I was very surprised today when I saw a familiar vegetable from my youth in France, something I had not seen ever again since emigrating to Canada almost 30 years ago. This root vegetable is slightly larger than a carrot, about the size of parsnip, but the skin is black. Salsify (scorzonera hispanica) is the most delicious of all root vegetables by a long shot. It is grown mostly in Europe during the winter months, and why it only arrived at my grocer ( aptly named “The Root Cellar”) just now is a puzzle. They import it from Belgium, and maybe the endive producer suggested they test it in B.C. Most customers probably did not see it, there were only a few pounds and the price was, well, the highest of any vegetable there, wild mushrooms excepted. For something that retails for 1 to 2 Euros a pound, $10/lbs here would only be paid by someone like me in search of childhood memories. This said, I highly recommend salsify, a most refined vegetable.
They have only one drawback : You MUST wear gloves to handle them because they contain a white sap which is extremely unpleasant to the skin. I am saying this first in case you are tempted not to read to the end because the price to pay would be washing your hands 12 times and still feeling sticky. One more thing to keep in mind is that salsify turns dark brown immediately upon air contact unless it is immersed in water containing lemon juice or vinegar.
So here we go, prepare a bowl with lots of cold water and 3 tbsps lemon juice or white vinegar. Put the gloves on. Peel the salsify roots one by one with a Y-peeler or a regular potato peeler and immediately plunge them in the bowl. Then cut them in sticks just about over an inch long, and split the thickest parts again lengthwise so they cook evenly.
Boil salted water, add the juice of half a lemon and the salsifies and cook until very tender, but not mushy. Larousse Ménager says 2 hours, I have seen 30 minutes on the net, but mine took exactly one hour at a gentle boil. The new plants must be more tender than those grown in the ’20s. Drain and sauté on medium heat in butter with a crushed garlic. A half teaspoon of olive oil will prevent the butter from browning. Add chopped parsley before serving. Salsify goes well with almost anything roasted or grilled. I find it best just done in the light garlic butter as the delicate taste comes out best that way. It also makes a delicious warm salad with a balsamic and peanut oil dressing.
Excerpt from Wikipedia: “The black salsify is considered nutritious: it contains proteins, fats, asparagine, choline, laevulin, as well as minerals such as potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, and vitamins A, B1, E and C. Since it also contains the glycoside inulin, which mainly consists of fructose, it is particularly suitable for diabetics.”