Many chefs will tell you that it’s always best to use produce that’s in season when cooking any dish. While technique is important, using the freshest and most available ingredients is half the battle. Ingredients should speak for themselves, and when arranged properly, can make a gorgeous and exquisite meal.
Winter produce offers some of the deepest flavors and most vibrant colors, and can make any dish shine. Moreover, winter is the perfect time of year to get cozy and practice your skills in the kitchen.
Here are six seasonal gems that chefs and cooks are most excited about this winter, what to look for while shopping for them, and how to make the most of them at home.
Chef and owner, Olmsted
The winter produce I’m most excited about is rutabaga. Unlike other turnips, rutabaga has sort of a buttery, mustardy taste that goes nicely with lamb, pork, and beef, which people tend to eat a lot of during winter.
In Season: Rutabaga is in season from October through March.
How to Buy: Make sure it feels heavy for its size, and has a purple and yellowish hue with a waxy coating.
How to Enjoy: At Olmsted, we make a rutabaga tagliatelle.
Rutabaga Noodles Cacio e Pepe
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 large rutabaga
- 9 tablespoons cold butter, divided
- 1/4 cup finely minced shallot
- 10 whole black peppercorns
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Grated pecorino or Parmigiano cheese, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Minced chives, for garnish
Prepare the rutabaga noodles: Remove the thick, brown outer layer of the rutabaga with a paring knife or a sturdy vegetable peeler. Shave the rutabaga into thin ribbons using a mandoline or a vegetable peeler. (It may be necessary to cut the rutabaga into halves or quarters to do this more easily.) Cut the rutabaga ribbons lengthwise into half-inch strips, and, if you like, square off the ends.
Make the beurre blanc: Cut 8 tablespoons of the butter into chunks and set aside in a cool place. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the shallots and peppercorns. Cook, stirring, for about one minute, until the shallots are aromatic but not beginning to brown. Add the wine and cook until almost entirely reduced, with about two tablespoons remaining. Add the cream and salt and reduce again. (If the pan looks too dry, stir in a tablespoon or two of water.) Add the remaining chilled butter, one piece at a time, stirring briskly with a wire whisk with each addition, continuing to whisk until the sauce is shiny and thick. Strain out the solids (or keep the shallots and just fish out the whole peppercorns). Taste and add more salt, if necessary. Cover and keep the beurre blanc warm over low heat until the rutabaga pasta is ready.
Bring a pot of unsalted water to a boil. Add the rutabaga noodles and blanch for 3 minutes, until just barely softened. Strain the noodles and add them to the pot with the warm beurre blanc. Raise the heat to medium and gently toss the tagliatelle in the butter sauce until the noodles are softened and the sauce clings to each strand, about 4–5 minutes. Serve topped with grated cheese, freshly ground black pepper, and a sprinkle of chives.
Executive chef, The Turk’s Inn
My favorite winter ingredient is persimmon. I discovered it a long time ago when my parents planted a tree that yielded a weird fruit that looked like a tomato. It wasn’t something I wanted to eat as a child, and I didn’t like the taste of it back then. However, I’ve come to enjoy its sweet, delicate flavor as an adult and as a chef. The persimmon has become a product that I am always excited to work with.
In Season: Persimmons are in season from October through February. However, they are at their best between December and January.
How to Buy: The most common varieties of persimmons are the hachiya, which is very astringent and only edible when it is very ripe, and the fuyu, which you can eat when it’s firmer. Those are the two I like to use the most. They should be firm but not hard, similar to when looking for the perfect avocado.
How to Enjoy: At The Turk’s Inn we serve them in our “Persimmon Caprese,” a take on the classic Italian salad, substituting the tomatoes with persimmon. The persimmon has the look and mouthfeel of a tomato, only much sweeter and less acidic, and pairs just as nicely with mozzarella.
We plate the salad over a simple lemon mustard dressing, drizzle with olive oil, dot the fruit and cheese with a spicy green condiment from Yemen called “schug,” which gives the dish spice and herbaceousness, add puffed quinoa for a little crunch, and top with opal basil.
Executive chef, Sauvage
One of the ingredients I always look super forward to is chicory, specifically puntarelle. I love how crunchy and juicy the stalks are. At its peak, it should taste a little bitter with great crisp texture.
In Season: Puntarelle is in season from November through February.
How to Buy: When buying, you want to make sure that there are no brown spots. Make sure the stalks are firm and that the green leaves are super bright in color.
How to Enjoy: To prepare, you want to take the big green leaves off, as they might be a little too bitter sometimes. The bottom of the bulb is super woody, so you want to avoid that and cut it off. I like to cut the stalks into thin strips and put them into ice water for about 15 minutes. It helps them crisp and firm up even more. Then let them air dry in the fridge for a few hours.
One of the best things with this chicory is how well it carries vinaigrettes. If you mash it up a little with your hands in a bowl, it lets the vinaigrette penetrate the stalks better. For a simple recipe, I like to mix them with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette, sliced persimmons, grated Parmesan, crushed sunflower seeds, and a little gochugaru (Korean chili pepper flakes).
Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
- 4 teaspoons Chardonnay vinegar
- Juice of two lemons
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup grapeseed oil
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
In a medium mixing bowl, add all ingredients except for oils. Mix oils in one at a time until you create a smooth emulsion. Season as needed.
Co-founder and recipe developer, Brooklyn Farm Girl
As a vegetable gardener and recipe creator, I love the produce that winter gives me. Think hearty greens and vegetables that can withstand the cold, especially winters in the Northeast.
Cabbage is one of my favorites because it’s so versatile in recipes, not to mention it’s usually cheap at the grocery store. Green cabbage is the most popular of the cabbage family. You can eat it raw, or use it in endless recipes. The longer it cooks, the sweeter it gets.
In Season: While cabbage is available year round, the prime season runs from late fall to early spring.
How to Buy: You’ll want to look for a cabbage head that’s tight and compact with shiny green leaves. It shouldn’t have that many loose leaves on it.
How to Enjoy: Since it’s winter, I crave warm meals when I get home, so I love cooking my family this ham and cabbage soup. This soup uses four cups of cabbage, along with onion, celery, and carrots, making it a veggie-filled dinner recipe.
Ham and Cabbage Soup
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup celery, chopped
- 1/2 cup carrots, chopped
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 4 cups cabbage, shredded
- 2 cups cooked ham, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (or you can use black pepper)
Add butter to large soup pot. Add green pepper, onion, celery, and carrots and saute until softened, about 10 minutes.
Add flour into pot, stirring to coat the vegetables.
Add chicken broth and cook on medium-high until boiling.
Add cabbage, ham, salt, and pepper. Stir until boiling and then simmer for 30 minutes. Serve in bowls.
Executive chef, Pomp and Circumstance
The seasonal produce that I most look forward to are cardoons. They have a very unique flavor and texture. Raw, they should taste very bitter, almost medicinal. When peeled and cooked, they have a subtle artichoke flavor. The cardoon is also used in cheesemaking and in spirits such as Cynar.
In Season: Cardoons are available from November through March.
How to Buy: Cardoons have long stalks that are pale green in color, and should have a firm, unbruised exterior. They are reminiscent of a large leafy head of celery.
How to Enjoy: I like to simmer them for an hour in lemon, water, vinegar, salt, and spices. Then they get charred in the oven with Parmigiano Reggiano, then garnished with fresh herbs and served with buffalo mozzarella, lemon, and pepper, and good olive oil is a must.
Chef and cookbook author
South Orange, New Jersey
When I had to cut back on carbohydrates, I started using sweet potatoes more because they are low on the glycemic index and they are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Sweet potatoes are easy to add to your diet and can be prepared in several different ways—baked, mashed, grilled, and roasted to name a few.
In Season: Although grown in warm weather, the winter months—November through January—are the peak season for the tastiest sweet potatoes.
How to Buy: I prefer organic. There are several varieties but Red Garnet and Jewel cook up sweet and moist. They should be smooth with firm skin—no cracks, white spots, wrinkles, mold, or signs of sprouting. The tips should not be too dark because that means they are getting old and drying out. They should smell earthy, not moldy.
It is important for people to understand if you do not plan to use sweet potatoes right away, they should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place, but do not refrigerate them or they will dry out.
How to Enjoy: I prefer baking them in the oven to bring out their natural sweetness. Here’s a favorite family recipe.
Down-Home Candied Sweet Potatoes
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes (Red Garnet or Jewel)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the sweet potatoes until tender, but still a little firm, about 30–40 minutes. Set aside to cool. When cool, peel them and cut into quarters.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add sugar, salt, maple syrup, cinnamon, allspice, vanilla, then mix well. Add sweet potatoes to the sugar mix, place in a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish, and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot.