By Barbara Kobsar
Illustration by Carol H. Gould
Choosing produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.
Root for roots this season!
Look-alike cousins, turnips and rutabagas thrive during the cooler seasons. Turnips take only 50 to 60 days from planting to produce the familiar globe-shaped white roots with purplish crowns. Rutabagas are generally larger, sweeter, and stonger-flavored than turnips, and need 90 to 120 days to produce their smooth, waxy leaves and yellow-orange roots. More solid than turnips, they also have a longer shelf life.
Considered indispensable in its native Mexico, the jicama finds a niche in many cuisines. Underneath its rather uninviting skin, it has lightly sweet, crisp, white flesh that works both raw and cooked. Mexicans have traditionally enjoyed dipping raw jicama slices in lime juice and sprinkling with chili powder, but the slices are equally good served with guacamole.They also make an excellent substitute for water chestnuts. The crunchy texture is retained even after cooking, so toss jicama into a stew or add it to pan-fried potatoes.
Looking for the season’s best fresh-picked fruit fix? Kiwifruits are packed with juice, flavor, and nutrients under that fuzzy, brown skin.
Cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, and celeriac are my favorites for soups, side dishes, and stir-fries this season, but I look to cardoons to add some extra character. Also known as artichoke thistles, cardoons look like giant celery stalks with thorny, silver-grey leaves. Only the innermost stalks are considered edible. Use a sharp paring knife to trim leaves, ends, and stalks, and then cut into pieces for steaming or braising.
The pomegranate, a symbol of hope and abundance in many cultures, is prized for its aesthetic appeal, culinary diversity, and antioxidant content. Only the shiny red arils under the leathery skin are edible. Use them as a garnish on entrées, salads, and desserts, or juice the fruit (straining out the seeds) to make jellies and sorbets.
Piles of pea shoots are soon to appear at the farmers’ markets. Like green garlic, pea shoots are considered byproducts as farmers thin rows to make room for mature plants to thrive. Pea shoots are best in salads, but try them sautéed in olive oil with sliced shallots and a squirt of lemon juice. Before using, be sure to snap off wilting leaves and thick stems. Swirl shoots gently in cool water, lift out to leave all the grit behind, and let dry on a towel. Use as soon as possible, since these green do not keep for more than a day or two. Also look for fava greens, which are snipped from the top of the plant as it grows. Serve raw in salads or pestos, or sauté and add to pastas and quiches for the same great fava bean flavor.
A full lineup of citrus continues at the markets. Look for Cara Cara (the reddish navel orange), Moro blood oranges, Buddha’s hand, mandarins, and pomelos.
Veteran journalist Barbara Kobsar has authored two cookbooks focusing on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. You’ll find her each week at the Walnut Creek Farmers’ Market selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies made from farmers’ market produce.
Berkeley-based illustrator and musician Caroline H. Gould is a transplant from Brooklyn, New York. She is especially fond of illustrating desserts. carolinehgould.com