Schwarzwurzeln, Smoked Salmon & Champagne Risotto

mmm, yes, root vegetables! The first time I saw Schwarzwurzeln, I thought, “Why are twigs being sold in the vegetable section? And what are they?” After much asking of, ”You know those things that look like someone dug up the roots of a tree, what are they?” someone said, “Oh them! They’re Schwarzwurzeln!” Which I promptly looked up and discovered as a bunch of things no english speaker I know of has ever heard of. “Yeah, but what do they taste like?” “Oh, white asparagus for poor Belgians,” said one Belgian.

My first several attempts (all successful!) of cooking these delicacies resulted in not insignificant amounts of oozing of latex (yes, really) that stains everything black unless doused in lemon juice. This time, I discovered boiling them for 15 minutes first, and then the skin pops off like peeling a lychee. The difference is the former results in crisp eating, like stir-fried asparagus, and the latter verges on the despotic northern-european tradition of boiling until joyless.

Ja, so, risotto! For Isabelle and Malcolm on the 24th, which is when Germany does Christmas (no, I don’t know why either.) Risotto with Champagne. Or Sekt. Or Sparkling Wine, whatever you want to call it, just the dry, flinty stuff, like licking granite cliffs in Norway. And smoked salmon. None of that weird packaged sliced stuff, just a good-sized steak of hot-smoked depravity. Sadly it was a Tuesday when I did the buying so Herr Räucherfisch was not at the Markt. The replacement did the job, however.

What else?

  • Garlic, as much as you like. I threw in about half a corm.
  • Onions, or shallots, enough for an easy handful
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper
  • Butter, a good-sized knob
  • Olive oil, as much as you need once everything’s in the pan to keep things moist
  • Risotto rice
  • Champagne!
  • Stock, chicken is best (provided it’s not battery chicken), otherwise mushroom or vegetable
  • Parmigiano, I used about 300g for three people, more is possible
  • Schwarzwurzeln, usually comes in 500g packets or as many as I can hold in my hand
  • Smoked salmon, a bit more than the cheese
  • Lemon
  • Thyme, fresh, otherwise soak in a bit of oil to soften it up
  • Saffron threads are good too, but I can never find them

As you can tell I have no idea how much of anything to use, I just make it up as I go along. What is important is the quality of the stuff you’re going to eat until breathing hurts.

To the stoves!

Cut the Schwarzwurzeln into lengths short enough to fit in a pot, boil some water, throw them in and ignore for 10-15 minutes. You’ll be busy so make sure someone know’s what time it is.

Cut the onion. I learnt a fully awesome method that results in molecule-sized cubes: Cut the onion into quarters, then for each separate out the top half layers. Flatten them and cut length-ways (same direction you’ve already been cutting in) then cut the now julienned strips into minusculeness. They utterly melt in the pan. Do the same for the garlic. Grate the zest off the lemon.

Ok, Schwarzwurzeln is finished. Get it off the stove and into some cold water. Start popping the skin then soaking in the juice of that lemon (just squeeze it like you’re a super-villian). Ignore it again.

Pan! Heat! Butter! Onions! Low heat … let them melt and go all unholy! Garlic, but not too hot. If you caramelise that garlic, I will cut you! (Now with the Saffron if you have it.) Olive oil is good about now. Salt & Pepper! Rice! Stir it with the heat going up, things need to get a little calamitous before the Champagne hits the pan. In with the lemon zest, and a quick stir, then in with the champagne, half the bottle, then the rest into the freezer so you can drink while stirring.

Once that’s calmed down, start adding the stock, which by the way is simmering on the back element. Now it’s time to work one’s zen martial arts training. A lot of stirring and no complaining. I cheat a bit, 2-3 ladles of stock then stir it until it’s mostly gone, with periodic wanderings off.

First wandering off: grab the cheese and flake it with your best knife. For entertainment (as with stock-stirring) try with your other hand, being careful not to add fingernails or fingertips. Back to the pot, more stock and stirring, alternating hands and directions for maximum excitement. There’s 40 minutes of this so everything depends on the freezer being cold.

Second wandering off: get the salmon and flake it like the cheese. Eat the skin. Eat the bloody skin! It’s fucking delectable. Back to stirring. Back to fridge and commence drinking. Scrape the Thyme off its stems and soak it if it’s dry. More stirring. Cut the Schwarzwurzeln lengthwise (or thirds if they’re fat stumps) then into 2cm long bits. More stirring. More drinking. Stir, drink, stir, drink. Did you buy two bottles of champagne? Yes? Why, you clever thing. More stirring. More drinking.

Presuming everything else has been done, salads made, table set, drinks at the ready, now comes the last frenzy of terror after many tens of minutes of boredom. Throw in a bit more lemon zest, keep stirring, in with the Schwarzwurzeln (yes, stir), bring the heat up a bit to compensate, in with the salmon (variation: gently stir, gently!) and just before it’s all about to turn to shit, in with the cheese. Stir, then don’t stir!

Plates, bowls, whatever, doesn’t matter. Fill them with this glorious slop, then throw a bit more cheese on top, followed by more salmon, then the thyme. Eat with that third bottle of Sekt you bought. Keep the pot on the table because you will finish it and will find breathing and walking difficult.