Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Two Vegetable Purées or How I Got It Wrong In The 1980s

I stopped making vegetable purées for many years because back in the 1980s it was common practice to purée anything you could lay your hands on, especially if it was brightly coloured. It just got a bit too much like baby food. But I shouldn't have been so hasty. Vegetable purées are easy to make, they can be prepared in advance and reheated when required and, if you choose the right type of vegetable, the colour definitely can't be ignored on the plate. That's probably why purées not unlike these two seem to turn up quite regularly in slightly too expensive restaurants.

You could rub these purées through a fine sieve if you want a guaranteed smooth result, although I usually prefer a little texture. Both of these purées will serve 2 or 4 people - 2 if it's for a midweek meal and you're hungry or 4 if you're planning delicate dollops arranged artistically on plates at a dinner party. (Do people still have dinner parties? I'm not entirely sure.)

Red Cabbage Purée


This purée is a variation on the usual braised red cabbage and will sit very happily alongside ham, game, lamb or just about anything else you might fancy. The more crème fraîche that you add at the end of the recipe then the pinker the result will be. Many years ago I met a man in Brittany who told me that he'd cooked his wife a Valentine's day meal in which all three courses consisted entirely of pink food. To this day I'm still not sure what I think of that.

I've admitted to a bit of an obsession with pomegranate molasses in the past but my source of all things that are good in Turkish cooking Ozlem of Ozlem’s Turkish Table pointed out some years ago that it complements red cabbage really well. She's absolutely right, of course, and I've added it ever since.
Red Cabbage Purée
If you're feeling really cheffy then you can prepare a green cabbage purée as well to contrast with the red and deeply impress your guests.

1 small onion, finely chopped
½ a red cabbage (ideally this will be roughly 450 - 475 g prepared weight)
1 small to medium cooking or sharp eating apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
300 ml light chicken stock (use a veg stock if you prefer, but the chicken does add flavour)
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses (use a mix of lemon and apple juice or some balsamic vinegar as an alternative)
crème fraîche (a low fat version will work if you'd prefer)

In a large frying pan, gently soften the onion in a little butter or oil. While that's happening, remove and discard the core of the red cabbage and chop or slice the remainder quite finely. Once the onion has started to soften, add the red cabbage to the pan and fry gently for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring to ensure that the cabbage doesn’t stick together. Add the apple and season with salt and pepper.

Pour over the stock and pomegranate molasses, cover the pan leaving a bit of a gap for some of the steam to escape and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer until the cabbage is tender (or, at least, reasonably tender) - this could take anything from 30 to 60 minutes. Stir now and then and add a little extra water if it threatens to dry out. At the end of this time the cabbage should still be nicely moist but most of the liquid should have disappeared. If you still have some liquid left, then drain the cabbage before the next stage.

Purée the cabbage mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth (or as smooth as you'd like it to be). Season with more salt and pepper if it needs it and add a little honey if it's not sweet enough. You could also add more pomegranate molasses at this stage if you feel like it. To serve, stir in as much crème fraîche as you fancy and reheat gently.

Parsnip Purée


Parsnip purées often use cream to produce quite a rich result but this is a bit lighter in style. There's not much point in trying to compete with the powerful flavour of parsnips but I’ve used some Aperol liqueur and a few other bits and pieces to add a bit of contrast and complexity to the end result. The idea for this recipe came from watching a chef braise some parsnips in Pineau de Charentes and that's not a bad alternative if Aperol isn't to your taste. Alternatively, you could use some Campari for a more astringent flavour if that's what appeals to you.
Parsnip Purée
I think this purée works well alongside pork or beef but it's possibly even better with game.

350 g parsnips, prepared weight
1 apple, preferably a firm eating apple
300 ml vegetable stock
4 tbsp Aperol
Zest of ½ a large orange
A sprig or 2 of thyme
1 or 2 tsp lemon juice

Top, tail, peel and quarter the parsnips. If the parsnips aren't young and tender, then cut out any woody centres. Peel and core the apple and cut into 6 or 8 pieces. Add the parsnips and apple to a pan that's wide enough to accommodate them in one layer. Add the orange zest and pour over the stock and Aperol. Tuck in the thyme sprigs.

Put the pan on a medium heat and bring to simmering point. Lower the heat and simmer until the parsnips are very tender and the liquid has reduced to a syrup that's coating the parsnips and apple. (If the dish threatens to dry out before the parsnips are ready, than add a little more stock or water).

Take the pan off the heat, discard the thyme and reduce the contents to a purée in a food processor or  blender. Season with salt and pepper and reheat to serve. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice (the amount of lemon juice you add will vary according to taste and the sweetness of the parsnips).