Though winter is descending upon us, you shouldn’t skip the farmers’ market. After all, heading to your local produce stand is a surefire way to taste the best of the season, and there are plenty of options besides Christmas trees and potatoes to be had. For example, chef Mike Price of Market Table in New York City likes to find the neatest-looking veggies out there, a selection that has included alien-like romanesco, cheerful watermelon radishes, glowing citrus fruits and bold lettuces. “This is the time of year when you’re trying to pick up on some visuals,” the chef says. “Other months there is an abundance and it’s easier, but this time of year it’s fun to concentrate on stuff that tastes and looks good.” With that in mind, the chef works at showcasing the beauty of December’s harvest, as well as the flavors.
How, you may wonder, does a Meyer lemon differ from a regular lemon? They are both yellow, both citrus and both great at perking up just about anything. Well, actually, the China-born Meyer lemon is a cross between a Mandarin orange and a common lemon. That’s why the skin appears orange-yellow and seems to have a sweeter, less sour essence to the juice. These characteristics are exactly why Price enjoys using the fruit. “What I love them for is the zest and how flavorful and fragrant that it is,” he says. “It’s what turns a dish around.” At the restaurant, Price adds the citrus to aioli for sautéed skate, kale and fingerling potatoes. Try it in your next hot toddy, or use the zest to perk up an apple pie, split pea soup or simple vinaigrette. Just make sure when shopping for this fruit that it appears bright with an orangish tint and feels neither squishy nor hard.
Okay, to be honest, this leafy vegetable was a mystery to us, too, until Price enlightened us. Castelfranco is in the radicchio family, but it’s used like an endive or other lettuce. “It’s cool and pretty, and people have a hard time figuring out what it is,” says the chef. When whole, the shape of castelfranco mimics a rose, save for the color: off-white, sometimes with a green tint and maroon splotches. The flavor is slightly bitter, like radicchio, but the texture remains lighter. “It’s great at balancing sweet fruit,” says Price, who serves it raw in a hearty autumn salad along with honeycrisp apples and grapes. You won’t often see castelfranco as a whole head, but if you are wandering the market and do, grab one and share it. It’s a very pretty vegetable and unique at any table.
“These have that radish flavor with a little bit of spice, but aren’t super-spicy,” says Price. “Plus, they are cool-looking.” Cool-looking indeed, given that when you slice this white-green radish in half it showcases a vibrant shade of magenta. It’s almost the present under the tree that doesn’t appear that great from the outside. Plus, with a slight nutty essence and mild bite, watermelon radishes taste great. Slice them thinly and toss them raw into a winter salad, like Price does, or try them roasted as a hearty side dish. Though the color may fade with this cooked preparation, the food will still surprise and impress anyone lucky enough to find them.