Snow's no excuse for not eating your veggies

It can be discouraging to shop for vegetables at this time of year. Stores stock nearly the same assortment of vegetables every season, but right now, they don't feel as fresh. Droopy broccoli and plastic-wrapped cucumbers don't inspire me much, but you have to eat your vegetables!

Even as I dream about my garden, I will admit to being more than a little cranky about this long cold winter. Yet I've already ordered some of my spring seeds, plus potatoes and onion plants. Packets of radishes, peas and spinach came a couple weeks ago. And like me, they sit shivering and waiting.

I probably will be starting cabbages, parsley and radicchio inside -- oh, maybe in March. We can till the garden and begin sowing seeds perhaps in late March, or April. We shall see. At this point, that feels awfully early. But I know that by late March or April there will be dirt under my fingernails, instead of cracks and dry skin on my fingertips.

And since there is nothing fabulous and fresh in the garden, I will make the most of the various sturdy roots and cabbages that are available in winter farm markets and at the grocery store. These sometimes overlooked vegetables -- carrots, potatoes, turnips, parsnips and cabbages -- are great sources of nutrients. Treat them with respect and they'll be delicious.

I'll also fill in with frozen vegetables, often in better shape than that droopy head of broccoli, and on a busy night, easier. Whole Foods has introduced a line of frozen vegetable mixes sold under the 365 Everyday Value label that are ready to go. They can be added to soups, stews or stir-fries right out of the bag. Mixtures include a Beans and Greens blend with kale and kidney and Great Northern beans; Four Seasons blend with sugarsnaps, yellow squash, carrots and corn; and a Leafy Greens mix with kale, collards and mustard greens.

Instead of boiling frozen vegetables with lots of water and then pouring the nutrients and flavor down the sink, cook them in just a couple of tablespoons of water or broth. Or add them to a pan of onions sauteed in olive oil or butter, maybe with some chopped garlic. Sprinkle with about a tablespoon of water, cover and cook until heated and tender. I made that dish the other evening with broccoli florets and corn, using those nice Texas knob onions that have started appearing in stores.

For vegetables grown closer to home, or just to get out and support your favorite hard-working local farmers, check out the Farmers' Market Cooperative in East Liberty at 344 N. Sheridan Ave. Now in its 70th year, it's open every Saturday from 5 a.m. to noon. Open for business as well is the Pittsburgh Public Market on Smallman Street in the Strip District. Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Rick Zang of Zang's Greenhouse is one of the farmers selling vegetables at the East Liberty farmers' market. From the Butler area, he'll be bringing local Kennebec potatoes and microgreens to market. Local cabbages and root vegetables are done, he said. He also has Pennsylvania mushrooms.

A co-op member of the market, he's still deciding, beyond the more common items, what he's going to cultivate this year. "I'm thinking about an odd squash or some niche things to grow; looking for something different," he said. "I'm still going through the seed catalog." He's busy, nonetheless, with spring bedding plants, fixing his wife's oven and renovating the second floor of their house, which was built by his grandfather. He said, "At this time of year, I get all sorts of stuff done."

Also at the East Liberty market, you can purchase fresh-pressed cider made from the apples from Kistaco Farm (and apples, too) and there may still be winter squash from Greenawalt Farm (there are always farm eggs). To dress those microgreens, pick up some fresh-pressed California Olio Nuovo extra-virgin olive oil from the booth operated by the Lagnese family. Bring your own bottle and you'll save two bucks. At the market's J.L. Kennedy Meat Stand, they're selling Butler County- and Mercer County-raised chicken, beef and pork. Lamb is available once a month. It's suggested that you call to place your order before 6 p.m. on Friday at 724-898-2316.

Clarion River Organics in Sligo sells organic veggies at the Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District. Manager Nathan Holmes said they're sure to have local potatoes, green cabbages, rutabagas and purple-top turnips. They'll also have red beets, as well as a white beet related to Italian Chioggia beets.

A cooperative of farmers, Clarion River Organics grows an assortment of vegetables on 41 acres. They've also been buying some from Tuscarora Organic Growers in central Pennsylvania to sell in the Strip. Look for rainbow carrots, daikon radishes, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and watermelon radishes. "But nothing else new for the next few weeks," said Mr. Holmes. "Until the spring things are ready."

And the cooperative sells many varieties of organic potatoes to Market District stores, East End Food Co-op, Whole Foods and Sunny Bridge Natural Foods. The smaller potatoes, red and gold, mixed fingerlings and purple Peruvian potatoes are sold in 3-pound and 11/2-pound bags with a Clarion River label. You might find other types sold loose. Ask the produce person.

"I'm super-passionate about organics and doing things the right way," said Mr. Holmes, who takes care of all the marketing distribution and sales. He doesn't consider himself a farmer but he's got five acres on which he grows small fruits. He wants to expand the cooperative operations, making value-added products such as frozen vegetables, to work on reducing waste.

At the Pittsburgh Public Market, you can pick up apples from Morning Dew Orchards, on Saturday only, and buy foraged or wild mushrooms at Mushrooms for Life, also Saturday only. The market is hoping to include a maple syrup vendor.

Hang in there. The days may be short but you have to believe that spring is going to happen. Area farmers do. While we're all waiting for those first fresh vegetables, here are some recipes to make the most of what we do have.

Butternut Squash with Baby Spinach

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My mother, Dianne Rubin, gave me this recipe. It's good for a crowd (she made it on Thanksgiving) and everyone loves it. For a smaller gathering, simply divide the ingredients in half.

  • 2 20-ounce packages cubed, peeled butternut squash
  • 2 large red onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons flavored oil with garlic and herbs (I used 3 tablespoons olive oil mixed with 2 smashed cloves, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme and a pinch oregano)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4- to 6-ounce package baby spinach
  • 3/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In 13-by-9-inch baking dish or on large rimmed baking sheet, toss squash and red onions with flavored oil (or oil, garlic and herbs). Season with salt and pepper.

Roast about 1 hour, stirring several times, until squash is tender and lightly browned in spots. Scrape into large shallow serving dish. In batches, add spinach and cranberries, tossing just until spinach has wilted. Taste and season again.

Makes 8 generous servings.

-- Wegmans Supermarket Menu Magazine

Indian-Inspired Roasted Winter Roots

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Warming and comforting, this throw-it-in-the-oven recipe could even be a main course with fluffy basmati rice and some Greek yogurt. As a side, serve to accompany roast chicken or a grilled chop. All these deep orange veggies are full of healthy vitamins.

  • 1 medium-large sweet potato (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • 3 large carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 large parsnip, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put vegetables in a 9- to 10-inch-square casserole or baking dish that is large enough to hold them. Toss with oil.

In cup, mix cumin, coriander, salt, cinnamon and cayenne. Sprinkle over vegetables and add the water. Toss to coat well.

Bake about 60 to 70 minutes, stirring several times, until vegetables are tender and just starting to brown on edges. Serve hot.

Makes 4 or 5 side-dish servings.

-- Miriam Rubin

Meme's Braised Cabbage

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I love this simple, soulful dish from cookbook author Virginia Willis' grandmother. Because I had some cooked cut-up potatoes in the fridge, once the cabbage was tender, I added them with a couple more tablespoons of broth. Then I covered the skillet and simmered them 5 minutes more.

  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat or unsalted butter (I used bacon fat)
  • 1 medium head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (about 8 cups)
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme (I used 1/4 teaspoon dried but wished I had fresh)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In large skillet, heat bacon fat over medium-high heat until sizzling. Add cabbage and saute until starting to wilt, 3 to 5 minutes. Add broth and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

Lower heat to medium and simmer until cabbage is meltingly tender, 15 to 20 minutes. (Add a little broth or water if pan gets dry.) Remove thyme sprig and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

-- Adapted from "Bon Appetite, Y'All," by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed, 2008, $32.50)

Miriam Rubin writes from Greene County: . First Published February 10, 2011 5:00 AM


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