Winter Vegetables: Warm, Hearty Comfort Food

When the weather turns chilly, we tend to prefer heartier foods, and that preference includes heartier choices when it comes to vegetables. Light, crisp vegetables and lightly grilled fare give way to richly flavored roasted vegetables, comforting creamy purées, and “storage” vegetables such as roots and winter squash.

Roasted and mashed potatoes are obvious favorites, but there are plenty of other vegetables available all winter long.

roasted 1ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS, MUSHROOMS AND ROOTS

Roasting brings out deep, rich flavors in vegetables, and it’s the perfect way to cook them if you have something else in the oven at the same time. While this recipe calls for roasting at 375 degrees, vegetables are more forgiving than a roast or a cake, so it’s fine to cook them at a higher or a lower temperature—just keep in mind that the cooking time will be different. You can cook these on a cookie sheet if you like, but it’s much easier to stir them during the cooking process if they’re placed in something with slightly higher sides.

If you’re not familiar with rutabaga, it looks a lot like a turnip—but instead of being bright white and purple with white flesh, the rutabaga has an orange cast to its skin, and the interior is some variation of yellowish orange. You could substitute a turnip, kohlrabi, or even a potato in this recipe, but the rutabaga adds a nice pop of color.

SERVES ABOUT 4

  • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 pound white or crimini mushrooms
  • 2 small onions
  • 2 small rutabagas (or 1 large)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (or as needed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • several generous grinds of black pepper

Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and have a roasting pan or a large, low-sided, ovenproof pan ready.

Trim the base of the Brussels sprouts, remove any wilted or damaged outer leaves, and cut the Brussels sprouts in half through the core. Place them in the roasting pan.

Clean the mushrooms, cut them in half—or in quarters if they’re large—and place them in the pan.

Peel the onions and cut them in quarters through the core so that the pieces stay together. If you use one large onion instead of two smaller ones, cut it in sixths or eighths instead of quarters. Place the pieces in the roasting pan.

Peel the rutabaga, cut it in wedges, and then slice the wedges into 1/4-inch pieces. Place the pieces in the pan.

Drizzle the prepared vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix the vegetables and coat them all with a light film of oil. The goal is to have all the pieces lightly coated without having a puddle of oil in the pan.

Roast the vegetables at 375 degrees, stirring about every 15 minutes (make sure you also flip them over, as they tend to brown most on the bottom), until the vegetables are cooked through and most are browned in spots—about 1 hour.

Serve hot.

These are wonderful as-is, but if you want to dress them up a little, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice would be appropriate. 

ROASTED WHITES

While many winter vegetables are deeply colored—orange squash, carrots and sweet potatoes; rich, green broccoli and Brussels sprouts; and pretty purple beets—there are also some pale and white vegetables that can lighten up a dark plate of food.

With the exception of the cauliflower, which has a unique form, these vegetables look very much alike both raw and cooked. That makes this dish quite interesting to eat, as different bites have different flavors. 

SERVES 4-6

  • 1/2 head of cauliflower
  • 1 medium celery root
  • 2 turnips
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • several grinds of freshly ground white pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or similar cheese

Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and have a baking sheet or a roasting pan standing by.
Cut the cauliflower into individual florets, and cut the florets, as needed, into bite-size pieces. Place the pieces on the baking sheet.

Peel the celery root, the turnips and the potatoes, and cut them into bite-size pieces. Try to keep them all a similar size, for even cooking. Place them on the baking sheet.

Drizzle the vegetables with the oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix the vegetables and coat them with a thin layer of oil.

Bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour, turning once or twice during the cooking time. Sprinkle the cheese onto the vegetables and bake for another 10-15 minutes—or until the cheese has melted and is spotty brown in places.

Serve hot.

showstopper 2SHOWSTOPPER VEGETABLE MEDLEY

If you need a vegetable side dish that will make your guests gasp with delight and proclaim you a kitchen genius, this is the one. It looks as though it would take hours to assemble, but it’s actually pretty easy.

If you have a mandoline, it will make the vegetable slicing much faster and easier, but you can also slice using a knife—just make every effort to keep the slices about the same size and thickness. Try to find vegetables that are the same diameter, so that when they’re in the pan, they’ll be a similar height. If you use a large rutabaga, you can cut it in quarters before slicing and arrange it so the rounded edge is up. Because you’re dealing with round vegetables, you’ll have some smaller and some larger pieces, and that makes the dish interesting. But you wouldn’t want one giant vegetable compared to the rest.

SERVES 6-8

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • neck of 1 small butternut squash
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 yellow beets
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 2 small or 1 large rutabaga
  • 4 large cauliflower florets
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter

Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and drizzle the olive oil in the bottom of a 9-inch ceramic pie pan. [COOK’S NOTE: Since you’ll be serving from the pie pan, a pretty one is preferable. If you don’t have a pretty pie plate, you can use a square baking dish instead.]

You’ll be using only the neck of the squash, so save the hollow body for another use. Peel the squash neck, slice thinly and set aside.

Peel the onion, slice as thinly as the squash, and set aside.

Peel the beets, slice as thinly as the squash, and set aside.

Peel the sweet potato, slice as thinly as the squash, and set aside.

Peel the rutabagas, slice as thinly as the squash, and set aside. If you have one large rutabaga, you can quarter it, and then slice the quarters thinly and set aside.

Slice the sides off the cauliflower florets so you just have the piece with the stalk that holds it together. Slice those stalk pieces as thinly as the squash, and set aside. Set aside the loose cauliflower bits as well.

Now comes the fun part. Start making stacks of vegetables, alternating the different types. Once the stacks are finished, arrange them in the pie pan. You can arrange them in rows, circles, spirals, or any design you like. Use the cauliflower “crumbles” to fill in spaces and gaps in the design.

Sprinkle the top of the vegetables with salt, and then dot with the butter. Bake at 350 degrees until the vegetables are lightly browned at the edges and cooked through at the bottom—about 75-90 minutes.

Serve hot directly from the pan.

stir fry 2STIR-FRIED VEGETABLES

Spiralizers are trendy these days, and with good reason. They turn plain vegetables into something that looks a lot more interesting. Many spiralizer recipes are for turning zucchini into noodles, but this recipe uses a variety of vegetables. You can substitute or add other vegetables as well, depending on what you like and what you have on hand. Start cooking the firmest vegetables first and finish with the softest (or the ones that you prefer to be least cooked).

If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can use a mandoline that has a julienne blade, a handheld julienne cutter, or a knife to make your julienne cuts.

SERVES 2-4

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 kohlrabi
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 zucchini
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves – or to taste (optional)

Peel the carrot. If you have a very fat carrot, you can use the spiralizer to cut it into “noodles.” If you have a thinner carrot that won’t yield a lot when spiralized, cut it into julienne strips instead.

Peel the kohlrabi and spiralize it, or cut it into julienne strips. Set aside.

Core and seed the green pepper, and then slice it into thin strips. Set aside.

You can peel the zucchini or not, as desired. Spiralize it or cut it into julienne strips, and set aside.

Heat the oil in a sauté pan on medium-high heat. Add the carrot and cook briefly, flipping or stirring so it cooks evenly.

Add the kohlrabi and cook for another minute, stirring or flipping the vegetables.

Add the bell pepper and cook briefly before adding the zucchini. Add the salt and pepper and continue cooking until the vegetables are cooked to your liking—they’re good when they’re crisp-tender, but also good when they’re cooked through.

Sprinkle the thyme leaves (if using) onto the vegetables, give them one more quick stir or flip, and serve hot.

CRANBERRY HORSERADISH

Horseradish is a root vegetable that looks like an ugly parsnip, but it’s most often used as a condiment. It goes well with roast beef or sausages.

You might have noticed dark pinkish-purple horseradish in stores. That gets its color from the addition of beets. This version gets its color from cranberries, and it’s a pretty pink. But don’t worry, it won’t taste like you’re serving cranberries with your roast—the horseradish flavor is quite strong.

MAKES 2 PINTS

  • 3/4 pound horseradish root
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup water

Peel the horseradish root and cut it into chunks. Add it to your blender or food processor. Add the cranberries, salt and half of the water. Blend until smooth. Add water, as needed, to make a moist and creamy purée.

Wait a few minutes before opening the blender or food processor to remove the horseradish, as the fumes are quite strong (they will dissipate a bit on standing). Transfer the mixture to jars and refrigerate.

Donna Currie

Donna Currie is a Colorado-based food writer who blogs at Cookistry (www.cookistry.com) and loves to test unusual cooking gadgets. While she enjoys all sorts of cooking and baking, she has a particular love for bread baking. Her first cookbook, Make Ahead Bread, was released on November 4, 2014.

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