At the Root of It….
Summer is only halfway over and yet I am already seeing ads for school supplies. I lamented that fact to a friend and it got us talking about the relative simplicity of times when all we had to worry about was new classmates and teachers, purchasing Trapper Keepers and writing essays about what we did on our summer vacation. It’s a shame because it hasn’t been until recent years that my summer’s have been worth writing about.
This summer, in addition to a few vacations and long weekends, I have tried to take some trips right in my own kitchen. You see, earlier this year, our local grocer made a concerted effort to rotate in small amounts of “exotic” produce that are typically not found in upstate PA. Because of this, I decided that each week I would purchase whatever was new and figure out something to do with it.
There seems to be little rhyme or reason to how each week’s produce is chosen and so my results have been hit or miss. At different times I have been greeted by tamarind with its beautiful brown pod and fleshy fruit, pungent salsify, dragon fruit and the kiwano melon (which looks like it is straight out of a 1970’s Star Trek movie). One of the more successful attempts I have had with this rotating produce experiment was when I walked in to find dozens of waxy, starchy pieces of yucca root piled high. While I had never worked with it before, my produce guy Brett said that it was similar to a potato and could be prepared as such.
With Brett’s advice in mind, I took the yucca home and set to peeling it before boiling and making a quick mash. The second I attempted to peel the thick bark, I realized that Brett was full of shit and had probably never worked with Yucca root either. My vegetable peeler was useless and so I turned to a sharp paring knife abd worked all of the waxy bark off of the yucca to expose a fairly dense starchy center. After bringing some salted water to a boil, I did a large dice on all the yucca and tossed them in the water. After 10 minutes, I checked on the yucca and while it was cooked and edible, it was downright boring.
My grand plan of sneaking something new into dinner was not going so well, so I pulled out the two ingredients that always make things better: butter and sugar. Browning the butter in a saucepan and then adding some large shavings of an unrefined Hispanic brown sugar called piloncillo provided me with a perfect glaze to finish the nondescript roots.
This dish may not sound like much and admittedly it’s not going to end up on the cover of any food magazine, but sometimes cooking is more than the end result. Not only will my next outing with yucca root be undoubtedly better but I was also able to forget about everything else and focus on the process of creating a dish and all the enjoyment that goes with it.
What about you ES-ers? Anyone have secrets for getting the most out of yucca?