Tuesday, February 8, 2011

it’s not always easy being green

Winters in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere are nothing short of a crapshoot for devoted locavores.  Not unlike my Dutch in-laws back in Holland, we Northwest folk are seasonally thrust into a world of meat, grains, tubers, squash and root vegetables, served with a side of cabbage or perhaps, its leafy, dark green cousin, kale.  Can you say meat and potatoes?  Ja!


Due to the fact that I have little tolerance for eating the same, same, same thing night after night, I cave.  Come winter, I buy the tart and tiny cherry tomatoes from Mexico, mediocre Chilean red grapes and overly green bananas from Ecuador.  Organic, granted, but nothing to write home about.  Bear in mind, I am what you would call a seasonal locavore or in layman’s terms, impatient.  That’s me.  The impatient, seasonal locavore who starts every good book by reading the last chapter, peels back the scotch tape on gift wrap with James Bond-esque finesse and bites into as many chocolates as it takes to get to the one with the best filling. 

What little produce I can find locally sourced this time of year is little indeed: brussel sprouts hardly the size of regulation shooter marbles and Swiss chard leaves, more like Swiss cheese, hosting entire colonies of tiny black bugs.  These are all par for the course.

In the bleak midwinter, there is only one thing to do to counter the myriad of bland produce.  Well, actually, there are two.  One is proactive and the other is affectionately known as dining out.  Dining out is clearly the easiest way to garner an inspired winter meal; though not so easy on the wallet. 

More work but also infinitely more gratifying is actually taking the time and effort necessary to bring a shot of flavor to otherwise mundane meals.  Slow-roasting is key here.  As are the little things such as adding a handful of dried cherries and candied ginger to an apple crisp, roasting fish with a trio of currants, capers and pine nuts, swapping out the cheddar and parmesan for say, gruyere or pecorino, or maybe folding a pinch of chili pepper and crunchy sea salt into your favorite brownies.  Dried fruit, aged cheeses, nuts, spices… These are all stellar stand-ins when the sun is on vacation. 

My favorite way to impart flavor in winter vegetables is to drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, toss and roast in a hot oven, around 450 degrees, for thirty minutes, give or take.  I use this method on broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, fennel bulb, eggplant; you name it, I roast it.  Roasting transforms pert, raw vegetables into ‘just back from Bali’, suntanned apparitions of their former selves.  Crisp, caramelized edges give way to melt in your mouth centers with a punch of concentrated flavor accented by crunchy bits of sea salt and silky, fruity olive oil.  I sometimes have to pinch myself to remember that these are vegetables. 

Despite their roasted appeal, I eagerly anticipate the coming months when fresh vegetables are best eaten raw or lightly blanched.  In the meantime though, I get by just fine.

In an homage to traditional winter fare and my love of  roasted vegetables, I am sharing recipes for chard stuffed pork roast, oven roasted brussel sprouts flecked with shallots and pancetta and simply roasted fingerling potatoes with sea salt and olive oil.  Take that, winter dinner doldrums.

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