To be honest, there isn’t that much in season come January (unless, of course if you live in California). But that doesn't mean you can't shop the farmers market. During the colder months you will find a lot of root cellar produce, perfect for storing all winter long. "Obviously, root vegetables are what you have to work with this time of year," says chef Bryce Shuman of New York restaurant Betony. "We are using parsnips on the menu, kale, celery root and trying to find cool ways to use those ingredients." This month he shares some fun ideas involving globular swedes, Red Russian kale and salsify.
Swedes: You may know this round vegetable by its more common, though less exciting, name: rutabaga. Something about this root just brings to mind a finely formed Etruscan vase and, if you cook it right, it can become a well-sculpted addition to any meal. At least that's what Shuman thinks. "Rutabaga has this sweet and kind of bitter element to it, like a turnip, which makes it a nice play off of sweet lobster and earthy truffles," says the chef, describing a recent menu item that featured these three ingredients. As for cooking the large root, Shuman says you should slice the top and the bottom off, rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, wrap in foil along with garlic and thyme, then roast at 375-degrees for about two to three hours. "You just want to make sure it's completely tender," he says. It’s important to keep your eye out for fresh-looking roots that are firm and heavy. They prove pretty hardy so you can leave them in a cool, dry and dark spot for weeks, or store in the fridge for a little over a month.
Red Russian Kale: Yes, kale is everywhere, and winter is one of the best times to really use this leafy green. But where to start? There are so many kinds, it's hard to figure out the nuances of each. So, instead of scooping up the boring old curly kale, try Red Russian, a green-grey and purple type that features large, tender leaves and an overall sweetness not found in other varieties. Like its brethren, the stems are very tough and should be removed prior to cooking (or eating raw for that matter). When picking out a bunch of greens, make sure the leaves are stiff, not limp, and that they aren't turning yellow, a color that symbolizes they have been shelved too long. But what to do with your nutritious treasure once you've scored a bunch? You can always sauté it on medium heat with olive oil, garlic and a splash of vinegar, or, try something new. Over at Betony, Shuman has taken this green and incorporated it into a unique pasta dish that both sautés and pickles the leafy produce, along with a poached egg and homemade cavatelli glazed with goat milk, goat butter and a little bit of chevre.
Salsify: Chances are you have heard of this food, but have no idea what it is. Is it an herb, type of lettuce or maybe it's a tree. Turns out, it's a pretty cool root that looks kind of like a brown, lumpy carrot — and comes under the moniker oyster plant due to a faint flavor of the mollusk. "It's awesome," says Shuman, who plans to turn this vegetable into one of his famous seasonal fried pickles. Another way the chef prepares the root is to peel, scrub and then shave it before tossing with olive oil and salt. He then bakes the strips on a sheet pan at 325F. The salsify cooks until it's crispy like a potato chip. In fact, a chip is exactly what he makes. "They make nice long chips that look really natural and have a nice crunch and a lot of great flavor," he says.
He has also braised the heck out of the root by using a classic sauce made with olive oil, garlic, anchovy and white wine, a trick that helps keep the oxidation at bay, which can stain your hands, Shuman warns. Now, how do you know which samples of salsify to buy? There isn't too much to avoid, save for softness of the root or huge blemishes, though most of those you can just cut out. The roots will last longer if you keep them in the fridge, about three to four weeks.