by Elena Gustavson, RAFFL’s Everyday Chef. Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Well, at least it’s easy when it comes to getting local food and incorporating that into a healthy diet.
Now it is almost winter and the once abundant local offerings of dewy lettuces, ripe berries and fragrant tomatoes at the farmers’ markets have dwindled to practically nothing after the first frost. Add to that the challenge that the holidays can bring when you are trying to eat clean, healthy and whole foods and things begin to look dim indeed.
But never fear, we have strategies. And ideas. And a recipe. Okay, we have two recipes. Because it isn’t Everyday Chef without a recipe (or two)!
Eat Your Greens
Cabbages, collards, chard, kale and mustards are just a few local greens easy to find this time of year. Incredibly healthy, these greens are frost-hardy and often get a touch sweeter as the cold sets in. Although a bit toothsome for a raw salad, kale dressed with a favorite vinaigrette and allowed to mellow out in a bowl for an hour will be delicious and tender with crunchy, toasted seeds, thinly sliced red onion and chopped apples. Throw in some fresh goat cheese, feta or cheddar and you have a satisfying and beautiful side dish that is fit for the holiday table.
Another trick to bring out the amazingness of these cold loving greens, is to cook them. Cabbage cut in wedges, lightly browned in a tablespoon of olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then braised in liquid (stock, cider, etc), turns out a melt-in-your-mouth sweet dish that pairs beautifully with roasted meats and vegetables. Try caraway or fennel seeds for an added dimension of flavor. Collards are underappreciated, but when cooked until tender and dressed with onions, salt and pepper, they yield a buttery, tender mouthful that begs for slow cooked beans, a bit of bacon and a cold glass of cider - perfect for welcoming the New Year.
Get Back to Your Roots
By the time the colors on our trees are but a memory and stick season shoulders its way in before the snow, I am ready the quintessential group of winter vegetables in Vermont, root veggies. Root vegetables can be found from your local farmer throughout the winter and well into spring. They store beautifully and when all the fresh eating veggies are long gone under the drifts of snow, we can dig out beets, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, rutabaga, turnips and onions. At Thanksgiving, I like to offer a warm bowl of whipped turnips with sage, a less calorie laden alternative to our favorite mashed potatoes. A regular favorite in our house during the cold months is to chop a variety of root vegetables, toss with sliced onions, olive oil, salt and pepper and then roast on a sheet pan in an oven at 375F until the vegetables are tender. Sprinkle with a bit of fresh parsley and you have a delicious and healthy side dish for roasted meats or to use leftover in salad or soups.
Color Me Squash...Winter Squash That Is
With their gorgeous colors and shapes, thick skins that equate to long storage and nutrient rich flesh, winter squashes are the stars of winter eating. Butternut, pumpkin, acorn, delicata, kabocha, and hubbard to name but a few, can be turned into mashed mounds of orange deliciousness, thick and creamy bisque-like soups, roasted for side dishes or stuffed with a million different things and turned out as a centerpiece on the holiday table. The key to cooking with squashes is to have a sharp and sturdy knife to cut through the tough skin and use a light hand with cream, butter and salt so that the various and unique flavors of the different varieties can really shine through.
Strategize Ahead and Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself
The holidays are meant to be a celebration and food is often central to these gatherings. You may find yourself in a situation where your choices are being made for you and rather than get too caught up in the details, allow yourself to indulge and appreciate the bigger picture of being with others in a joyful way. In the meantime, strategize ahead when you can - eat a healthy meal ahead of your gathering, drink lots of water and keep your portion sizes in check.
And in honor of the recently past Halloween and my family’s ongoing fascination with the zombie apocalypse, remember don’t eat the locals, but DO eat local!
Roasted Pumpkin Stuffed with Many Good Things
Serves approximately 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish. Can double the recipe for a larger crowd!
- 1 small pumpkin, about 3lbs
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 1 ½ cups bulghur or brown rice, cooked
- 1 ½ cups chopped apples
- ¼ cup sharp cheddar
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 tsp each dried rosemary and parsley (or 1 T each of fresh, chopped)
- pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
- 4 T shredded Parmesan, divided into two parts
- ⅓ cup of vegetable stock or milk
Center the rack in an oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a baking dish large enough to hold the pumpkin(s) with parchment paper. Keep in mind that you may need a bit more room to maneuver a spatula in case you want to serve the pumpkin on a different dish.
With a sharp and sturdy knife, carefully cut the top ¼ or ⅓ off from your pumpkin, like you are making a jack-o-lantern. Set aside the top. Scoop out the seeds and pulp, leaving a cavity that can be filled. Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, toss together the next 8 ingredients, setting aside 2 T of Parmesan. Pour half of the measured liquid on the mixture and toss to coat. Add more liquid as needed so that the stuffing is moist, but not swimming.
Spoon the stuffing into the pumpkin until filled to the top. Any leftover stuffing can be baked separately in a dish. Set the pumpkin in the parchment lined dish and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan on top of the stuffing. Put the pumpkin top on and bake until the pumpkin is tender, about 2 hours. About 20 to 30 minutes before it is done, remove the pumpkin top so the stuffing can brown.
You can serve the pumpkin straight from the baking dish or for a more elegant presentation, using a steady hand and a sturdy spatula, transfer the whole pumpkin to a serving dish. Cut into wedges and serve!
Notes: Pumpkin seeds can be cleaned and roasted with a little olive oil. All the vegetable bits, including the pumpkin pulp, can be added to a pot with water, brought to a simmer for several minutes and strained for a delicious vegetable stock.
Almost any winter squash can be used in place of the pumpkin, with roasting times varying. Smaller or elongated squashes (like delicata or butternut), can be sliced in half and the cavities filled.
Think of this recipe as a guideline and try variations. For example, in place of the bulghur or rice, try pieces of whole grain stale bread. Or dried cranberries or apricots for the apples. Try pairing sage with chevre or mix in feta, mozzarella and swiss. This stuffing also pairs well with cooked sausage or bacon if you would like to add meat and nuts are delicious for additional protein and healthy fats.
Whipped Turnips with Leeks and Sage
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish
- 4 large turnips, peeled and cubed
- 2 medium red potatoes, cubed with skin on
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 leek, white part only, sliced thinly, soaked to remove sand/grit and then chopped finely
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage or 1 tsp of dried sage
- ¾ cup milk
- kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
Fill a large pot with the turnips and potatoes. Fill with cold salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until tender and soft. About 20 to 25 minutes.
In a small saucepan, combine the olive oil and butter and melt over medium low heat. Once melted, add the leeks and sage, salt and pepper and saute until the leeks are tender and the sage is fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the milk and bring to a simmer over low heat, infusing the milk with sage flavor.
Drain the turnips and potatoes, reserving about ½ cup of the liquid. Set that aside. Put the vegetables back into the pot they were cooked in, add the hot milk and using an immersion blender, puree until smooth. If needed, add small amounts of the cooking liquid to the vegetables until the puree is silky, but still thick. If you prefer a chunky texture, mash roughly until mixed. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot or cold.