Salsify and Scorzonera

Salsify and Scorzonera

These two root vegetables are closely related to each other as well as to members of the same family as dandelion and lettuce. All have long tapering roots. Salsify has a white or pale brownish skin and scorzonera, sometimes called black salsify, has a black skin. They both have a pale creamy flesh and a fairly similar flavor reminiscent of artichokes and asparagus. Salsify is said to have the superior flavor and has been likened to oysters (it is sometimes referred to as the oyster plant), although many people fail to detect this. Both salsify and scorzonera make an unusual and pleasant accompaniment, either creamed or fried in butter. They can also be used in soups.

History : Salsify is native to the Mediterranean but now grows in most areas of Europe and North America. Scorzonera is a southern European plant. Both roots are classified as herbs and, like many wild plants and herbs, their history is bound up with their use in medicines. The roots, together with their leaves and flowers, were used for the treatment of heartburn, loss of appetite and various liver diseases.

Buying and Storing : Choose specimens that are firm and smooth and, if possible, still with their tops on, which should look fresh and lively. Salsify will keep for several days stored in a cool dark place.

Preparing : Salsify and scorzonera are difficult to clean and peel. Either scrub the root under cold running water and then peel after cooking, or peel with a sharp stainless steel knife. As the flesh discolors quickly, place the trimmed pieces into acidulated water (water to which lemon juice has been added).

Cooking : Cut into short lengths and simmer for 20-30 minutes until tender. Drain well and saute in butter, or serve with lemon juice, melted butter or chopped parsley. Alternatively, they can be pureed for soups or mashed. Cooked and cooled salsify and scorzonera can be served in a mustard or garlic vinaigrette with a simple salad.

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