Living in a four-season climate, one of my biggest challenges as a passionate locavore is seasonal eating in winter. Although we do grow kale and other hardy greens under low tunnels well into the early winter, and although our root cellar is put to great use as a veritable outdoor refrigerator that stores the food I grew in my fall garden, the truth of the matter is that I rely much more heavily on food imports in the winter months. Here are a few winter vegetables and fruits – some locally sourced, and some not – that top my list of seasonal favorites.
Winter squash is a fantastic storage vegetable – it will keep for months in a cool corner of your home – so I like to grow or buy large amounts of squash each Autumn and enjoy it all winter long. You can generally find it available in your grocery store throughout the winter as well.
If you’re new to winter squash, you might enjoy a sweeter variety such as Delicata or Acorn. Try slicing one in half, placing maple syrup and butter in the cavity formed by scraping out the seeds, and baking it in the oven for 45 minutes until the entire squash is golden. Here are five easy ways to cook winter squash.
For a savory twist, and perhaps the most delicious squash you’ll ever eat, cut a Butternut squash in half and bake it for 45 minutes or until soft. Then fill the cavity with a mixture of caramelized onion, goat cheese, and a savory topping such as Zacusca, sun dried tomatoes, or pesto, and bake for another 10 minutes until golden and bubbly.
Butternut squash also makes an incredibly creamy soup. I love adding coconut milk and spices to make an Indian-inspired soup, but you might also try this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup recipe.
My personal favorite winter squashes are Buttercup and Hubbard varieties. Their sweet, meaty flesh make for delicious side dishes with just a pat of butter and salt. And if you really want to impress your friends and family, bake up a Buttercup or Hubbard variety and make this Winter Squash Cheesecake.
In the dead of winter, root vegetables are a welcome and hearty addition to any meal, and available at many grocery stores and in – where else – your root cellar! Some of my favorites include Rutabaga, Turnips, Beets, and Parsnips, all of which are looking beautiful in my local grocery store and are storing well in my root cellar.
Root vegetables are extremely versatile and can be enjoyed baked, steamed, boiled, and mashed. Try cutting a variety of root vegetables into 1” cubes and coating with olive oil before roasting in the oven. Or combine parsnips or turnips with potatoes for a twist on traditional mashed potatoes!
Another favorite way to enjoy root vegetables is to use it in a root vegetable hash, or in a braised dish such as this Braised Turnips and Apples with Bacon recipe. And don’t forget to make use of the edible and delicious turnip greens and beet greens!
Cousin to onions and garlic, leeks have a more mild flavor and are very cold hardy. This year I grew them in my garden until mid-December, and then lifted them to store in the root cellar. We use them in place of onions in sautés, soup, or sauces, or feature them in recipes such as the classic potato leek soup or a caramelized leek frittata.
Citrus: Lemons, Grapefruit
Citrus are the quintessential winter fruit, and I look forward to the boxes of lemons and grapefruits we receive both from good friends in Texas and my in-laws in Arizona. Grapefruits, lemons, kumquats, and oranges liven up heavy winter stews and roasts with their juice and zest and stand alone in many recipes and healing blends.
We love making Meyer Lemon curd, grapefruit curd, and other sweet treats. Citrus curds can be spread on toast or pancakes, swirled into yogurt, or eaten by the spoonful! A few years ago my husband and I made a 100-serving wedding cake for a friend’s celebration and layered lemon curd in between layers of lemon cake!
Before we juice lemons, we peel them, placing the peels into a quart of vodka. This will eventually become a delicious limoncello.
Seasonal eating in winter requires a bit of extra creativity and some perseverance. Take time to seek out year-round farmer’s markets, and peruse local food cookbooks for innovative ways to use winter vegetables. Learn how to garden in fall and winter so you can enjoy food straight from the garden. If you were able to preserve food from your garden or farmer’s market, enjoy it now! Savor those cans of homemade berry jam or the jars of dilly beans! Use the preserved bounty of summer as an accent to the hearty staples of winter – squash, root vegetables, and other storage crops.