Roasted Roots Stock

I’m taking it a little easy today after having been laid out with a whopping migraine last night.  Of course, taking it easy means what it always does for me–I’m doing about as much as I always do–just a little slower.

Laundry, dishes, paying the first installment on the part of the furnace cost I financed (thanks to an energy-saver refund check from the city and my teaching fees from Farm Beginnings), making up a big tray of goodies for the birds, de-decorating and dragging out the Christmas tree, and re-filling the bird feeder were all on the to-do list.

I bought a fennel bulb at Jones’ during our post-blizzard supply run yesterday, and made one of my usual fishy-beany-vegetable winter salads for dinner last night.  But I didn’t use any of the tougher stalks or leafy fronds from that bulb.

Casting about the crisper drawer, I also saw a few split-open parsnips I’d saved along with a couple leeks past their prime and some smaller might-be-getting-funky-in-there celeriac roots.  Nothing was really far gone, but it wasn’t looking like delectable eating, either.

I’ve been reading a lot about stocks and broths lately–how to make really good ones.  Technically what I am making now is a broth and not a stock–stock is made with bones according to the sources I’ve read, though the terms stock and broth are often used interchangeably.

To make a really good stock, you always add a little acid with the bones–wine or vinegar–to pull the minerals out of the bones.  When cooled, well-made stock should be gelatinous (yes, because where does gelatin come from? Bones.)

So, I can make a pretty killer chicken stock, but I’ve never been able to make truly deliciously savory broth from vegetables.  It always tastes a little too “green” to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I like green.  But with a broth I want some more depth of flavor–something a little more hearty than just vegetables simmered in water.

Well, I finally figured out what I was doing wrong.  The best way to make broth from vegetables is to roast the veggies first–caramelize them to bring out their sweetness and richness.  Then the simmering can commence.

So, that’s what I’m doing.  I washed and scrubbed the woody split parsnips and the little celeriac roots, peeled the out yucky layers from the leeks (my worms are going to be sooo happy with me!), and chopped them into chunks along with the fennel stalks.  I pared off anything that was actually mushy, of course, but the peels stayed on.

I threw in a small handful of parsley I had left languishing in the drawer along with the leafy fronds of the fennel, and I melted a little butter in the bottom of my Dutch oven.  I tossed the chunks of veggies with the butter and a little added olive oil and sprinkled with salt.

The veggies went in the oven at 350 degrees for about an hour–I stirred them once or twice so they’d get good and caramelized.  Then the pot came out of the oven and is now on the stovetop, filled with water just to top the veggies and simmering away.

Just from the smell, I can tell that this is what I’ve been trying for–more rich and earthy and brown-smelling than the green and medicinal broths of my past attempts. Who needs incense when you can fill your house with the odor of roasted root veggies?

I can’t wait to use this stuff in a recipe, where the flavor of all those veggies that might have otherwise ended up in the compost (and will now, but having had much of their goodness extracted) will make a great background flavor for a hearty potato or carrot or split pea soup.

Local ingredients: parsnips, celeriac, leeks, parsley.

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