Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Black Radishes and Kings

Since my last post, my drive to seek out local produce has evolved into something of an obsession. I've eaten a whole lot of roots, bulbs and squash this winter, and really have no complaints...except that I'm bored. Oh, the rallying cry of the disaffected! We should be so lucky to declare ourselves tired from the tyranny of a diet of staples...betcha my grandmother didn't complain about a diet based on potatoes (though maybe she did... she was a pistol, I'll tell you that much). Ok, so maybe its not so much boredom as a challenge to myself. I knew there had to be something exciting out there that I hadn't yet steamed, baked or mashed. This is, after all, the first winter where I've consciously steered clear from the brightly-colored temptations at the grocery store: yellow summer squash, red tomatoes, green peppers - when there's snow on the ground - just seem wrong to me now. It ain't natural!

So, my terms took me to Whole Foods, your one-stop shop for a clear conscience...or maybe not... Ok, it's way, way to easy for me to get jaded here, so I will try to keep up a positive spin. But seriously, you know you've come a long way from the soil when your idea of winter foraging stops after a 20-minute stroll down paved (but slushy) sidewalk to Brighton. In all fairness, I was surprised by the assortment of local produce they had to offer. Much of it was new to me - I bought everything.

My bounty included rutabagas and sunchokes from Vermont, parsnips from Whately, MA, baby spinach from Allendale Farms right here in Brookline, and perhaps the most charming and exotic pick of the litter, black radishes, also from Vermont. Now, there's an awful lot of schmultzy food writing out there, and I try my damndest to keep it out of my blog. But something got the best of me here... when I sliced the top off one of those strangely lunar-looking bulbs, it revealed a flesh as white and fine as porcelain and an aroma so fragrant and spicy and earthy. True and as full of promise as the air around my mother's old garden when the chives first start to waggle their proud stalks... yeah, I got a little choked up. I have confidence that spring will come again (thank you, Julie Andrews)! Gross.

I have lots of plans for my plunder, but I wanted to start first with what my body has been truly craving - a salad. I decided to wing it and see which of these veggiese would work raw in a bed of tender baby spinach. I sliced the sunchokes supeer-fine, and they revealed a texture and flavor similar to a young potato, grassy and sweet. I grated the parsnips for that zing I love, the marriage of the mellowness in a carrot with the zest of celery. And those radishes possessed a bright, robust bite - peppery and strong as scallions. They needed a fine, matchstick cut to impart their punch without overtly punching me in the face when I got a bite. I whipped up a citrus-maple vinaigrette, with the idea of a local maple flavor and seasonal (but not at all local) orange playing up the bite of radish and the sweetness of the parsnip. I topped it off with raw sunflower seeds (sunchokes' alleged namesake), and voila: my very first wintertime seasonal salad. Haven't quite figured out what to do with the other mutant-looking veggies on hand, but I'm working on it.

Maple-Citrus Vinaigrette

1/4 c good, fruity olive oil (I used Trader Joe's Extra Virgin California Estate)
3 T maple syrup (I used Grade B, and liked how the rich taste and color came through)
2 T white vinegar
juice and zest from an orange
1 t grainy mustard
pinch of salt
grinding of black pepper

Combine the ingredients in a jar. Cap the lid; shake like a Polaroid picture. Use to dress assertive, tangy salads and vegetables like celery, parsnip, radish, onions, and anything else that strikes your fancy.


Michelle said...

Hooray for trying new vegetables! I have mixed feelings about Whole Foods but it's my mainstay nonetheless. I've thought about joining a CSA but the shares are usually too big for just me and my husband!

Emma said...

I must say that I love this post. I am totally craving a winter salad too, as Sean and I have been staying seasonal this winter (though he refuses to give up brocolli), and we also have branched out to try new foods like turnips and parsnips, and we have fully embraced the squash and pumpkin family in its many forms. I've also been happy with my efforts over the summer to freeze produce, mainly tomatoes and peppers, which have been great to have around. I wish we could cook dinner together sometime!!!

Chef K said...

How I long for the Farmer's Market in Ithaca, or even Greenstar. There is quite a mix of farms here in good old Pennsylvania Deutcheland, and due to the inclement weather I don't think I will soon find anything decent popping up.

Ironically, the best local produce comes from the local supermarket as opposed to Whole Foods. I go there exclusively for the meat, and some of the produce, but all else is over priced drivel to me.

I bought pastry flour there once, organic of course. It sucked.