The Cortez Farmers Market is here to help. It will stay open through the last Saturday in October, so now is the time to buy in quantity all those long-lasting hearty winter vegetables that will keep and keep if stored properly. Here’s a primer on how to choose and how to store your locally raised produce.
Ubiquitous this time of year, winter squash is a great keeper provided it’s been allowed to mature on the vine and develop a hard shell (you shouldn’t be able to pierce it with your fingernail when it is fully ripe). Acorn, butternut, kabocha, delicata and pumpkins are some of the varieties you’re likely to encounter at the farmers market. Look at the stem of the squash before choosing. It should be dry and corky, telling you that it was left on the vine until nearly ready to fall off. Color should be deep and vibrant. Some squash benefit from “curing” or being allowed to sit for a couple of weeks at room temperature while its starch converts to sugar. Ask how long it’s been off the vine. Once cured, store at 50 degrees, but don’t refrigerate as this will compromise the taste and texture. (Note: Keep it away from newspaper – it might rot.)
Carrots and parsnips
Look for bright green tops on these root vegetables, a sign of freshness. Also look for intensely colored carrots. Purple carrots and purple and orange carrots are more nutritious than all-orange carrots. Avoid vegetables with splits or cracks or lots of hairy roots. Store carrots and parsnips, tops removed, in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and they’ll last a long time.
Eat your beet greens when you bring home your load of beets – they are more nutritious than the beets themselves, which have plenty of their own nutrients. Separate the greens from the roots right away and put in a perforated bag. Look for beets, whether red, yellow or chioggia, that are free of cracks, soft spots, and without those hairy roots. Place in a plastic bag. Store roots and greens in your refrigerator.
Turnips, rutabagas and potatoes
Look for firm, nick-free vegetables since this is where decay can set in. Scrub off the dirt when you’re ready to use them. Store turnips and rutabagas in the refrigerator, but store potatoes away from direct sunlight in a cool dark place to discourage sprouting and shriveling.
Here’s a simple recipe from Russ Parsons’ “How to Pick a Peach.” It takes about 20 minutes to prepare. Add a simple salad and a loaf of crusty bread and snap ... dinner.
Carmelized Winter Squash with Rosemary Gremolata
TOAST: 2 Tbsp. pine nuts in a small dry skillet, stirring, until lightly browned and fragrant.
COMBINE: 2 tsp. finely minced fresh rosemary, 2 tsp. lemon zest, and 1½ tsp. garlic.
ADD: Lemon juice to moisten, stirring to make a thick paste.
HEAT: A large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 Tbsp. olive oil. When it is very hot, add 2 lbs. peeled winter squash, cut into ½-inch cubes.
SPRINKLE and TOSS: 1 tsp. salt, coating evenly with the oil.
COVER TIGHTLY and Cook: Without stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove the lid and toss to stir the squash. The cooked sides should start to carmelize. Cover and cook for 2 minutes.
REMOVE: The lid and toss to stir. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the squash is tender enough to be pierced with a knife, about 5 minutes. The cubes should be glazed and brown, but not falling apart.
SPRINKLE: Herb mixture and 1-2 Tbsp. lemon juice over the squash. Toss to coat, let it sizzle briefly and become aromatic.
TASTE: for salt and lemon juice. Season with pepper to taste.
SCATTER: the toasted pine nuts over the top and serve.
Imagine transforming a butternut squash into a creamy soup on a cool fall day, or making a parsnip and potato gratin as the rain turns to snow. Roasted beets and rutabagas, lightly oiled and salted, will fortify any meal, and what’s a stew without root vegetables?
As the cold sets in, our instincts send us in search of deeper richer flavors that warm and comfort. Stock up on local root vegetables and treat them right: You’ll have good food for a good long time.