By Barbara Kobsar
Art by Patricia Robinson
Choosing produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.
Early ripeners, the Bartlett pears reign supreme until late-season pear varieties find their niche at the markets. Most recognizable are the red- or green-skinned Anjous and the Bosc pears with their long, tapered necks and russet colored skins. Sweet and juicy, Comice pears team up well with your favorite soft cheese on an appetizer spread. At holiday time, slice a bright red Anjou or Comice pear into salads or desserts for a festive touch, or try baking or poaching some Boscs in merlot, cinnamon, and cloves. Small in size but big in sweetness are the forelle and seckel pears. As forelles ripen, the greenish skin turns bright yellow with crimson “freckles.” Seckels do not change color when ripe but become soft around the stem when ready to eat. On a health note, pears are low in calories, contain no fat, cholesterol, or sodium, and offer up six grams of fiber in just one medium-size pear.
Celebrate citrus this month with a juicy-sweet California navel orange. Easy to peel and seedless, this orange is considered by many to be the best in the world. Also in season now is the beloved Meyer lemon. Rounder and darker in color than the Lisbon or Eureka lemon, it’s thought to be a cross between one of those varieties and a mandarin orange. Its juice is mild enough that it won’t overpower your favorite homemade sauce or salad dressing. The grapefruit and its ancestor, the huge and pinkish pomelo, are also ready to enjoy. The pomelo’s light-colored pulp is generally drier and less acidic tasting than grapefruit. Try a little sprinkle of sugar to bring out the juice.
Members of the chicory genus, including Belgian endive, escarole, and radicchio, thrive in this cooler weather. They’re known for their bitter “bite” and pair well with winter pears, sharp cheeses, and smoked salmon. And while you’re exploring the season’s flavorful vegetables, take another look at kohlrabi for soups and side dishes. Both the pale green and colorful purple bulbs offer the same peppery taste and are mildest when harvested at the two- to three-inch size. Serve raw with a dip or vinaigrette, or mash after cooking with equal amounts of cooked sweet potato and apple, a dab of butter, salt, and pepper.