Let’s be honest: February is not the month to be shopping at the farmers’ market. Yet there are still tasty finds to be had, namely in the citrus department. To be fair, only a few choice places grow said lemons, oranges, grapefruit and clementines. That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a shout-out. Of course, for you non-citrus-state dwellers, try to find the sweet and hearty buttercup squash or a sweet winter carrot, a vegetable that benefits from aging underground. “When I think of winter, I think of whole and hearty, comforting pot pies and stews,” says Anthony Theocaropoulos, executive chef and co-owner of the newly opened Cooklyn in Brooklyn. “I feel winter vegetables are hearty, starchy and comforting, and they are stuff I enjoy cooking.”
Pomelo: As far as citrus goes, the large, heavy and slow-eating pomelo is often overlooked, with shoppers going for the snappy grapefruit or easy-to-manage tangerine. But let it be known that even if it appears daunting to dive into one of these giant, pink-hued fruits, once you start eating one you won’t stop until it’s done, and even then you may crave more. But what makes it so good? Well, although it looks like a jumbo grapefruit, unlike its tart cousin, the pomelo isn’t too astringent. Its flesh proves light, sweet and refreshing, all components that have made this citrus versatile in cooking and in the cocktail world.
You might also know the pomelo by its other monikers, shaddock or the even-more-fun-to-say pamplemousse. Use it in a winter citrus salad, eat it plain for breakfast, or squeeze one dry and stir into an adult beverage. Though you won’t find the fruit at many farmers’ market stands up north or on the East Coast, citrus-growing states will have plenty of them now.
Buttercup Squash: No, this is not the same as a butternut squash, far from it actually. First of all, it’s large, green, and shaped more like a deflated pumpkin or its brethren the kabocha. Second, the flavor proves sweeter with nutty undertones, which makes this winter squash great not only for savory applications, but dessert too. “It’s very rich, and sometimes it has a nice red flesh when it’s really ripe,” says Theocaropoulos. “I think it bakes really well and is also awesome as a soup with browned butter.”
At Cooklyn, the chef makes said soup (recipe below) and also takes this flavorful squash and purees it, placing a juicy squab on top with roasted beets. “You can get fancy with it or keep it simple with the soup.” To prepare this fruit (yes, squash technically falls into that category), you can roast or steam it. And when hunting for one in the market, look for a heavy fruit with a nice, dark green skin. It’s okay if there are blemishes on the outside — you will be peeling it — but make sure there aren’t soft spots. The flesh should be firm enough that you can gently knock on it and have it sound as if it’s a sturdy wooden door.
Winter Carrots: You may not have heard of winter carrots since they aren’t items you will ever find in a grocery store. In fact, only lucky cold-weather market shoppers will find the unbelievably sweet vegetables in the stands. What, you may wonder, is a winter carrot per se? Turns out it’s just a normal carrot that is allowed to get a light frost on it before getting buried with about a foot of leaf mulch, a practice that insulates the vegetables to prevent them from freezing solid. Over time, the sugars build up and the the carrots become super-sweet, almost dessert-like. As for what to do with these beauties if you do find them, try roasting them and serving as a side dish with pork or a meaty fish, pureeing into a rich and decadent soup, or even working into a carrot cake or muffin, an application that will play well with their natural sugars.
Buttercup Squash Soup
By Anthony Theocaropoulos, Cooklyn executive chef and co-owner
1 whole buttercup squash, seeded and diced
1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced
10 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup water
1 sprig sage
1/2 tablespoon five spice
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
- Add butter to a large saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly, until light brown, about a minute.
- Remove half the butter and reserve.
- Add onions to the remaining butter in the pan and cook until translucent.
- Add squash to the browned butter, sautéing until the edges start to break down.
- Add heavy cream, water and sage. Let cook until the buttercup squash is tender all the way through, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Remove sage and add the reserved brown butter to the pan, stirring until blended in.
- Puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Season with salt and white pepper, and serve.
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