The Leafless Season
Focused fall foraging at the farmer’s market allows one New York couple to ‘eat locally’ through the winter. They share their shopping lists, recipes and culinary principles.

By Ed Yowell (courtesy of Local Foods)


Posted September 28, 2004: We vote with every potato we buy. We can support local foods, or we can ignore the sensual pleasures of eating locally and seasonally. We can eat raspberries of indeterminate origin during December or we can anticipate and enjoy the local ones that perfectly complement hot summer days.

Recently I voted. I decided to forgo the green leafy stuff of salads when not available at my local farmers market in New York City, the year-round market at Union Square Greenmarket.

As I write in early September, I am still enjoying heirloom tomato salads. But I find myself anticipating a return to last year’s fall salads. Like the person who buys a winter coat on Labor Day, I’ll be ready when the leaves fall.

Ingredients

As the rocket and purslane disappeared, I began to forage Greenmarket for fall provender.
The fall and winter larder, by month, included:

  Sept Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar
Brussels sprouts  
x
x
x
     
Russet apples  
x
x
x
x
   
Jerusalem artichokes  
x
x
x
x
x
x
Fennel
x
x
         
Bosc pears
x
x
x
x
     
Leeks
x
x
x
x
     
Quinces
x
x
x
x
     
Salsify
x
x
x
x
x
   
Beets
x
x
x
x
x
x
 
Cabbage
x
x
x
x
x
x
 
Celeriac (celery root)
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Carrots
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Horseradish
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Onions
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Parsnips
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Shallots
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Sweet potatoes
x
x
x
x
x
x
x


The Greenmarket shopping list included the following salad enhancers:

Bacon Crème Fraîche Smoked Pheasant
Butter Eggs Hot-Smoked Trout
Cheese (both cow & goat) Sea Scallops  




On cheating…a little

As much as I support local foods, I have yet to enjoy regionally grown coffee. Some good things just have to come from other places, occasionally far away places. To the larder, from afar, came:

Black olives
Dijon mustard
Dried mushrooms (black trumpet, Crepes)

Oils
Black truffle
Extra virgin olive
Neutral1
Orange infused extra virgin2
Walnut
White truffle

Vinegars Fruits Reductions Meats
Apple cider
Balsamic
Dried cherries
Oranges
Mushroom3
Orange juice4
Air Dried beef
(Italian, Swiss, American)
Red wine
Sherry
White wine
Pomegranates Verjus
(The tart, fresh juice of unripe wine grapes)
Dry cured country ham
(Italian, Spanish, American)

When buying these ingredients, I soothed my political conscience by opting, when practical, for the best quality from the closest source…. like Florida oranges or Tom Calhoun’s Culpeper (Va.) country ham5.

Composition & Technique


* * *
I find myself anticipating a return to last year’s fall salads. Like the person who buys a winter coat on Labor Day, I’ll be ready when the leaves fall.

Until my self-imposed seasonal salad challenge, I thought of salads as cool, colorful, and more-or-less crunchy things. They suited the long hot days and languorous evenings of summer.

Shorter days and cooler weather made me think of comfort. And, I knew that I’d be working with less color and crunch. Deep flavors and ambient serving temperatures became guiding principles. So did complementing crunch and color.

A combination of autumn vegetables, including parsnips, salsify, carrots, horseradish, sweet potatoes, and leeks, was the base of many leafless salads. To enhance color and texture, salads were often ‘topped’ or served in a pair. Autumnal vegetables and fruits are sweet and some (celery root, Jerusalem artichoke, salsify, and parsnip) also have earthy, nutty flavors. Walnuts provided crunch and complemented these flavors. Dried mushrooms, walnut oil, and truffle oils also complemented them. Orange sections and pomegranate seeds provided color. The various vinegars balanced the sweetness, or enhanced it, in the case of balsamic.

Presenting fennel, Brussels sprouts, leeks, sweet potatoes, and root vegetables required some thought. To produce comforting texture, vegetables generally were steamed or boiled first. Care was taken not to overcook. They were always served warm or at room temperature.

Fennel was cut lengthwise into quarters and then into conveniently chewable chunks and steamed. Brussels sprouts were ‘defoliated.’ The larger outer leaves were steamed (the little ‘inner’ heads were retained to accompany main courses). A bed of these made an attractive base for other ingredients. Leeks were, for stand alone applications, cut in half lengthwise, or, for combination with other vegetables, cut into narrow strips, and (both ways) steamed.

Parsnips, carrots, salsify, and sweet potatoes were peeled and peeled again. The outer skins were removed with a harp peeler; then, with the same peeler, the naked vegetables were stripped into long, thin ribbons. Peeling permitted the vegetables to be steamed quickly. Horseradish was grated and used raw or was peeled and treated as above.

Note: when steamed, various vegetables were crisp-tender at different rates. Leeks, always taking the longest, started the process. During steaming, they were joined first by carrots, then sweet potatoes, and other vegetables.

Jerusalem artichokes were painted with olive oil, salted and peppered, and baked whole, like little potatoes, until the skins darkened and split and the oozing juices caramelized. The result was a crispy exterior and a creamy interior.

Celery roots were best peeled and grated, quickly, in a food processor and used raw. Quinces and beets were peeled, cut into small cubes, and boiled in water, until tender. The quinces were favored with the addition of sugar, spices (such as allspice or cinnamon) and a drop of apple cider vinegar.

Scallops for steaming were halved into little ‘hockey pucks.’ Scallops for searing were left whole. In both cases, the little mussels were removed first, and care was taken to avoid over-cooking.

Smoked trout was parted from its skin and crumbled. The de-boned breast of the smoked pheasant was sliced thinly while the dark meat of the thighs and legs was torn from tendon and bone. Walnuts were toasted with salt and white pepper or caramelized in oil with salt, white pepper, cayenne pepper (sometimes), and sugar.

I won’t provide actual recipes (I’m an impulsive cook who can rarely to do the same thing twice). Instead, to charge your seasonal imagination, I’ll simply describe a few leafless opportunities. Here they are, from late September through March:

The salads

Fennel
  • With red onion, orange sections, and black olives in a vinaigrette of orange infused extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar, and red pepper flakes
  • With red onion and orange sections in a vinaigrette of orange infused extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar topped with pomegranate seeds

    Note: Both do well with the addition of bresaola, air-dried beef.

Brussels sprouts
  • With orange sections in a vinaigrette of orange infused olive oil and white wine vinegar topped with orange sections and pomegranate seeds

Celeriac (celery root)
  • Remoulade (celery root and onion in a dressing of olive oil, crème fraîche, Dijon mustard, salt, and white pepper) topped with dry-cured country ham

Leeks


  • With vinaigrette of olive oil, black truffle oil, Dijon mustard, and red-wine vinegar topped with dry cured country ham
  • With vinaigrette of olive oil, white truffle oil, and white wine vinegar topped with another salad of steamed scallops and black trumpet mushrooms in a vinaigrette of black trumpet reduction and sherry vinegar
  • With cepes in a vinaigrette of cepe reduction and sherry vinegar topped with smoked trout tossed with white truffle oil and toasted walnuts
  • With vinaigrette of olive oil and white wine vinegar topped with seared scallops in a balsamic vinegar glaze and sprinkled with toasted walnuts
  • With vinaigrette of olive oil, black truffle oil, and sherry vinegar topped with air dried beef tossed in olive oil and black pepper and sprinkled with toasted walnuts

Autumn vegetables
  • With vinaigrette of walnut and neutral oils and sherry vinegar topped with another salad of caramelized walnuts, Bosc pear or Russet apple slices tossed in verjus, and crumbled blue cheese
  • With vinaigrette of olive oil, white truffle oil, and sherry vinegar topped with smoked trout tossed with white truffle oil and toasted walnuts
  • With vinaigrette of neutral oil and apple cider vinegar topped with smoked pheasant breast and a dressing of crème fraîche and grated horseradish
  • With vinaigrette of walnut and neutral oils and apple cider vinegar topped with another salad of smoked pheasant thigh and leg meat sautéed in butter with shallots and dried cherries and tossed with toasted walnuts in the same vinaigrette
  • With vinaigrette of neutral oil and apple cider vinegar and dry cured country ham and quince
  • With vinaigrette of walnut and neutral oils and sherry vinegar topped with another salad of baked Jerusalem artichoke and toasted walnuts tossed in the same vinaigrette
    • With vinaigrette of olive oil, black truffle oil, and white-wine vinegar topped with a another salad of baked Jerusalem artichoke, seared scallops de-glazed with balsamic vinegar and toasted walnuts

Bosc pear (or Russet apple)
  • sliced thinly and tossed in verjus topped with crumbled bacon and blue cheese and caramelized walnuts tossed in a vinaigrette of walnut and neutral oils and sherry vinegar

Red Cabbage
  • shredded and braised with red onions in red wine and red-wine vinegar with butter, black peppercorns, and cloves and topped with crumbled bacon and a poached egg

Beets
  • With vinaigrette of orange infused olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper topped with orange sections, toasted walnuts, and crumbled blue cheese
    • With vinaigrette of walnut and neutral oils and red-wine vinegar topped with grated goat cheese and toasted walnuts
    • With vinaigrette of orange infused olive oil, red-wine vinegar, and black pepper on a puddle of dressing consisting of reduced orange juice and grated horseradish and topped with caramelized walnuts

By now, you’ve got the idea. There is life after lettuce. Ingredients from the fall and winter larder make the time to asparagus pass tastefully.

You may wonder if my wife Grace and I kept the faith all winter. Like folks who are kosher at home but eat bacon cheeseburgers out, we did. And, I have to admit, when we dined out, frisée aux lardons sure was good.

Ed Yowell is a member of Slow Food New York City [http://www.slowfood.com/eng/sf_ita_mondo/sf_scheda_condotta.lasso?idcond=en_sw1026].


1 Occasionally, extra virgin oil is a bit strong or too fruity and occasionally another strong oil, like walnut, needs to be tempered. Neutral flavored oil, like grape seed oil, can serve both purposes, substituting for extra virgin olive oil and moderating walnut oil.
2 Heat the zest of one half orange in oil over very low heat for 20 to 30 minutes.
3 Soak dried mushrooms in water. Strain the water and reduce to a spoon-coating consistency.
4 Reduce fresh orange juice by half over very low heat. Try not to caramelize the juice.
5 Tom’s Meat Market, 211 South East St., Culpeper, Virginia (540) 825-8319.