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Mashed root veggies
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Mashed root veggies

While many of us are focusing on hearty entrees for the holiday season, let's go off in another direction today - and keep my commitment to our vegetarian readers to offer at least one meatless dish each month - with a warming comfort-food side dish that would grace any festive table.

Almost infinitely variable, this simple favorite enhances mashed potatoes by adding additional root vegetables, spices and other flavors to the blend. The recipe that follows is the actual combination that I made the other night (as a side dish with roast chicken). I'll discuss a few variations at the end.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

1 medium baking potato
2 or 3 small "fingerling" potatoes
1 medium carrot
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
Black or white pepper


1. Peel the carrot and slice it into thin rounds. Peel the garlic clove(s) and leave whole. Put in a saucepan with salted water to cover. Cover the pan, bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the carrot slices are tender, about 15 minutes.

2. While the carrots are cooking, peel the baking potato, cut it into 3/4-inch cubes, and put into another saucepan with salted water to cover.

3. Leave the peels on the fingerling potatoes, cut them crosswise into three or four pieces, and add them to the pan. (This provides bits of skin to add texture to the finished dish. Leave out this step if you don't like bits of skin in your mashed potatoes.)

4. Cover the pan, bring the potatoes to the boil, then turn down to a low simmer and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 15 to 20 minutes.

5. Assuming you've watched your timing, the carrots should finish while the potatoes are still cooking. Use a stick or standup blender to puree them with the garlic and a small amount of the cooking water, reserving the rest of the water.

6. When the potatoes are done, drain them well, then mash, adding the butter, then the milk, and finally the reserved carrot puree. If it seems to need additional liquid after the milk is used up, finish with the carrot-cooking water, a little at a time. Season to taste with the pepper, nutmeg and additional salt, if needed. Spoon into a serving bowl.

VARIATIONS: As noted, it's easy to vary this dish in many ways:
Try using other root vegetables, prepared in similar fashion, such as turnips, parsnips, rutabagas or winter squash. Experiment with substituting other pureed vegetables ... peas make a beautiful green dish; cauliflower or lima beans can be an intriguing "mystery ingredient." Finely chopped white or red onions or scallions add another flavor and texture dimension. Only your imagination sets the limit.
If you have the time and inclination, instead of boiling the root vegetables, try coating them with a little olive oil and roasting them in a 350F oven until they're cooked and browning on the edges, then mash.
Some cooks also prefer to boil or bake the potatoes whole, in their skins, then peel them before mashing; this supposedly keeps the potatoes "dry," but I've never found the additional effort justified.
About mashing: We like a little texture in our mashed potatoes, so I usually mash with a fork or old-fashioned potato masher and don't worry about getting them perfectly smooth. Use a beater or hand food mill if you wish (at the expense of additional cleanup), but avoid the food processor, which may batter your taters into an unappealing gooey mass.
Finally, you can set your own balance between richness and dietary concerns by tinkering with the liquid: In descending order, try using heavy cream, half-and-half, whole milk, 2% or skim milk, or for the ultimate in calorie deprivation, the potato cooking water. Or a combination. Reduce the amount or leave out the butter if you must (but there's no real point in substituting margarine).

WINE MATCH: As a side dish, this is going to have to ride along with the wine you choose for your main course. We went with a good California Pinot Noir for the chicken and found it perfect with the earthy, garlicky flavors of the puree.

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Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Sort-of Cordon Bleu (Dec. 12)

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Thursday, Dec. 19, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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