deliciously creamy spiced parsnip soup, drizzle with maple syrup and roast with chicken or chargrill and serve with fresh pasta and burnt sage butter.
While it’s not going to win any beauty contests, this humble root vegetable makes up for its lack of sex appeal with its delicious flavour and historic allure – it was, after all, mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey which is believed to have been published somewhere near the end of the 8th century. As can be deduced from the name, the bulbous veg bears an uncanny similarity in taste to that of celery, yet boasts a starchy texture. Like the parsnip, it lends itself beautifully to mash and soup, gives regular old potato bake a run for its money, and can even be used raw to add a bit of bite to a remoulade that elevates silverside sandwiches to new heights.
Many us grew up with the English adaptation of the Russian kids’ story first published in 1863, The Enormous Turnip, where a particularly stubborn turnip won’t be uprooted until the whole family and a menagerie of barnyard animals band together to liberate it from its earthy confines. The story not only showed us that teamwork yields results, it also taught us that giant turnips make for delicious soup. That’s not where the culinary fun with this forgotten veg ends, however. Why not pickle it along with beetroot and serve it with chicken liver pâté? Or how about incorporating it into a salad with roast duck or a fresh crunchy slaw? Go on, you know you want to.