Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands
Salsify & Scorzonera
Salsify and Scorzonera are similar in taste even though they are not varieties of the same plant. Botanically distinct, Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) is identifiable by its pale creamy-brown skin and slightly tapered shape, somewhere between a long thin parsnip and a carrot. It’s often referred to as ‘White Salsify’. The darker brown/black root, which hardly tapers at all but looks more like a cigar, is Scorzonera hispanica, commonly called Scorzonera or, confusingly, ‘Black Salsify’. Further confusion comes from Salsify sometimes being called the “oyster plant” for some past perceived flavour resemblance to the bivalve. This quality is not generally detectable in modern-day plants, which is probably for the best.
Scorzonera is more common than Salsify and easier to work with. Being similar in flavour they are interchangeable in recipes. You are unlikely to be offered Burdock root (Arctium lappa) in the UK but it has a similar appearance and is valued in Japan where it is known as Gobo. All three are members of the Lettuce family and their leaves are perfectly edible when young. Salsify and Scorzonera are welcome additions to the root vegetable line-up we rely on so much through the winter months. Both are high in essential vitamins and minerals and the roots are much appreciated by ingredient-led chefs for their texture and flavour.
The texture of Salsify and Scorzonera is crisp and waxy in a similar way to Jerusalem Artichoke but some think their flavour is closer to that of the Globe Artichoke. Their earthy appearance may not be appealing at first sight but they are easy to prepare and to cook. After scrubbing them clean, top and tail and cut them into manageable lengths. Peel them and, as they oxidise quickly, drop the prepared pieces into a bowl of acidulated water to prevent discolouration. They can then be dried, tossed in oil, sprinkled with thyme, salt and pepper and roasted in a hot oven for around 30 minutes. But there are other ways to use these roots. Boil in salted water, or steam, until just tender (not mushy) – thin ones can take around 10 minutes but thicker ones will need around 25 minutes. The simplest way to serve them is to drain, toss in vinaigrette dressing while still warm and serve at room temperature. Alternatively, drain, plunge the boiled roots into cold water then dry them on kitchen paper. Their crisp, waxy texture makes for a wonderful fritter - dip in a light batter and fry in oil. Alternatively, treat them like asparagus and simply cover them with Hollandaise sauce. You could finish them in butter on a medium heat until they turn golden-brown, adding chopped herbs before serving - particularly good with roasted or casseroled beef or roast chicken - add a splash of cream at the end if you want something richer.
Salsify and Scorzonera are in season from October to February so we should have one or the other right through winter.