Yes, it looks like the trimmings from a witch’s broomstick, but salsify is a good deal more tasty than it looks. Apparently, the Victorians loved this winter root vegetable, but modern foodies seem to have forgotten about it, and the fact that in flavour it echoes oyster. Yes, oyster – interested now, aren’t you?
The root, leaves and purple flowers can all be eaten, though it’s the root (the bit that looks like a muddy stick) we’re concentrating on here. Peel it, and you’ll find pearly white flesh which looks not unlike white asparagus. Peel, steam and brown in butter for a nuttily flavoured side dish, or add chunks to soups and stews for earthy flavour. Use the tender (lighter) bit of the leaf nearest the roots as you would leeks, sautéed in butter and served with the roasted roots. Or try these easy options:
• Mash it: Peel, chop and boil salsify until tender, then mash with lots of cream, butter, salt and pepper.
• Brunch bunch: Pan fry peeled salsify batons in sizzling butter until browning on all sides, roast in the oven at 180C/Gas 4 for 10-15 mins until tender, and serve topped with Parma ham, poached egg and hollandaise sauce.
• Great gratin: Blanch peeled salsify batons in simmering water for 5 mins, arrange in a gratin dish, top with white sauce and a generous topping of grated mature cheddar mixed half and half with breadcrumbs. Bake at 200C/Gas 6 until golden.