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Roots & Tubers

Although roots and tubers are often thought of as winter foods, some also appear in the summer: small new potatoes, sweet beets and tiny multicolored radishes.

Once cooked, starchy potatoes become light, dry and fluffy, making them ideal for baking whole or mashing. Freshly dug waxy potatoes have a sweet flavor and creamy texture, and because they keep their shape well, they are ideal for roasting or boiling and steaming for potato salads.

Beets’ sweet, earthy flavor and tender texture make them a versatile flavor, while radishes are best eaten raw in fresh salads, or simply dipped in salt and served with buttered bread.

Selecting
Choose firm potatoes that are not blemished, wrinkled, tinged with green or cracked. If the potatoes have any buds, they should show no sprouting. When selecting waxy potatoes, look for loose ones, because those packaged in plastic bags sprout more readily.

Regardless of their size, look for firm, rounded beets with smooth skins and no noticeable bruising. Fresh beets are often sold in bunches with the greens and root ends attached. Do not buy beets with wilted, browning leaves, as the greens are an indicator of freshness.

Radishes should be firm, with smooth skins and unwilted green leaves.

Storing
Potatoes keep well for up to 2 weeks in a cool, dry, dark and well-ventilated place such as a pantry or drawer. Avoid storing potatoes in the refrigerator to preserve their flavor and texture. New potatoes should be used as soon after purchasing as possible, as they do not keep well.

Separate the greens from beets before storing, and store both in the refrigerator in plastic bags for up to 5 days. Trim away radish greens before storing the root, as well. Small radishes can be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 week; large radishes will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Preparing
Scrub both starchy and waxy potatoes well with a stiff brush under cold running water to remove any dirt, taking care not to scrape off the thin skins of waxy varieties. If peeling, use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin, and cut out the eyes, if any, with a paring knife or the tip of the peeler. It is generally not necessary to peel waxy potatoes.

Beets are best when cooked whole, peeled and then sliced, chopped or mashed. Roasting beets will intensify their flavor and color. Wrap them in aluminum foil for quick cleanup. If boiling, leave about 1 inch of the stem and the root end intact to keep the beets from “bleeding” into the water. Remove the stems from beet greens, rinse well and spin dry.

Scrub radishes under cold running water and trim both ends, unless you are serving them as an hors d’oeuvre; in that case, you may want to leave 1 inch of the leaves intact as a pretty garnish. If the radishes are not as crisp as you would like, put them into a bowl of ice water and refrigerate for a few hours to refresh them.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion, (Time-Life Books, 2000).