Back to your roots: Mark Hix makes the most of our seasonal vegetables

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Cooking with roots can be just as interesting as cooking with any other seasonal vegetables – just because most of them look a bit on the ugly side doesn't mean that what lies beneath the skin isn't appealing! In fact, it's quite the opposite; most root vegetables have their own totally unique flavour and can easily be matched to the job in hand. Look at parsnips, for example: they are in a league of their own and when roasted alongside a joint of beef they are very hard to better, in fact I would go as far to say that in winter, a roast beef lunch just wouldn't be complete without an accompanying dish of roast parsnips.

In the shops, root vegetables may look rather a dull buy compared to, say, a pea or green bean in the summer, but if they are in season then my opinion is that we should all make the most of what we've got.

I've had some root vegetables knocking around the bottom drawer of my fridge for a couple of weeks now and I've just used the last of them up and made them into a hearty winter broth – something for which they are perfect, as they can withstand a bit of over-cooking and re-heating without losing their colour and flavours, and if you add a bit of smoked bacon in at the beginning it works a treat.

A casserole of winter vegetables with rosemary

Serves 4

A great vegetarian dish on its own, or simply serve as a wintry pot of vegetables in the middle of the table with a roast.

4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm-thick slices on the slant
Half a swede, peeled and cut into rough chunks the size of the carrots
A couple of turnips, peeled if necessary and cut into wedges a similar size to above
A medium-sized parsnip, peeled and cut into similar-sized chunks as above
12 or so shallots or button onions, peeled
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
A few sprigs of rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g butter
150ml vegetable stock

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5.

Heat the butter in an oven-proof casserole dish on the stove, add all of the vegetables, garlic and rosemary, season and cook on a medium heat with the lid on for 2-3 minutes, stirring every so often. Transfer to the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Add the stock and cook for another 15 minutes with the lid off, stirring every so often. The vegetables should all be tender by now, if not give them another 15 minutes or so.

Celeriac soup with scallops and bacon

Serves 4

Celeriac has such a great flavour but often just gets left on the greengrocer's shelves.

1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
A couple of good knobs of butter
A head of celeriac weighing about 400-500g, peeled and roughly chopped
1 litre vegetable or fish stock
4 large scallops, shucked and cleaned
100-120g piece of smoked streaky bacon, rind removed and cut into 1cm cubes
A little vegetable oil for frying

Gently cook the onion in the butter for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the celeriac and stock, season, bring to the boil and simmer for 25 minutes. Blend in a liquidiser until smooth; strain through a sieve if necessary into a clean saucepan and re-season to taste. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring every so often until nicely coloured, then remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Season and add the scallops to the same pan and cook on a high heat for a minute or so on each side, keeping them slightly undercooked in the middle.

To serve pour about 2-3 cm of the soup into warm soup plates, place the scallop in the centre and scatter the bacon over.

Grilled herring with soused root vegetables

Serves 4

Herring is a good choice of fish – alongside fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon – to eat in the winter as they contain plenty of healthy essential oils.

Herring are classic old-school fish and they have fallen somewhat out of fashion in recent years, although these days they are starting to make more appearances on restaurant menus. One disadvantage with these fish is that they need to be eaten very fresh or the taste is a bit tinny on the tongue.

2 large or 4 small fresh herring, filleted and small bones removed
1-2tbsp plain flour
A tablespoon of vegetable oil for frying
A couple of good knobs of butter
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into fine matchstick shreds
1 medium turnip, peeled and cut like the carrot
A piece of celeriac weighing about the same as the carrot, peeled and cut the same
3tbsp cider vinegar
2 medium shallots, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1tsp caster sugar
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil

Mix the shredded vegetables and shallots and place in iced water for an hour to crisp up. Drain, damp dry with some kitchen towel then mix with the vinegar and sugar in a non-reactive bowl and season then leave for about 15 minutes while you are cooking the fish.

Season the fish and lightly flour the skin side, patting off any excess flour with your hands. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy, trusty frying pan or non-stick one and cook the fillets skin-side down for about 3 minutes on each side, adding the butter halfway through cooking. The skin side should be crisp and you may need to leave the fish skin-side down in the pan a little longer during cooking.

Meanwhile, drain the vegetables off and scatter over cold serving plates and drizzle with the rapeseed oil. Place the fillets on the vegetables, skin side up and serve.

Creamed Jerusalem artichokes with duck livers and chanterelles

Serves 4

Jerusalem artichokes are another ugly-looking root with a subtle, earthy flavour which suits meat, fish and offal – and they tastes great on their own, too. I've used them here to create a base for the duck livers and mushrooms – and if you felt so inclined, you could also thrown in a few duck's hearts, too. Wild mushrooms were in short supply this year; you could also use cultivated oyster mushrooms.

300-400g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and halved
250g duck livers, cleaned
100g butter
120-140g chanterelles, cleaned but not washed or they become soggy
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the Jerusalem artichokes in boiling salted water for 10-12 minutes or until they are tender, then drain them and blend in a liquidiser or food processor, then transfer to a clean pan and season to taste.

To serve, season the duck livers (and hearts if you are using them), melt the butter in a frying pan until it is foaming and cook the livers for a couple of minutes on each side.

Add the chanterelles or cultivated oyster mushrooms and cook them for a further 30 seconds, stirring the chanterelles and livers as they cook.

Spoon the Jerusalem artichoke on to warmed serving plates; scatter the livers and mushrooms over.

To see Mark Hix's exclusive cookery videos, or to comment on this article, see independent.co.uk/hix

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