|Farm Fresh Markets: Winter 2009
by Lynley Fleak photos by Antoinette Bruno
Rather than rely on the usual winter produce, explore your local farmer’s market for new varieties of fruit and vegetables to incorporate distinct flavors into your dishes. From root vegetables to hard fleshed-fruit, winter’s bounty offers a variety of specially cultivated produce to introduce to diners’ palates.
Growing endive, specifically the Belgian variety, is a labor-intensive process. To maintain its nearly-white color the roots of the harvested chicory plant are replanted in complete darkness, a process called blanching. Because of the plant’s light sensitivity, the leaves get bitter as they’re exposed to sun, leaving inner layers mild in comparison. This flavor duality makes it a versatile vegetable with many preparations, from braises to salads.
Tatsoi, known as spoon cabbage because of the shape of its leaves, is a common ingredient in Asian stir-frys. Quick-cooking methods are preferred to retain its mild cabbage and mustard qualities.
Chef Wharton, who says he likes to build his meals around fresh vegetables, simply combines these two texturally tender, but hardy greens raw in his Asian-pacific salad.
Chef Cliff Wharton of TenPenh Restaurant – Washington, D.C.
With over 1,000 varieties in the United States and over 5,000 world-wide, pears are an abundant ingredient for chefs to use throughout the year. But aromatic Boscs, with a season from September to April, reach their peak in the winter months. Pears in the US are purposely harvested unripe, yielding their characteristic dense flesh. This makes them ideal for poaching which enhances their sweetness.
Pastry Chef Neil Robertson poaches his pears in white wine and intensifies their spiciness with the addition of peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, and the obligatory vanilla bean. He serves them with a warm hazelnut financier in a shallow pool of clear, pear poaching liquid he calls consommé.
Pastry Chef Neil Robertson of Canlis – Seattle, WA
Persimmons may be reaching the end of their season at winter’s start, but the small, electric-orange, tomato-looking Fuyu variety can still be savored in the cold months. This Japanese variety (persimmons are Japan’s national fruit, you know) is sweet, with a hint of cinnamon. Fuyu are firm and less astringent then the Hachiya variety because they lose their tannins in the ripening process.
Chef Kristine Subido combines fresh chopped Fuyu persimmons with pomegranate seeds to create a simple salad served over succulent Hawaiian yellowtail for a textural balance.
Chef Kristine Subido of WAVE – Chicago, IL
These are not your normal tubers. A type of fingerling potato, Ratte or La Ratte potatoes appear in the winter and remain until April. A member of the nightshade family, they retain their flavor if stored in cold, dark conditions, like a walk-in. They are highly prized by French chefs for their buttery, chestnut flavor. It’s the favored potato variety of Robuchon, and some credit the Ratte’s popularity to him when he reinvented the mashed potato or the “puree de pommes de terre” in the late 80’s, out-mashing the mundane American version.*
Chef Steve Benjamin of Robuchon’s L’Atelier boils them in their skins with garlic cloves and thyme sprigs to infuse with more flavor before passing them through a food mill and finishing them with rich black truffle.
*According to http://www.larattepotato.com/my-story/.
Chef Steve Benjamin of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (MGM Grand) – Las Vegas, NV
Believed to be a cross between a cabbage and turnip, it’s no wonder rutabagas are also referred to as yellow turnips or Swedish turnips. The most popular variety is the American Purple Top, aptly named for their purplish exteriors. They are larger than other types of rutabagas but choose the smallest Purple Tops of the bunch, because their flesh tends to be sweeter. Rutabagas are more popular in European cuisine, but lately chefs across the pond have started to incorporate their cabbage and mustard flavors into an array of dishes.
Chef Chester Gerl chooses to mellow the rutabaga’s peppery pungency by combining it with potatoes, parsnips, and butternut squash in a creamy, cheesy gratin.
Chef Chester Gerl of Matt’s in the Market – Seattle, WA