BY MAX MARTIN, SPECIAL TO THE FREE PRESS
The first day of snow has already arrived, but that doesnt mean you cant still find delicious, seasonal, local produce in the community. While most might think of spring and summer as the high time for ripe vegetables, a few local farmers are still harvesting winter vegetables into November.
I stopped at the Western Fair District Market this weekend to find out just whats still in season and how you can use it in your cooking. I also came across a few unique vegetables that youll definitely want to incorporate into your winter dishes.
THE WINTER STAPLES:
Sometimes, you just want a classic. You can find locally grown varieties of all these vegetables at the market, and you wont be disappointed. Theyre often more flavourful than the mass-produced varieties:
Squash is a versatile fall and winter vegetable, and many different varieties were in bounty at the market. Butternut, acorn, sweet potato and spaghetti squash are all being grown locally in the region and are a great starch to work with. Delicate, earthy and sweet in flavour, in-season squashes can be pureed, mashed, roasted or steamed. A fantastic fall favourite of mine is ginger-butternut squash soup. If youre feeling fancy, top it with some crme frache and a drizzle of maple syrup. When buying squash, look for ones that are rich in colour, firm, and have minimal cuts or spots.
MINI PURPLE SWEET POTATOES
Something about cold weather and potatoes just goes hand-in-hand. Fingerling and mini potatoes are often in season into November and are delicious boiled with butter and parsley, but even better roasted. The mini purple sweet potatoes at Loco Fields were tender, buttery and fluffy. The farmer recommended keeping it simple: roasting them in butter with salt and pepper. If you want to take things up a notch, try coating them in duck or bacon fat before roasting with a pinch of rosemary.
Orange, yellow and purple carrots define the colours of fall. Theyre perfect for entertaining providing a colourful wow-factor without being difficult to work with. Heirloom carrots are often sweeter and more tender than the larger, more commercial varieties. Theyre best roasted in a pan with butter and thyme. For some brightness and to bring out the natural sweetness of the carrots, deglaze them with some honey and a squeeze of citrus juice.
NEW VEGETABLES TO TRY:
Believe it or not, these unique vegetables are all being grown in Southwestern Ontarios rich farm belt and are all available at local markets.
Winter radishes, like daikon or watermelon radish, were a popular item at the Saturday market. Common Ground Market Garden had quite the selection of these heirloom vegetables. Watermelon radish is beautiful to work with, named for its bright pink centre and lime green exterior. Its much sweeter than your regular radish, with the distinct bitter and spicy notes. While most might think salad is your go-to especially with arugula, olive oil and goats cheese you can roast and pickle watermelon radishes as well. Daikon radish is traditionally served with sushi, but if youre feeling daring, Id recommend mixing it into your next batch of homemade kimchi for an added kick.
Caraflex is a tall, pointy variety of cabbage. Its leaves are much more tender than head cabbage, and the darker green provides even more depth of flavour. When cooking, the cabbage takes on a buttery taste but still maintains its crunch. While you could opt to make a slaw, as the days get darker and colder, I think there is really only one way to prepare cabbage: Sauted with bacon and drizzled with balsamic vinegar.
If youre a fan of the Food Network, youve probably seen this trendy vegetable popping up over the year. A member of the cabbage family, kohlrabi is similar in texture to turnip and tastes almost like broccoli stems but much milder. In German, the name actually means cabbage turnip. If you slice the vegetable thinly, it can be prepared like kale or collard greens. Peel away the tough outer edge, and you can use it in salads, roast it or even include it on a vegetable tray when entertaining. The earthy vegetable plays well with carrots and apples in a shaved slaw.
TURMERIC AND GINGER
Loco Fields, located just outside of Stratford, is offering up locally grown turmeric and ginger root at the farmers market. These spices are perfect for fall cooking. Ginger root can be grated into soups and sauces, perfect for adding a warm spice that isnt overwhelming. Turmeric provides a blast of rich-orange colour and is fantastic in similar applications. I like to add it to rice before cooking to perk up the presentation and pick up the flavour.