Winter Salads

Red, green, and white are colors I associate with this early winter season.  They show up in Christmas lights, gift paper, ribbons and wreaths.  In hedgerows, there are rose hips, hawthorne, holly and snowberry.  And on the table, there are salads from the winter garden where radicchio, red mustard and kale, mache and arugula, escarole and curly endive offer more versions of the red, green and white of the season.

With winter salads in mind, I planted these greens in summer and fall, beginning with kale in mid-July, continuing with escarole, endive and radicchio in early August and the others, mache, mustard and arugula every few weeks from mid-August until late September.  In an August post I wrote about planting many of these greens:

Now they are mature, growing slowly if at all in the cooler temperatures and shorter days of our coastal northwest winter.  I keep the escarole, curly endive and radicchio covered in a low plastic tunnel because the rain will cause them to rot.  The kale, mustard, arugula and mache are fine in the rain though I cover them as well when nighttime temperatures head for the low twenties.

Escarole: “Natacha”

Radicchio: “Fiero” and “Indigo”

Mache: “Verte de Cambrai”

Arugula and Red Giant Mustard

Harvesting these greens is pretty straightforward.  With kale, mustard and arugula, I snip off individual leaves and the plant continues growing. With mache, escarole, curly endive and radicchio I harvest the entire plant by cutting it off at the base.  The mache rosette is usually free of any tough or yellowed bottom leaves but the others often have some weathered and tough outer leaves that I pull off and compost.

Washing the individual leaves is easy in a salad spinner.  Washing the full plants is a bit more complicated.  After rinsing the mache rosettes, I grasp the rosette root side up in one hand and with the other hand slice across the plant about an inch or so above the root stem.  The now separated leaves wash and dry easily in a salad spinner.  I use the same approach with the much bigger escarole and curly endive plants.  The one variation is that after cutting off the root end I separate the outer leaves from the smaller, creamier-colored inner leaves.  I use the inner leaves for salad and save the larger outer leaves to sauté in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes.  Finally, the radicchio heads are usually tightly wrapped, so after trimming off the root and outer leaves, I simply slice or tear the leaves of the head as I would cabbage.

Each of these greens has a distinctive flavor.  Kale is earthy, arugula is peppery, mustard is, well, mustardy.  Mache is nutty and escarole, curly endive and radicchio are all pleasantly bitter.  The flavors mix well together and are especially pretty with their shades of red, green and white.

Sometimes though I’ll enjoy just one all by itself heaped into a salad bowl.  For dressings, I like simple vinaigrettes made with sherry, cider or white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil so that the flavors of greens stand out.

I often stop here, with a delicious, leafy salad.  But, there are winter roots and fruits that mix wonderfully with these greens.  Turnip, celery root, beets, apples and pears all add further flavors and textures as well as red and white colors to the greens.  The other day, I sliced some Gilfeather turnip into matchstick-size pieces and added them and some diced winter pears to a mix of escarole and mache.  The soft, sweetness of the pear and the crisp, pungency of the turnip blended perfectly with the bitter escarole and nutty, mineral flavored mache.  I used cider vinegar vinaigrette.

Another favorite winter salad is celery root and apple with mache or arugula.  I slice the celery root into matchstick-size pieces and marinate them for an hour or so in a mix of white wine or cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and finely diced shallots.  For a pound and a half of celery root, I use a quarter cup of vinegar, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and one to two tablespoons of minced shallot.  Then I add diced red apples, mache or arugula and four to six tablespoons of olive oil.  It’s a beautiful red, white and green salad.  A few toasted pecans or hazelnuts add one more delicious flavor.

Finally, beets, boiled, peeled and diced or peeled, diced and roasted are a perfect addition to any of these greens, both for flavor and for color.

On these dark December days with seed catalogs arriving daily, it’s tempting to look ahead to the first tender salads of spring but right now and for the next few months are perfect times to enjoy tasty winter salads.

Roasted Roots

Although I enjoy harvesting vegetables from the garden in every season, I think that the winter harvest season is the most magical.  It’s often nearly dark when I head out to the garden in the late afternoon.  Time seems slowed down, perhaps because of the shorter days and colder temperatures. And compared to summer, when the vegetables quickly fill a basket, harvesting in winter requires more steps, especially for the roots: clearing away protective mulch, loosening soil, pulling gently, shaking off clods of earth, hosing off remaining dirt and watching as the vegetable colors emerge—bright orange carrots, ruby beets, creamy white parsnips, dark pink and white rutabaga and green and cream Gilfeather turnips.  Despite the cold, I always stop and admire these lovely roots that have been growing slowly underground since July when I sowed the seeds and now, washed clean, glow brightly in the basket.

Roasted roots aren’t exactly the caponata of winter food, but they are close.  Caponata blends tomatoes, peppers and eggplant into a stew of sweet and spicy flavors and soft textures.  Roasted roots are chunks of rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, carrots, beets tossed in a little olive oil and roasted until they soften and their separate, earthy flavors sweeten and intensify then play off each other.  I look forward to them both.  Caponata is high summer picnic food, something to eat outdoors in the sun, while roasted roots are definitely food for the indoor table, with candles burning and the curtains drawn over the dark windows.

I made the first big batch last week for a holiday potluck.  Because I was preparing a lot of roots, I roasted each separately on its own baking sheet, but for smaller batches I often mix them all together before coating them very lightly with olive oil and sprinkling on a little salt.  They all take about the same amount of time to roast: 30-45 minutes at 400 degrees depending on the size of the chunks.  The beets are the only exception: I peel and cut them, lightly oil them and roast them in their own pan and add them to the rest at the end.  Don’t crowd the roots on the sheets or they will steam instead of roast and check them often after the first 15 minutes, turning them over so all sides will brown and caramelize.  Be careful not to let them burn or they will be bitter.

Served warm or at room temperature, roasted roots are a great side dish with meats but they also make a perfect addition to grains like emmer farro for a main dish.  For a hearty and delicious winter salad, I toss room temperature roasted roots with greens like mache, arugula or escarole, add a few toasted nuts and maybe some goat cheese or grated Pecorino Romano, and dress it all with vinaigrette.  There are all sorts of variations on this winter salad.  Another favorite way to use leftover roasted roots is to mix them with some grated cheese, cheddar or Gruyere, to bind them together, add a little cooked bacon or sausage if you like, and wrap the mixture in pastry for a free-form, open tart. Again, there’s plenty of room for experimenting.

Roots also work well with spices.  The other night, I made Nigel Slater’s root vegetable korma from his wonderful book Tender: A Cook and his Vegetable Patch (2009). Cardamom, coriander, cumin, chili powder, cinnamon filled the kitchen with the fragrance of curry, most welcome after a chilly late afternoon bike ride. The earthy sweetness of the roots was a perfect match for this mild curry. Here’s a link to the recipe: I want to experiment more with roots and these spices.  Winter seems like the perfect time.