Winter vegetables

You may at this point be wondering if you’re ever going to get vegetables back in your diet, since the green vegetables shipped from California look not so good for the travel and/or questioning nutritional value after a week or more out of the field.  I hear ya and am here to pique your interest in vegetables to see you through winter.

I frankly do not understand why people buy cucumbers in the dead of winter, or heaven forbid dreadful styrofoam tomatoes.  Me, I’m not looking to recreate deficient summer salads.  So I leave the summer produce alone — see you later zucchini! — and reacquaint myself with winter staples.

Carrots.  Braised with water and butter, and then lift the lid to let the water evaporate and then — voila! — you have cooked carrots with just a bit of butter.  Add some thyme or other fresh herb, even parsley or cumin. Splurge on organic; they’re not expensive.  Adds color to your dinner plate, and they’re delicious (and nutritious!).

Cabbage.  Cabbage need not be vile.  Just don’t boil it and you’ll be fine.  I like it sautéed with olive oil and oyster mushrooms and maybe some pancetta.  Just quarter head, cut out core, and cut into thin strips. Savoy is good for this.  Napa cabbage makes an excellent cole slaw, such as Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois Chicken Salad (sans chicken).

Parsnips.  Julienne them with carrots and roast in olive oil in a hot oven of about 400 degrees tossed in olive oil and thyme.  Fantastic side dish.

Broccoli rabe.  This bitter green survives the trek from CA well, and is just the thing for green leafy vegetables mid-winter.  (Contra swiss chard which is too delicate to not wilt one week out of the field.)  Braise it with garlic (natch!), olive oil and red pepper flakes and you have a very delicious and somewhat bitter green.  Add beans and/or sausage (andouille is what I like) and you have yourself a one-bowl dinner.

Escarole.  This green too survives the cross-country trek well.  It is also on the bitter side but not as strong as broccoli rabe.  It is a perfect foil for the fattiness of pork, as in pork tenderloin with prunes and escarole I made years ago.  Escarole does well braised with beans.

Potatoes.  Roasted.  Boiled.  In a gratin.  These are winter standbys.  And there are some good ones to be had, either a framer has them in storage or seek out some interesting varieties.  Or make soup.  It’s the easiest soup to make, and is a recommended starter soup to make as your first soup.  It is delicious, easy (you can simply use onions rather than leeks), and will build your confidence to trek further into soup-dom.

Sweet potatoes.  Yes, these are just fine scrubbed, poked, rubbed with oil and baked in a hot oven, and smothered in butter.  Even better is to roast them in wedges with olive oil and then some chipotle peppers near the end of the roasting time.  Or if you’re having a crowd, make my friend Deb’s sweet potato salad.

Winter squash.  I confess I am not a big fan of acorn, etc.  I find the texture too stringy and not welcoming, and the flavor, meh.  But I am fond of butternut squash.  Steam or roast wedges, and puree and stick into a quesadilla.  Or add maple syrup and butter and serve in a bowl.

Cauliflower.  A fine vegetable to eat in the winter, and shines in flavor when roasted.  If you’re feeding picking kids, put steamed cauliflower in a pan, dot with butter and lay on grated parmesan and heat until cheese is melted.  Adults like it too.  It makes a fine soup, either as the main ingredient, or as part of a vegetable soup.

Avocados.  These happily high-fat wonders have seem a resurgence (did they ever surge?) in popularity, carried on the shoulders by health afficienados.  They are good in guac.  Even simpler to cut up, sprinkle with lemon, and smush or place onto a piece of toast and call it breakfast.  And if you’re making a salad, they have a fine place there.  I like the bumpy ones from California, and avoid the smooth larger ones from Florida.

Celeriac.  If there is a farmer in your midst that stores, celeriac is a welcome relief.  A gnarly root crop related to turnip (at least taste-wise) it carries a cheery celery flavor too.  (Am not pausing to google to see if it is in fact what some refer to as “celery root.”  I don’t think it’s a common celery plant root.)  Grate it in your food processor or by hand (as I did when I –yet again — snapped off a crucial piece of plastic comprising the safety latch) along with a carrot or two and make celeriac remoulade.  (I prefer to grate it, and add wine vinegar to mayo.) I hear you can make a gratin with celeriac and potatoes.

And don’t despair.  Buy some citrus fruits, which are getting into their peak season now.  Have you tried a Cara Cara orange?  They will make you happy — sweet, juicy and very flavorful.  For dessert, try slicing them as follows: Cut in half from tip to tip.  Lay flat insides down on cutting board.  With blossom tips facing you east and west, cut the end, then make three thick slices and cut off other end.  Repeat on second half.  Serve on a plate for dessert.  I like mine room temp.




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