Winter cooking can be a challenge because I can easily start missing all the fruits and vegetables available at other times of the year. But, when I embrace the humbler, heartier produce of winter, a whole world of goodness opens up for me. I hope it will for you, too. So, I hesitate to call these recipes because they seem to me more reminders of simple foods which are easily made, inexpensive, and available now.
In an earlier post, I mentioned my penchant for using clementines instead of tomatoes in my salads during the winter. These little gems match the acidity and sweetness of a tomato, and their loose skin makes them easier to peel than oranges. They also make a great, sticky snack on their own, and we buy them cheaply by the crate.
My mother turned me onto the luscious juiciness of red grapefruits. I sometimes find pink grapefruits too tart, but the red ones have a nicer balance, and each section swims in its own juices. We love these sliced in half for breakfast or as a quick first course instead of a salad. Last Easter for brunch, I found this recipe to chill them first, cover with a layer of brown sugar, then broil them briefly; they make an extra special starter for company.
Yams and Winter Squash
Since they keep well, I can usually find a nice selection of these starchy vegetables until spring arrives. Large winter squash like acorn or butternut can turn into the easiest side dish on earth. Slice the squash in half, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds, throw in a couple of pats of butter (or olive oil), sprinkle lightly with brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon, and throw them in the oven on a cookie sheet for an hour or so, until they are tender. The butternut squash usually grow larger, so I cut them into individual portion sizes before I serve them, but half an acorn squash makes a perfect serving for one.
I mash yams (also frequently called sweet potatoes) and serve them the same way I would regular mashed potatoes, but these orange beauties have more flavor, more vitamins, and a creamier texture. Instead of boiling the yams, I prick them a couple of times with a fork, and toss them directly into the oven rack with the fork pricks on top. (A single sheet of aluminum foil at the bottom of the oven will catch any wayward dripping.) I pull them out after an hour or so (using oven mitts) and set them on the counter for 10-15 minutes to cool enough for me to gingerly pick them up. I slice each yam open with a sharp knife. Pick each up (again, gingerly) by the edge of the skin and let the insides roll out of the skin and into a large bowl (so I never touch the hot flesh). I slice in some butter, or drizzle some olive oil, sprinkle with the barest hint of salt (to bring out the sweetness), pour in a small amount of milk (like a quarter cup), then mash them by hand. I add more milk as necessary if they seem too dry or stiff.
Unbelievably, we look forward to having mashed yams for several nights in a row after I make up a big bowlful. We have even eaten them with sauces, as when we served them with Coq au Vin, or you could serve them with pot roast.
Because they married late in life, I called my grandfather’s second wife by her first name, Gladys. She had been raised on a farm in Connecticut by European immigrants who served lots of flavorful, fresh vegetables (and homemade chutneys and pickles) with every meal. She and my grandfather invited us over regularly for dinners where traditional family fare (like roasted chicken, creamed spinach, and scalloped potatoes) came served in silver dishes set atop a white linen tablecloth. Her glazed carrots delighted all of us, and she shared her secret with me, ground ginger.
Here’s how she made carrots a favored side dish of usually picky children. Slice the carrots on a diagonal (discarding the stem and the very tip). Melt a couple of pats of butter in a large frying pan, and swirl in lots of canola oil to distribute the buttery flavor into the oil. Drop in the carrots, and spread them across the pan into a single layer (or as close to it as you can get). Sprinkle with a trace of salt to bring out the sweetness (but not enough to taste the salt), then douse with a generous amount of ground ginger.
Cover and cook over the lowest of flames, stirring often. Cook until the sugar inside the carrots carmelizes, they become soft, and a lovely shiny glaze coats them.
I promise you, you have never tasted the humble carrot like this! People express amazement at dinner parties and frequently ask for the secret. Now you have it, too.
In other posts, I have rhapsodized over the joys of garlic spinach and collard greens, so I’d merely like to say two quick things here. First, I found both collard greens and kale at BJ’s Warehouse in HUGE bags, already chopped. Hurray!
Second, smothered cabbage (also called stewed cabbage sometimes) can be a revelation if you have not tried it recently (or ever). Simply follow my recipe for collard greens except that cabbage can be quickly chopped (because it has no stems), and I add in a teaspoon or so of brown sugar (which is optional).
I hope these simple suggestions enrich your winter table as they do mine. Finding a way to enjoy the bounty of each season continually provides us with a rich and varied cuisine at a reasonable price. I find myself frequently giving thanks for this daily blessing.
Wishing you every blessing,