Come November, the nice days are numbered and so are the vegetables and fruits that you will find in the farmers’ market. That is, unless you live in more temperate states like California or Florida, where our featured chef for this month hails from. "Our spring and fall are similar in temperature and rainfall, so it allows us to grow crops later," says chef Mark Jeffers of The Ritz-Carlton Orlando. "It gives us the opportunity to stretch out our season and really utilize those products." In his kitchen, nine out of ten items are sourced locally, and part of that is due not only to the weather and abundance of local farms, but also due to Whisper Creek, the farm owned and run by the property. "Fall is probably my favorite season to cook with here in Florida," says the chef. "It's all about preserving and pickling, and you can explore heavier tastes and slow-cooking techniques." This month, Jeffers has added turnips to his menu, which you can find in just about any farmers’ market in the United States right now, as well as choice selections including sweet Seckel pears, meaty cobia and purple carrots.
There are so many pears still hitting the market now, but of those, give the Seckel variety a try next time you are perusing the stands. These small, olive-green fruits have a slight reddish blush to them and firm, crunchy flesh. Because of their size, these sweeter-than-most pears are perfect for kids' lunches or slicing up for your cheese plate. But where did these amazing pears come from? As rumor has it, Seckels were discovered in the early 1800s near Philadelphia, where they are thought to have grown wild. If you see them, pick some up, and, like other pears, determine their ripeness by gently feeling around the stem. The rule of thumb for picking perfect pears goes: If it has a little give, they are perfect. Too mushy and they are overripe. However, if you get some that are hard at the top, you can soften them up by placing the fruit inside a paper bag in a dark, dry place (drawers work great) for a couple days until they soften up.
"I am a big root vegetable fan," says Jeffers, who likes to do everything with veggies from simple purées to roasting to shaving on a salad. "I get turnips from Two Doves Organic Farm, which come in an heirloom variety. I like to keep a little stem on them to show customers how fresh they are." To prepare the turnips, Jeffers lightly sautés them with a little garlic, shaves them and soaks the pieces in water to give his salads a slightly spicy crunch, or purées the root vegetable with other ingredients to use as a side dish (recipe below). "It's not my favorite vegetable on a normal basis, but the ones from Two Doves are smaller and more mild, which helps them be more palatable," he says. Most likely you won't find this type of turnip in any place but a green market, so get them while they're good. A fun fact that may surprise you: the turnip is actually part of the mustard family, though it's not too shocking when you think about the spicy leaves and bite the actual bulb can have, perfect for all the aforementioned uses.
The truth is, carrots taste good no matter what color they are, and most of the time the flavor proves fairly similar. The nice thing about purple carrots lies in the color, and the fact that they aren't quite as sweet as their orange brethren. Some do maintain an orange-yellow core, which makes them even more lovely when you slice them into medallions and toss them over a salad. Plus, unlike other purple-hued vegetables, the purple carrot maintains its rich color even when you cook it, though when roasting they can turn almost black. Dice them and throw them into a vegetarian chili, roast them as a side dish or grate them and add to tuna salad or mix with greens. No matter what you do, chances are these violet beauties will give your dinner guests a start and make them double-check what they are eating.
"The great thing about central Florida is that we are an hour from each coast, so when fishing season is closed on one coast, it's open on the other," says Jeffers, adding that cobia is the fish to get right now. "I will use the cobia more readily when it's available and use that instead of mackerel in our smoked fish dip." Overall, he says, you can use seasonal fish interchangeably, as long as they have similar flavors. As for the white-fleshed cobia, it's comparable to Chilean sea bass. And, like that popular fish, this one proves meaty with a firm texture, perfect for using on a grill or pan searing. "It's a steak-like fish," says the chef, who gives it a citrus infusion and serves it as part of his seasonal surf and turf. "It's meatier and lends itself to the process of brining."
Turnip Apple Purée Recipe
Courtesy of chef Mark Jeffers and The Ritz-Carlton Orlando
Jeffers suggests serving this purée as a side dish with grilled cobia or scallops. But really, you can add anything to the dish — a pork chop, baked chicken or even a cauliflower steak — and it will make a lovely, seasonal meal.
Serving size: 4-6
1 pound turnips, peeled and medium diced
1/2 pound green apple, peeled and medium diced
1/2 white onion, medium diced
2 stalks celery, medium diced
1 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
4 cups heavy cream
1 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
salt and white pepper, to taste
- Sauté turnips and onions for approximately five minutes on medium heat in a heavy-bottom sauce pot.
- Add apple and celery and sauté for another three to five minutes, or until just tender.
- Deglaze with wine and reduce until the liquid is almost all the way down.
- Add chicken stock, cream, apple juice, nutmeg and thyme. Cook until reduced by 1/4.
- Allow to cool, then put into a blender and blend until smooth.
- Season with salt and white pepper to taste.
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