Riverford Wicked Leeks

veg hero - swede

Swede could be described as the black sheep of the veg family. It has neither the showboat prettiness of romanesco or asparagus, nor the plain Jane necessity of onions or garlic, so it often ends up a victim of pigeonholing, and is left rolling around the bottom of the fridge if the Sunday roast gets skipped that week. However, to an enlightened few its potential stretches beyond vegetable stock or as an afterthought to a piece of roast beef. It’s hard to say where its lowly reputation comes from, but all it takes is a little kitchen creativity to tap its rooty potential.

The first step to take is to think beyond the mash. Once you’ve peeled your swede (a potato peeler is fine), chop off the top to give yourself a wobble-free flat base. Sliced thinly and cut into matchsticks, swede holds oriental flavours like ginger, garlic, sesame and soy particularly well, so throw some into your next stir-fry. Its sweet, earthy flavour brings depth to potato dauphinoise too; slice it to the same thickness as your potatoes and layer the two along with slices of celeriac with the usual cream, garlic, thyme and seasoning for a luscious three-root-gratin. Grating it along with red cabbage and celeriac into a winter coleslaw gives you a fast food option, and any left over will store quite happily for a few days in the fridge wrapped in clingfilm (but don’t leave it too long, or it will dry out).

Robin Hudson, one of our junior sous chefs in the Field Kitchen, has a tasty alternative to traditional mash, if you’re a bit of a purist. Every Christmas his dad Ron peels and chops a swede into chunks, and puts them on the hob in a flameproof casserole dish, with just enough water to cover. Once brought to the boil he adds a good knob of butter and seasoning, and puts the whole lot, uncovered, into the low oven of their Aga, where it slowly steams away to buttery, flavourful richness over a few hours. Once all the water has evaporated, he throws in some more butter and plenty of pepper, and mashes the lot. If you don’t have an Aga, an oven set at around 80˚C should do the trick.

If none of that works out, swede also make a rather fine scarecrow head, but we think that’s a bit of a waste!