12 December 2006

In Praise of Purée

So many of my food likes and dislikes have to do with texture, even more than tastes or flavors. Many of my culinary quests have involved finding the perfect creaminess, just the right crunch, the crispy shattering crusts and gooey interiors that make food a textural experience. One of my ideal meals is a simple bowl of ultra-creamy soup and whether it is lasagna or brownies, I always want that crusty corner piece. Anyone who has spent any time with me may have observed a slightly obsessive way of stirring my ice cream, incorporating the melting parts to ensure a creamy bite, something which makes ice cream eating a very concentrated and focused event. As a child, my mother berrated me at the dinner table for “attacking” my baked potato with a fork, creaming it to perfect smoothness.


Naturally, I love vegetable purées, and there are so many options beyond the classic mashed potatoes. The word purée can sell me on a menu, whether it's a comforting potato mash like colcannon or the more avant-garde sounding "roast brussel sprouts with kimchi puree" I had recently. I like purées with a little more classic comfort, and I often turn to the “Silver Palate” cookbook, which has a whole section on purées, with ideas like cauliflower-arugula, carrot, and pea-mint.

This glorious beet-orange purée came from the memory of an old Lee Bailey soup recipe, and indeed it could be a soup if you thinned it out with some broth. But I like it in this thick smooth incarnation, mounded on my plate like a sea of rubies. This is truly a jewel to put on your table, beautifully colored and smoothly textured. You could add some spices if you like, but it is really at its best in 3-ingredient simplicity.

Another favorite is a turnip-pear purée which is just begging to have something meaty and juicy placed on top of it. The sweetness of the pears counters the slight bitter note of turnips and I like to think that this trumps mashed potatoes in two ways: turnips are lower in carbs and calories than potatoes, and they also can be done in the food processor without any worry of the mixture becoming gluey. For picky kids, purées are also good ways to sneak in vegetables, adding a touch of kale or broccoli and disquising it with a bit of cheese. The vibrant color of this broccoli mash is sure to appeal to the kid in anyone. Once you start experimenting, you'll find the comfort of vegetable purées is also a space for interesting flavor combinations, here are three to get you started:

Beet-Orange Purée
2 large beets
1 small potato
1 orange, juiced and zested

1. Wrap the beets and potato in foil and roast in a 400 degree oven 20 minutes for the potato, 45 minutes for the beets, until cooked through. When the beets and potato are cool enough to handle, peel and dice them. Transfer to a food processor or blender and add 1/2 cup of the orange juice and process. It may take a little while, but it should become a smooth mixture, add more orange juice if necessary to get the desired consistency. Add a bit of salt or coriander if desired. Place in a serving dish and grate the fresh zest over top.

Note: You can boil the beets if you’re in a rush, or even (shhh) use canned ones.

Broccoli Mash
1 head broccoli
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tbl butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan or cheddar
1/4 cup warm milk

1. Chop the florets from the broccoli and chop some of the thick stalk. Put the broccoli in a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Boil until the broccoli stalks are tender, about 8 minutes. Put the broccoli in a food processor and process to finely chop.
2. Meanwhile, in another pot, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and dry very well. (Note: to save space, sometimes I steam the broccoli in a colander set over the boiling potatoes.)
3. Melt the butter in a sauce pan over very low heat. Add the potatoes, smashing the potatoes with a potato masher and stirring to encorporate the butter, so that you mave a smooth mash. Remove from heat, add the cheese and milk, and whip with a fork until fluffy and smooth. Add the broccoli and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

Turnip Pear Purée
My go-to recipe for holidays and gatherings, I like it as much or more than the usual mashed-potatoes. This is also good substituting apples for pears or parsnips for turnips, and is lovely sitting underneath a pile of short ribs or portabello mushrooms braised in red wine.

3 lbs turnips, peeled and chopped
2 lbs potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 pinch each cinnamon and allspice
4 medium pears, peeled, cored, and diced*
4 tbl butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup cream or milk
salt and fresh ground white pepper

1. Cook the parsnips and potatoes in a pot of boiling water until tender, drain.
2. In a small pan melt 1 tbl of the butter, add the pears and spices and cook over medium heat until the pears are very soft. Remove the pears from the heat and toss in the remaining 3 tbl butter so that it melts.
3. Put the pears, turnips, and potatoes in a food processor and process until combined. Add the milk and process until smooth. Taste and season the puree with salt and pepper.

* I've taken to using pear baby food, which is really just pureed pears, in place of preparing the pears myself. It saves time and makes the puree easier to combine smoothly.

2 comments:

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