Like potatoes, most people take the pear for granted. We are not those people.

This is the time of year to serve root vegetables, and where else will you find such a variety?

Eating local during the winter usually involves digging into your supply of canned vegetables and fruit. But you can also find a lot of fresh stuff this time of year, you just need to know where to look. Chef Hadley Schmitt and forager Larry Tse of New York City's Northern Spy Food assures us there are plenty of reasons to head there aside from picking up jars of homemade jam and local honey.

For Schmitt, one of the biggest incentives is maintaining relationships with farmers throughout the year so that come, say ramp season, when everyone is clamoring to get the item, he has already established a bond. Plus, he says, “This is the time of year to serve root vegetables,” and where else will you get such a variety? Here's our guide to understanding the farmer's market in the least farmer's market time of year.

Potatoes: This tuber may be the king of all root vegetables, and certainly it holds a special place in many cuisines, but often it’s overlooked as a common food. However, the potato has so much more to offer than French fries and as a side dish, and the neatest thing about getting this root in the farmers market is the sheer variety they offer. For example, when tromping around Union Square’s Greenmarket the other day, we found Purple Majesty, Ozette Fingerlings, Yukon Gold, Carola, Russian Banana, Purple Peruvian, Laratte, Magic Molly and German Butterballs — all from one stand.

But how to use this assortment you may wonder, well, Schmitt suggests peeling Laratte fingerlings like a carrot for mashed potatoes, which he said Yukon Gold works well for too, or picking up some German Butterballs to make a hash like they do for brunch at the restaurant. Antioxidant-rich purple potatoes tend to be waxy, so they are used for roasting and frying, and the fingerling-style Russian Banana have a nutty taste and soft texture that makes them good for slicing thin and putting on top of a pizza, or slightly cooking and adding to a salad. No matter what type you get, you may find an easy replacement to the good ol’ Russet sprout up in every store.

Cranberries: Now, you may not think of cranberries after Thanksgiving, but these bright red, tart berries are good for many things beyond a condiment for turkey. For one, Schmitt poaches them in honey (recipe below), pickles them and uses them for just about anything from perking up a salad, to adorning a meat dish or cheese platter to making a special sauce. Right now, this berry is at its peak, and you can find them by the bucket full at the farmers market. Plus, they look pretty, especially when you add a whole, uncooked berry to a glass of champagne or cocktail as a colorful garnish.

White beets: “To the diner, white beets become an optical illusion,” says Schmitt about these light–colored vegetables. “They think, ‘what is this creamy white root on my plate?’” What it is, is a type of beet devoid of color that has a subtle, velvety flavor that’s less sweet than the dark ones and, for the cautious cook, are good to use since they won’t stain your hands. These roots were thought to originate in Germany, Holland and Switzerland, though today you can find them in farmers markets throughout the United States. Unlike their golden and magenta cousins, these beets are only available in the winter and are sure to add a unique twist to any meal. Just be careful when mixing with the red beets, they will quickly yield to peer pressure and turn pink.

Pears: Like potatoes, most people take the pear for granted, but actually, this greenish-brown fruit is a cold weather item and in the January you can still get them. “You won’t have them in the summer [unless they are flown in], so now is the time to enjoy them,” informs Schmitt. Head to your local farmers market where you can pick up a variety of these winter fruits including the atypical Bartlett, sweet and juicy Comice, pie-friendly Devoe and Bosc, which prove heartier and able to stand to time in the pantry better than the other types.

Recipes courtesy of Hadley Schmitt of Northern Spy Food

Pear Salad with Roasted Kale, Arugula, Parsnip and Almonds
Servings: 2

Ingredients
1 ripe Bartlett pear
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 large leaves Tuscan kale, washed and dried
3 leaves sage, sliced finely
4 cups arugula, washed
1 large parsnip, diced into 1/4-inch cubes
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinaigrette (see recipe below)
1/4 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped

Directions

  1. Slice the kale into ribbon 1/2 inch wide and 1 inch long.
  2. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat with half the vegetable oil.
  3. When the oil is just starting to smoke, add the kale, season with salt, add the sage, and stir/toss often until the kale is lightly charred and starting to crisp; drain on paper towels and let cool to room temperature.
  4. Wipe out the cast iron skillet and place over medium-low heat.
  5. Toss the diced parsnip in the remaining oil and season with salt. Add to the skillet and stir occasionally until caramelized and tender, drain on a paper towel.
  6. Quarter the pear, carve out the seed and core and discard.  Dice half of the pear the same size as the cooked parsnip.
  7. Place the diced pear and parsnip in a mixing bowl and add the apple dressing, followed by the arugula and kale, dress the greens and season lightly with salt, fold in the toasted almonds and divide onto two plates.
  8. Cut the remaining pear pieces into long thin wedges and garnish the top of the salad.

Apple Cider Vinegrette

Ingredients
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon apple cider
1/8 teaspoon maple syrup
1/2 cup neutral flavored vegetable oil
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, cider, and maple. Slowly drizzle in both oils while whisking, season with salt.

Honey-Poached Cranberries

Ingredients
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 1/2 cups cranberries, washed
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1 clove

Directions

  1. Lightly toast the coriander seeds and clove until fragrant and wrap in cheesecloth to make a sachet.
  2. Combine the water, sugar, honey, and sachet in a small saucepot and place over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar.  
  3. Add the cranberries and stir often. When the cranberries start to expand and crack, stir continuously until they just split open, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the cranberries cool in the liquid to room temp.
  4. Use a slotted spoon to remove from the liquid and serve with roasted duck or a cheese plate.
  5. Store in the liquid in the refrigerator for up to a month.

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