Insights by Goldie: Explore the wonders of the winter pantry

by Goldie Caughlan

This article was originally published in December 2006

The successful winter kitchen is based on the creative use of all manner of gnarly tubers and roots, dark leafy greens, onions, leeks, shallots and garlic, and many types of hard-shelled winter squashes.

Winter squashes are multi-taskers — added to savory soups, baked in sweet breads and pies, or just baked until tender. The colors, flavors and textures of many raw winter vegetables, too, enhance endless variations of winter salads and slaws.

Let’s talk tubers
Bless all potatoes! Mealy-type Russets are the standby for baking, frying and mashing, while the waxy-skinned varieties, such as reds, Yellow Finns, Yukon Golds, Fingerlings and purple potatoes, excel when left unpeeled, cut in chunks, and roasted at high heat, seasoned with oil and herbs.

Sweet potatoes actually are not potatoes, and they are not yams, although they’re often called yams. These tubers include dark orange Red Garnets and Jewels, and a pale creamy variety. All are perfect bakers, but protect the oven from sugary drips by baking in a pan or on parchment paper.

Jerusalem artichokes also are misnamed. They’re actually in the sunflower family. Their unusual starch, inulin, possibly may help improve colon function and may help stabilize blood sugar levels. Don’t try to peel these knobby tubers. Just boil or roast and enjoy them like potatoes, or nibble them raw since they taste a bit like sunflower seeds.

Radical roots
Carrots and beets are excellent cooked but also are good grated raw into salads or turned into fresh veggie juices. Parsnips are less well known but deserve discovery. PCC delis mash boiled parsnips with potatoes for a delightfully different combination. I slice or grate parsnips and sauté them briefly in a bit of oil with a pinch of salt. The direct heat enhances sweetness and glazes them.

Turnips and rutabagas are powerful elders of the crucifer family of cancer-fighting vegetables, which includes all cabbages, mustards and most Asian greens. Chunk and roast these with other roots mentioned above.

Most roots and tubers roast well in bite-sized pieces with a little oil and fresh rosemary at about 400 degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes. Leftovers are delicious cold in salads. Raw turnips and rutabagas, along with Daikon (Japanese radish), may also be grated or sliced into salads.

Horseradish roots can become your own sauce or relish. Celeriac, a celery grown for its root, is delicious in soups or grated in slaw, as the PCC delis do. The long, brown burdock is a taproot especially valued in Japan. Add it to vegetable stews or scrub, slice and sauté it with shiitake mushrooms, cover and steam until tender, and season with a bit of soy sauce.

A field of greens
PCC produce departments feature a wide selection of kale with slightly different flavors and very different textures. Next to them you’ll find the flat, broad leaves of collards. All are related and all can be pan-braised, added to soups and stews, or finely minced and eaten raw in cole slaw salads, or with varieties of mixed greens.

Many people toss out the stems. My advice? Think again. These are extremely healthful, and most stems are tender if diced in small bits, stir-fried or added to salads and soups. One final note: definitely do discard any yellowed leaves, as they’ll be bitter.

The Swiss chards are tender-leafed greens in the beet family with strikingly beautiful and edible white, red, yellow or orange stems. Their flavor is delicate and smooth, somewhat like spinach. Serve any steamed or braised greens with a splash of lemon or vinegar and a bit of oil. For an Asian touch, season with Ume plum vinegar or rice vinegar, and toasted sesame oil.

Royalty in the garden
This is my term for all the elegant winter squashes, including Butternut, Kabocha, Delicata, Turban and more. If cutting the large hard shell is intimidating, just bake the whole, uncut squash until tender. When somewhat cool, open and remove seeds and pith, and scoop out the pulp to mash. So easy!

Spaghetti squash needs a different treatment. After steaming or baking, use a fork to “rake” the edible soft pulp into a golden mound of “spaghetti.” Top with your favorite sauce and a bit of cheese. Kids love it!

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