It is undeniably cold these days, but winter has a warm side to it -- vegetables.
Everybody assumes there's nothing available come winter, and those people cannot be more wrong, says Michael Anthony, author of the cookbook "V is for Vegetables" (Little, Brown and Co.; October 2015; $40) and executive chef of the restaurants Gramercy Tavern and Untitled in New York City. "It's charming to eat in winter," he says.
While spring, summer and fall get all the glory for their seasonal produce, winter is overlooked. But the fact is that the list of winter vegetables is long, the flavors intriguing and the preparations endless.
There are the hardy greens such as kale, mustard and collard, and root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, leeks, celery roots, radishes and beets.
Also, it is the season of the pedigree cauliflower, an adaptive vegetable that can speak in different accents, be it mashed, baked, roasted, sauteed, fried or steamed. The florets' silky notes can provide a rich backdrop to lobster or truffles while their prosaic side is highlighted in a curry when cooked with turmeric, ginger and chili powder.
While summer squashes are vegetables to reckon with, so are winter squashes. Beneath the hard rinds, squashes such as the Hubbard, butternut and Japanese kabocha are soft, sweet and delicious with just a simple touch. Slice and saute a Hubbard until lightly golden brown and then marinate the slices in mint, red wine vinegar and sugar. Or puree a kabocha or butternut with a little water and a few drops of cream, and then season it with salt, a grinding of black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Or roast a spaghetti squash, scrape out the strands and add some olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
Then there are the knobby sunchoke, aka Jerusalem artichoke (a misnomer, as it has nothing to do with Jerusalem or an artichoke), oddly shaped kohlrabi (a love child of the cabbage and turnip) and rough-looking rutabaga (a larger and sweeter cousin of the turnip). They might not win any beauty contests by themselves, but when they get cleaned up and have their stems cut and rough skins peeled, they not only get a facelift but also are tasty when simply roasted or form the base of a stew or gratin.
Anthony says vegetables vanish from our daily lexicon in winter, and they shouldn't. "People want to have an immediate dinner and the hardy vegetables require more effort to make them. They need a little bit of investment of your time," he says.
Parsnips and turnips are among the vegetables that get the short end of the stick, he says. They can be converted into wondrous dishes simply by being roasted, pureed or made into fritters. In his book, Anthony writes that parsnips are "as easy to peel as a carrot" and can be made into addictive chips by slicing them paper-thin and frying the slices in grapeseed or peanut oil. He says they come out amazingly light and crispy and require just a sprinkle of salt.
When the chef lived in Japan, he fell in love with turnips, especially the small round white hakurei, the long purple-topped hinona and the red-tinted akakabura, he says in his A-Z format book, which is thoughtful, evocative and friendly to follow. These days he delights in making a turnip and winter squash stew with chicken that is flavored with ginger, soy sauce, sweet rice wine and dashi, a Japanese stock made with seaweed. He also serves mustard greens with glazed hakurei turnips that are cooked in a citrusy sauce.
"Cabbage is inexpensive, delicious and nutritious but gets no respect," he says. He avoids boiling cabbage and instead prefers to highlight its fresh and crunchy qualities.
Anthony makes a coleslaw with thinly cut cabbage, carrots and onion and dresses it with a tangy mayonnaise made with egg yolks, Dijon mustard and red wine vinegar.
It's not just the cabbage that deserves more respect but so do the other rustic-chic winter vegetables, as after all they are the truest voices of the ground they are grown in. So pay heed to the comforts of winter before spring pushes them to the side.
Roasted Cocoa Cauliflower
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons for drizzling
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 head cauliflower, leaves removed, stem trimmed flush with head
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Combine oil, cocoa powder, chili powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Transfer as much of the mixture as possible into a container, but do not clean the bowl.
Place cauliflower, floret side down, in the bowl. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil down into the interior of the vegetable, making sure the stems and florets are greased.
Then drizzle half of the cocoa-oil mixture down the stalk to season the interior of the cauliflower. Turn the cauliflower over and drizzle the rest of the cocoa-oil mixture on top. Distribute and rub the entire head with the mixture. Finally drizzle and rub the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil on top of the cauliflower.
When ready to cook, set the cauliflower, floret side up, in a cast-iron skillet. Bake the cauliflower until the stem is tender in the middle, about 1 1/2 hours.
Parsnip & Kale Gratin
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1/4 cup shallots, minced, divided
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
11/4 pound parsnips, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 cup grated Parmigiano
1/2 pound tender kale (center ribs removed), blanched for 10 minutes and patted dry
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a medium baking dish with a tablespoon of butter, then scatter half of the garlic on the bottom and set aside.
Heat remaining tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add shallots and remaining garlic; stir until softened, about 3 minutes. Add cream and nutmeg, and a generous amount of salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer.
Arrange half the parsnips in buttered dish, working in a circle and overlapping the edges. Be sure to cover the bottom well because it will cook down to form one thick layer. Sprinkle with half the cheese, then spoon on half the cream.
Layer remaining parsnips, cheese and cream mixture. Then add the kale on the top layer, nestling it in between the slices of parsnip.
Place dish on a baking sheet (to catch any drips) and bake until parsnips are tender and gratin is bubbling and browned on top, about an hour.
Carrots and Dill
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/8 teaspoon asafoetida powder (optional)
1/4-inch piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped
1 to 2 green chilies, finely chopped
1 pound carrots, peeled, cut crosswise in 1/2-inch slices
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
2/3 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat oil in a wok over medium heat. When hot, add cumin seeds. A few seconds later, add asafoetida; then a few seconds later, add ginger and chilies.
When ginger starts to brown, add carrots, coriander and turmeric. Stir for 2 minutes.
Add dill and salt; stir. Cover, lower heat and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes or until carrots are just done. With slotted spoon, take carrots out the pan, leaving as much oil behind as possible.
Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes and Brussels Sprout Leaves
5 large Jerusalem artichokes
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 small sprig rosemary
1 tablespoon butter
3 cups Brussels sprout leaves
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut knobs off Jerusalem artichokes, aka sunchokes. Cook the smaller cut-off pieces in the same pan with the large pieces and remove them when they're soft.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the large sunchokes, salt and pepper, and cook until brown all over, about 6 minutes. Then roast them in the oven until tender, about 30 minutes, flipping them after 10 minutes for even browning.
Remove skillet from oven and put it on a burner over medium heat. Add garlic, rosemary and butter. Using a spoon, baste the sunchokes until they are lightly glazed and light brown all over.
Transfer to a cutting board and thickly slice crosswise.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the Brussels sprout leaves, salt and pepper, and cook for about a minute, stirring constantly. Add shallots; cook for1 minute, stirring.
Add sunchokes and cook until the leaves are brown in places and crisp-tender, about another minute. Season with lemon juice and stir in the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil.
Chicken and Root Vegetable Soup
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 plum tomato, finely chopped
10 cups chicken stock
8 chicken thighs, skinless and boneless
8 sprigs fresh cilantro, plus more to garnish
1/2 pound waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 carrots, peeled and sliced 1-inch thick
1 large green plantain, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 ounces spaghetti, broken in half
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Serves six to eight.
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and tomato and cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add stock, chicken and cilantro and cook for 20 minutes. Add potatoes, carrots and plantain and cook until chicken and vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.
Using tongs, transfer chicken to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Shred chicken into bite-size pieces. Return chicken to pan. Stir in spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls, garnish with cilantro, and serve.