When I made the delicious roast pork and crackling, I didn’t just eat the pork by itself (although I could have done…. could have done quite easily, actually), I did, in fact, behave like a civilised person and served it with vegetables.
I really like to make the most of what we have and I always believe that adding something as simple as a few fresh herbs or spices or other flavourings, moves the finished dish up from the level of plain boiled vegetables (and how uninspiring that sounds) to something really delicious and which, if necessary can be eaten alone and still make the diner feel happy. It’s a policy that has served me well, as the Bear has been known to present me with extra people for dinner at short notice.
That’s not a bad thing as I love cooking and I always have more than enough for extras….at home we set an extra place for the Unexpected Guest…just in case. If they do arrive then they won’t feel like they are causing a problem. If they don’t, well, at least we were ready for them.
The only problem that can arise is that the extra guest might turn out to be vegetarian or (as happened on one fraught evening, less than an hour before a meaty, buttery, cheesey, creamy extravaganza of a dinner was served) a vegan. If the meal is based around a meat dish then the side dishes and vegetables should be delicious enough that it is no hardship to make a meal just from them.
As a family we have always been strong on side dishes. We had a cousin of my father’s who would come to stay at Christmas or other family occasions and she would take great delight in counting the amount of separate dishes we had produced. That, of course, is because she lived through the war years when food was scarce and then later she lived alone. You never really make as much effort when you are cooking for one and a big selection of side dishes highlights the fact that first of all there’s plenty to eat and share and secondly, it is a celebration.
I remember there was one famous occasion when Cousin Joan was almost beside herself as she counted that there were over twenty separate dishes. OK, I admit several of them were potato dishes – roast potatoes, new potatoes boiled with mint, creamed potatoes and mini baked potatoes but even so, it was a triumph! My mother and aunt had excelled themselves. Everyone of us could choose something they particularly liked. Not one person felt left out and everyone felt full…..
So, as you see, I have a lot to live up to. This day, though, I wasn’t going for twenty or more vegetable and side dishes… just two. I was going to roast parsnips in honey and thyme and make roast potatoes with apple butter. Sweetly savoury vegetable dishes that would be perfect with the roast pork… or just by themselves!
The two can be cooked together, so read through this because I will tell you about each, separately.
Honey and Thyme Roasted Parsnips
I had been shopping for vegetables and spotted some small parsnips labelled “Heritage variety parsnips”. They looked small and dainty and were, the greengrocer assured me, sweet and delicious. There was no other indication of what variety they were but it took it on trust and bought some.
I prefer my parsnips boiled then whizzed to a puree with some cream and horseradish but these were too small and dainty to do that to. Besides, the Bear adores roasted parsnips and as I was roasting pork anyway, it made life a lot easier to roast them alongside the joint.
They were topped and tailed, scrubbed and then rubbed in some garlic and oil. This is where using a tube of smooth garlic puree works well – it’s easy to get a smooth blend of oil and garlic so everything is coated consistently.
Squeezing some honey over those baby roots will really work with the garlic and, when cooked, add a rich and tasty glaze.
Don’t go mad… just a drizzle over them will do.
Sprinkle some thyme over the parsnips as they cook – the stems will dry and the leaves fall off so don’t worry about trying to just get leaves, which is what everyone tells you to do. All you have to do then is pick out the by now hard and dried stems and the leaves stay behind. Cut the hardier stems from lower down on the thyme bush and just put them on top. (You will need the baby soft tender ends of the newest growth later) As they cook they will add another lovely layer of flavour.
The parsnips can go in the oven about half an hour, forty minutes before you take the meat out. The temperature will be relatively low because of the meat so you won’t burn them.
Then, when everything is ready you can sprinkle some of the soft and tender baby thyme leaves over the parsnips.
They were delicious – parsnip is sweet and earthy by itself, the honey and thyme brightened that and the garlicky oil baste at the start brought everything together into a lovely sweet and savoury dish.
Apple Butter Roast Potatoes
I also had some baby potatoes and rather than just have them as steamed or boiled, I thought I might as well use the heat of the oven and roast them as well. Cost saving and efficient, as I’m sure you will agree.
Remember at the end of August we went foraging for apples in that abandoned orchard? I’d made lots of apple butter and used them in cakes and crumbles. I still had some left and they were really in need of being used up.
Pork and apple is a heavenly mix but rather than making an apple sauce, I thought I would roast them with the potatoes.
I didn’t peel them because I wasn’t going to peel the potatoes… I just cored and segmented them.
I cut the baby potatoes in half so they were roughly the size of the apple bits and sprinkled some thyme and oil over everything.
Using the same herb in the cooking process ties the dishes together well and makes them fit coherently. You don’t want them to taste overpoweringly of thyme – this just adds a hint, more of an echo really so they don’t clash with the parsnips.
Into the oven they go, alongside the parsnips so they can roast gently with the meat.
A spoonful or so of apple butter, towards the end of the cooking melts over the potatoes and adds a lovely appley, cinnamon, clove tasting glaze. Do this in the last ten minutes or so, after the potatoes have started to turn golden.
The apple has roasted to a soft, sweet mouthful and the potatoes have that delicious roasted taste, glazed over with the spiced apple butter.
Perfect to serve with roast meat.
Both of those dishes took just a few minutes to prepare and then they were left to do their thing in the oven. Much easier in my eyes than boiling or steaming. Much tastier too.
If a vegetarian had arrived that night – or even a vegan – they could have had , at least potatoes and parsnips and not felt too badly done by.
Cousin Joan would have approved though I am sure she would have wondered why I couldn’t have served at least another four or five dishes to accompany them……