Sweet Winter Produce: Get Back To Your Roots (and Greens)

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About the Author: Sarika Chawla is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who covers travel, food and lifestyle for various national and regional publications. She is best known as the editorial director for CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg.

Celery root might not be much to look at, but it provides a nice option to mashed potatoes.

During the holiday season, sweet treats usually mean baked confections. But now is the perfect time to head to the farmers markets for vegetables sweetened by the cold weather.

Evangeline Sarat, co-founder of Sweet Land Farm in Ithaca, NY, says, “We get a nice fall frost before we harvest for winter and that makes things really sweet — kale, carrots, beets. We practically eat nothing but kale all winter!” The science behind this transformation is that the plants convert their starches into sugars, which lowers the freezing point — and subsequent cell breakdown — in those colder temperatures.

As mentioned in a previous VIV Says, kale is the trendy vegetable du jour, with good reason. This nutritional powerhouse is packed with vitamins A and C and more than 1,000 percent of your daily requirement of the antioxidant vitamin K, not to mention a good amount of calcium and fiber.

Sarat recommends a “massaged kale” salad that sounds as if it comes straight from the 50 Shades of Kale (Minerva Salus Publishing, 2012) cookbook! Simply rubbing the leaves for a few minutes breaks down that tough, fibrous texture, she explains. Or sauteé the kale in oil “with onions and garlic and add salt and pepper,” she says.

Sweet Land operates solely as a CSA, with a 14-week winter program that allows members to come to the farm and pick out exactly what they want. While carrots, onions and potatoes are usually the first to go, they grow several other “winter storage crops” (a.k.a. root vegetables) such as as turnips, rutabaga and parsnips. “People underestimate the awesomeness of parsnips,” says Sarat.

In Montana, at the Bozeman Winter Farmers’ Market, which is operated by Gallatin Valley Botanical, market manager Katie Meyer notes that the first frost tends to sweeten items like broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. But it’s winter squashes and, of course, root vegetables that fill the market stands and the CSA baskets: beets, fingerling potatoes and Black Spanish radish, just to name a few.

Often rough and woody looking, root vegetables don’t often get the same respect as more colorful spring and summer produce. Root vegetables offer high nutritional value, plus they’re exceptionally easy to prepare — just peel, dice toss with olive oil and salt, and roast in the oven until tender and sweet.

Considered the ugliest root vegetable of them all is celeriac, or celery root. Underneath the familiar crown of celery stalks is a sprouting, knobby root. But the creamy white interior has a mild, celery-like flavor. Puréed, it makes a beautifully light alternative to mashed potatoes. Just dice the celeriac, cook it in a small amount of butter in a saucepan, and pour just enough milk to cover it (2 percent milk works, but whole milk provides a richer flavor). Let it come to a boil and then simmer with a pinch of salt until soft (about 20 minutes). Remove the celeriac from the pan with only a bit a hot milk mixture and place in a blender or bowl. Blend or mash with salt and pepper to taste. If it comes out too thick, just add more of the hot milk.

Below is a hearty roasted celery root purée with cipollini onion and bacon bits from chef Seth Glessner of The Emerson Grill in Bozeman, MT.

Rustic Roasted Celery Root Purée with Cipollini Onions and Bacon Bits
Serves 6
3 large celery root (celeriac) bulbs
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 celery stalks
1 large carrot
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1 cup white wine
Handful of fresh thyme
6 cups vegetable stock
1½ cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons butter (optional)
6 cipollini onions
¼ pound bacon
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel and quarter the celery root. Toss lightly in 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and roast for 40 minutes at 375° F.

2. Chop the celery, carrot, onion, and garlic into a ¼-inch dice. Sauteé until soft. Deglaze the pan with white wine.

3. Add parsley and sauteé for 5 more minutes.

4. Add the stock and simmer for 60 minutes.

5. Puree celery root and vegetables with a hand blender to smooth, rustic consistency. Add heavy cream. Blend with an immersion blender. Add butter for extra richness if desired.

6. Peel and slice the cipollini onions fine. Toss in 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauteé.

7. Cook the bacon 10 minutes until crispy and then chop into bits.

8. Top the hot soup with 1 tablespoon of each.

NUTRITION SCORE (per serving)
453 calories
Fat 30 g (16 saturated)
Carbs 34 g
Protein 8 g
Fiber 6.5 g
Calcium 178 mg
Iron 2.2 mg
Sodium 915 mg

Have you had sweet winter vegetables?