PARIS -- When I emerge from the Couronnes metro stop early on Tuesday and Friday mornings, the morning light is still an hour or so away, but under the glow of streetlights, the fruit and vegetable vendors begin setting up their tables. One long stretch to the south and two blocks north, the market fills the fat median along Boulevard de Belleville, leaving just enough space for us, the buyers, to squeeze by each other.
There's the woman on the right, near the entrance, with a variety of French-grown apples, pears and artisanal ciders; the North African bread man is just beyond that; and farther still is my favorite fresh-herb seller and the stand where I find enormous heads of cauliflower and the small pumpkins -- potimarrons -- that taste like chestnuts.
But this time of year, it's about the roots -- parsnips, turnips and carrots, their bushy green tops still attached, stacked as high as the top of your head; bright pink, knobby-fingered topinambours (what we call Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes) displayed in square wicker baskets; and potatoes everywhere. There are small potatoes, the size of a robin's egg and bigger ones that fit easily in your hand, with red or sand-colored skins. And there are sweet potatoes from Africa, bigger than any that I've seen in Texas.
Despite root veggies' hefty size and weight, I usually buy some of it all. I can't help myself. I tote my overstuffed bag, slung over my left shoulder, down the two steep flights of stairs to take the metro back to the other side of town, where I live, and I swear that I'll not do this again. But I have soup just waiting to be made, or maybe a hot oven and a roast just begging for this wonderful mélange of veggies. They're easy, these roots -- ugly ducklings, most of them, just needing a little love.
Sexy? Hardly. Trendy? Almost never. Classics, absolutely, the sort that can easily be dressed up or down. Give me a pound of potatoes, and I imagine the possibilities. Thinly sliced, with a bit of cream, and baked, Dauphinois-style; cut into chunks and tossed onto the cookie sheet with a drizzle of olive oil and rosemary; shredded for hash browns, puréed for mashed potatoes, or gently boiled for a leek-potato soup.
All of the roots are like this. Uncomplicated. Best enjoyed with as little fuss as possible, so their true nature can shine.
Not a bad thing to remember.
Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef. Read her blog and watch her cooking videos on www.cowgirlchef.com. Or follow her on Twitter, @cowgirlchef.