February sometimes feels like the dead zone for produce. Sure, you can get tomatoes at any grocery store, but do they really taste like anything?
With global distribution of fruits and vegetables, we can get anything we want anytime we want, but does that mean we should? Winter isn’t a veggie black hole. You don’t have to resort to frozen, canned or imported foods to get your daily servings. You don’t have to sacrifice taste to get your roughage. You don’t even need to think outside the box to come up with something delicious and healthy for you and your family.
As a teaching chef, I’ve developed many classes around seasonal foods. Winter does provide some menu challenges, but to me, that’s exciting. And eating well in winter is a lot easier than you’d think.
Carrots from the Napa Farmers Market are one of the winter ingredients that have inspired me lately. Steamed and mashed with interesting spices, ground nuts or toasted sesame seeds, they’re a flavorful side dish that also tastes great cold the next day. You can use the carrot tops for pesto to put on top of grilled meat. Or simply roast the carrots and dress while warm with a simple vinaigrette.
You can still find winter squashes at the Napa Farmers Market, ready to roast and season in sweet or savory ways. Peel the squash, cut small, toss with olive oil and the seasonings you like (cumin is a great choice), then bake until caramelized.
You’ll also find plenty of root vegetables at the Napa Farmers Market now. Radishes and beets look and taste terrific at this time of year.
And don’t get me started on cauliflower. It is so versatile. Cut one up and roast it with chopped onions and garlic until all the vegetables get a little charred. Now you have a great start to a creamy soup. If you’re trying to cut back on dairy, use silken tofu instead of cream to give your soup that luscious texture without the lactose and with added protein. Puree everything in a blender and you’ll have a healthy soup to warm your family on a cold evening.
Still not sure what vegetables are fresh and in season? Instead of heading to the supermarket and asking the produce person where each vegetable is from, visit the Napa Farmers Market. The producers are Northern California local and have a great selection of winter vegetables that you know are in season because they have grown them. This year they have been diligently showing up every Saturday between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. to sell the best of their winter crops. You may be surprised that fresh, locally grown salad mix can still be purchased in February. And the cauliflower is looking amazing.
Kids Activities at the Napa Farmers Market: Bring your youngsters to the market’s Education Station on Saturday, March 2, for Story Time at 10:30 a.m.
On the KVYN Music Stage: David Neft will perform at the Napa Farmers Market on Saturday, March 2.
Cauliflower Carbonara with Kale
This dish is a fun twist on the classic pasta alla carbonara but made with winter veggies. For a bit more indulgence or to make the dish more brunch-friendly, top it with a poached egg.
1 pound (about 1 medium) cauliflower, broken into bite-sized florets
5 large egg yolks
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1 large egg
1 cup finely shredded smoked Gouda, plus more for serving
1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed
2 tsp. ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
6 ounces bacon, finely diced
4 cups (approximately 2 bunches) thinly sliced or torn kale
3/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the cauliflower until tender but not soft. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the whole egg, Gouda, salt, and pepper. Very gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water to temper the eggs.
Meanwhile, in the large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat until rendered but not crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the kale and sauté until just starting to wilt. Add the cooked cauliflower, crushed red pepper, and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water. Cook, tossing, until the cauliflower is coated, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Transfer the cauliflower mixture to the bowl with the egg mixture and toss vigorously until creamy, about 1 to 2 minutes, adding more cooking water, if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve the cauliflower in bowls, passing more Gouda at the table.