Winter and Spring in February

February often feels like a transition month in our marine climate, one that can pull us back to winter and then propel us toward spring.  This year during the middle weeks of February, temperatures in the twenties followed by snow blanketing the kitchen garden definitely pointed to winter. And now, with the snow gone, the final week of February has brought warmer temperatures, lengthening days and the promise of spring.  

As a kitchen gardener, part of me is still in winter, cooking the roots and hardy greens I harvested before the deep cold, but part of me is also in spring and summer, imagining the food that will come from seeds I’ll be starting soon.  

In the days before the forecast cold, I harvested half a dozen large celery root, the last of the radicchios and chicories, a cabbage and some collards, bags of Brussels sprouts and lots of carrots, all vegetables I might not be able to get to beneath a cover of snow, mulch and tarps.  I’ve been cooking from this harvest ever since.

Raw celery root makes wonderful salads , but the cold compelled me to cook it into a smooth, comforting puree.  Melissa Clark’s recipe couldn’t be easier, especially if you use an immersion blender. I served it with stew for dinner and the next day thinned leftovers with the cooking liquid I’d saved to make soup for lunch.  The puree looks like mashed potatoes but tastes like sweet, earthy celery.

Celery Root Puree

4 medium celeriac bulbs about 3 1/2 pounds, peeled and diced

4 garlic cloves, peeled

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons kosher salt, more to taste

8 tablespoons butter

Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

In a large saucepan, combine the celery root, peeled garlic cloves and bay leaves. Pour in 12 cups water and 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain, discard the bay leaves and transfer the celeriac and garlic to a food processor. Add the butter and nutmeg; process until very smooth. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Keep warm.

With the carrots and radicchio, I turned to a recipe I tried for the first time this year from Marcella Hazan’s Marcella’s Italian Kitchen (1986). It’s yet another of her simple Italian recipes that is made wonderfully complex by the combination of contrasting flavors, in this case sweet carrots and slightly bitter radicchio. In her notes before the recipe, Hazan says that “endive substitutes for the long radicchio di Treviso I would use in Italy,” but for the pleasantly bitter flavor, any radicchio or chicory would do.  I used one of the red radicchios I’d harvested.  

I also used Purple Haze carrots to match the purple of the radicchio. I’ve made this recipe several times with Purple Haze, one of my favorite carrots for its sweet spicy flavor and also with Mokum, a perfect, deeply sweet orange carrot. Both dishes were pretty and delicious.


Marcella Hazan

In this combination with carrots, endive substitutes for the long radicchio di Treviso I would use in Italy. Its appeal is based on the racy contrast of flavors and consistencies: the carrot sweet, the endive slightly bitter; the former firm, the latter creamily soft. The carrot must first be cooked slowly and at length, with butter and no liquid, to evaporate all the moisture that dilutes its flavor, and to keep the carrot rounds firm. Since the endive throws off much liquid, it is also, at first, cooked separately from the carrots; otherwise it would steam them. It takes only a few minutes’ additional cooking together, after the preliminary separate procedures, to link the two vegetables’ flavors.

1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch rounds

4 tablespoons butter


¾ to 1 pound Belgian endive, shredded lengthwise into strips ¼ inchwide

  1. Choose a sauté pan or skillet that can accommodate all the carrots without crowding them. Put in the carrots and butter, and turn on the heat to medium low. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the carrots have greatly diminished in bulk, becoming withered and colored a light nut brown. It should take about 1 to 1½ hours. Sprinkle with salt, stir, and turn off the heat.
  2. Transfer the carrots to a platter, using a slotted spoon or spatula in order to leave as much butter as possible in the pan.
  3. Put the endive in the pan and turn on the heat to medium low. Cook, turning it over from time to time, until the endive becomes very soft, about 30 minutes. Add salt.
  4. Return the carrots to the pan and cook for 5 minutes longer, together with the endive.

With Brussels sprouts, I alternate between roasting oiled halves or quarters at high heat, 425 or 450, for about seven minutes or sauteing thin slices in butter or olive oil at high heat for less than five minutes, both easy and quick preparations.  In a tasty variation the other night, I roasted thin slices and used them as a pizza topping along with sautéed shallot and sausage to create an earthy, spicy very seasonal pizza.

Finally, with the cabbage and collards, I made one of our favorite winter sautés several times as a side dish, Sautéed Collards and Cabbage with Gremolata

Tasty and satisfying as these winter vegetables have been, I have fresh tomatoes on my mind.  Over the past several days, I’ve tidied up my seed starting room, pulled out planting trays and a bag of potting soil and today I started seeds for this year’s tomato crop.  I’m growing many of my usual favorite slicers, Brandywine, Cherokee Carbon, Cherokee Purple, Dester, Golden Sunray (aka Golden Jubilee), Momotaro and a rainbow of cherry tomatoes, Green Doctors, Orange Paruche, Sunchocola and Sweet Million. 

A new slicer I’m trying this year, in a nod to New Jersey friends, is Rutgers Original from Fedco.  Long considered an outstanding slicing, cooking and canning tomato, Rutgers’ medium-sized 4–6 oz mostly uniform and unblemished deep oblate fruits with a rich red interior and pleasing texture have that great old-time flavor, delicious and juicy. When Rutgers University “refined” the variety in 1943, they took out some of the vininess but also some of the flavor. Our taste tests confirmed that the original indeterminate strain is better, so that’s the strain we offer of this famous New Jersey tomato.

I’ll also grow Aosta Valley from Fedco, a small paste tomato I’ve grown for the past few years, perfect for roasting.  In addition, I’m going to try another paste tomato my friends Alan and Kathy recommended: Midnight Roma from Row 7 Seed Company: A deep purple-red paste tomato packed with phytonutrients. In the rows, it will stop you in your tracks. In the kitchen, this purple wonder shines for its quick cook time and memorable flavor. Check out this small company and its taste-focused mission.

As I planted seeds, the sun warmed up the small seed starting room to almost-summer temperatures, making it easy to imagine plates and bowls of luscious tomatoes when summer arrives.  

Winter Kitchen Garden Food and Beauty

Food is the main reason I grow a winter kitchen garden, but the beauty of these hardy vegetables is a close second.

Leeks, Parsnips, B Sprouts 12:18Blue-green leek spears share a bed with yellow-green parsnip leaves, and lighter green Brussels sprouts, their small, hard globes arranged like miniature cabbages along tall stalks, fill the next bed.

Kales 12:18

Collard Flash 12:18White outlines the tips and veins of Winterbor and White Russian Kale and Flash Collards.

Cabbage JK 12:18

Rutabaga 12:18Purple tints the flattened globes of January King cabbage and wraps around the rutabaga.

Other roots, carrots, beets, turnips and celery root are hidden, buried in mulch to keep the soil around them from freezing, but when I dig and wash them, their bright colors shine.

Over the next few months, I’ll harvest these winter vegetables as I need them.  When the forecast is for temperatures in the low 20s, teens or lower, I’ll pile on more mulch onto the layers already there and perhaps add some tarps, but for most of our temperate marine northwest winter, these vegetables will hold well in the natural cooler of winter.  They’ll be there for favorite meals as well as for new discoveries.

One wonderful new discovery, an easy and very delicious cabbage recipe, is in Yotam Ottolenghi’s newest cookbook, SIMPLE (2018).  I’ve made it twice already this week and will definitely make it again.

Roast cabbage with tarragon and pecorino

Serve this at room temperature, so the pecorino keeps its texture and flavor. It’s lovely as a side for roast chicken or sausages, or with a selection of cooked veg. Serves four.

 ½ cup olive oil
2 lemons – finely grate the zest, to get 2 tbsp, then juice, to get 2 tbsp
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Salt and black pepper
2 Napa cabbages (aka pointed cabbage), outer leaves discarded, then cut lengthways into eight wedges each (12 cups/1 kg)
½ cup/10g tarragon leaves, roughly chopped
1oz/30g pecorino shaved (use a vegetable peeler)

Heat the oven to 450 F.

In a small bowl, whisk the oil, lemon zest, garlic, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, then transfer two tablespoons to a second bowl.

Put the cabbage wedges in a large bowl and season with an eighth of a teaspoon of salt. Pour the larger portion of oil mixture over the cabbage and toss to coat. Arrange the cabbage on two oven trays lined with baking paper.

Cabbage raw sliced 12:18

Roast for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are crisp and golden brown (swap the trays around halfway through, so both get time near the higher heat at the top of the oven).

Cabbage cooked sliced 12:18

Transfer the cabbage to a platter, then leave to rest and cool for five to 10 minutes.

Mix the lemon juice into the remaining oil mixture, then drizzle evenly over the cabbage wedges. Scatter the tarragon and pecorino on top, finish with a good grind of black pepper and serve.

Cabbage brown plate 12:18

I used a savoy cabbage, January King, and its sweetness was a perfect match for the lemon dressing.  The shaved Pecorino gives just the right salty touch and the tarragon provides a slight but tasty hint of licorice.  I used dried tarragon because I didn’t have any fresh and, mixed into the oil mixture with the lemon juice, it worked well.

In his introduction to this new cookbook, Ottolenghi characterizes the approach of the book by assigning a word to each of the letters in simple.

S:   Short on time

I:    Ingredients, ten or fewer

M:  Make ahead

P:   Pantry-led

L:   Lazy-day dishes

E:   Easier than you think.

“Easier than you think,” will speak to cooks who have found his earlier books too complex.  I’m a fan of all of his work, especially Jerusalem and Plenty More, and I’m happy that SIMPLE is as exciting as his others.

There are more recipes from SIMPLE that I want to try with the winter vegetables in the kitchen garden.

Leeks: Braised Eggs with Leek and Za’atar

Brussels Sprouts: Brussels Sprouts with Browned Butter and Black Garlic

Celery Root: Whole-roasted Celery Root with Coriander Seed Oil

Beef Meatballs with Lemon and Celery Root

Parsnips: Smoked Fish and parsnip cakes

Carrots: Roasted Carrots with Yogurt and Cinnamon

Beets: Roasted Beets with Yogurt and Preserved Lemon

And then there are some wonderful-sounding recipes for winter storage vegetables, especially squash.  New cookbooks are so inspiring. If you’re looking for a cookbook for your Christmas list, SIMPLE could be the one.

Winter Vegetable Cookbooks

I have a collection of winter vegetable cookbooks on my shelf and look forward to opening them on these quiet days leading to the winter solstice when there is time to ponder this season and the vegetables the winter kitchen garden offers.  Out in the December garden hardy brassicas and greens, leeks and roots are ready to harvest but will also hold there for the coming winter months, gaining sweetness with each frost.  While I have some favorite methods for cooking all of them, there’s always pleasure in rereading recipes and reflections by other cooks who love this season and its food as much as I do.

Cookbook pileWhile all of these books share the purpose of encouraging cooks to explore winter vegetables, each has its own personality and reasons for this focus, reflecting both the time when it was written and the enthusiasms of the writer. One writes from her Pacific Northwest homestead, another from her roots in California and France while another brings her knowledge and experience of eastern European cuisines, another her discovery of Asian root vegetables. All write in detail about each root and hardy green, sharing history, anecdotes, nutrition, selection and storage and sometimes even planting and harvesting information. And all offer recipes and often stories behind them, leaving me inspired to cook and reminding me why I welcome the coming of this season.

Winter Harvest ckbkLane Morgan, Winter Harvest Cookbook: How to Select and Prepare Fresh Seasonal Produce All Winter Long, 1990 (revised and updated 2010)

Lane Morgan is a Bellingham, Washington writer as well as a cook and year-round gardener, and her book celebrates the winter vegetables and fruit we are fortunate to have in our climate, whether from our own gardens or from local markets and farmers markets. In the preface to the twentieth anniversary edition of her book she writes: “what hasn’t changed is my appreciation for local food and sustainable practices, and my conviction that eating with the seasons is best for our health, our palate and our planet.” (p. xi)  The opening “Produce List” section profiling vegetables and fruit ranging from Apples to Turnips is a must-read for anyone interested in planting and cooking from a winter garden here in the Pacific Northwest.  The recipes, arranged from soups through salads, main dishes, side dishes, sauces and desserts and baked goods, are wonderfully vegetable-focused and accompanied by charming stories linking them to cuisines, chefs and friends.

Essential Root Veg ckbkSally and Martin Stone, The Essential Root Vegetable Cookbook: a Primer for Choosing and Serving Nature’s Buried Treasures, 1991

The Stones are New York City cookbook authors who write in their introduction that “It’s time that the lowly (pun intended) root vegetables at last rise up to take their rightful places within the reaches of gastronomy.” (p. ix) They’ve organized their book alphabetically by vegetable, Beets to Yams, and introduce each vegetable with its origin and history, varieties and availability, selection and storage tips, basic preparation and cooking information and very specific nutritional information.  The half dozen or so recipes that accompany each vegetable entry are creative and easy to follow. This book is a great resource.

Winter Vegetarian ckbkDarra Goldstein, The Winter Vegetarian: A Warm and Versatile Bounty, 1996

Darra Goldstein  is a professor of Russian at Williams College and has written about Russian literature, culture, art, and cuisine.  She is also the editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture and has written several cookbooks.  The Winter Vegetarian joins her love of winter and winter food with her knowledge of Russia and Northern Europe.  Of all the cookbooks I list here, Goldstein’s is the most satisfying to read.  She introduces the book with an essay describing her love of winter and winter food, ponders the winter pantry in another essay, and delights me, a rutabaga-lover, with an essay titled “Rutabaga Stories” in her chapter on Vegetables.  There’s even an essay on famous vegetarian Leo Tolstoy, “Tolstoy’s Table.”  The many recipes that accompany these essays are also inspiring and perfect for this season.

Down to Earth ckbkGeorgeanne Brennan, Down to Earth: Great Recipes for Root Vegetables, 1996

Georgeanne Brennan divides her time between Northern California and Provence. Her New American Vegetable Cookbook (1985), Potager: Fresh Garden Cooking in the French Style (1992), and The Food and Flavors of Haute Provence (1997) reflect her passion for both places and are long-time favorites of mine both for their recipes and for Brennan’s wonderful writing. Down to Earth: Great Recipes for Root Vegetables (1996), is another favorite.  The opening section profiles root vegetables from beets to yuca including along the way less familiar roots like lotus, taro and water chestnut.  The recipes reflect both the Mediterranean and California and while the focus is on winter meals there are also delicious recipes for preparing roots in other seasons.

Root Cellar ckbkAndrea Chesman, Recipes from the Root Cellar: 270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables, 2010

Andrea Chesman is a Vermont cookbook author whose climate doesn’t let her pick winter vegetables from her garden but whose root cellar and local markets keep her supplied with hardy greens, onions, tubers, roots, winter squashes and beans throughout the winter.  Her opening Introduction to Winter Vegetables profiles these vegetables and offers availability, storage, purchase, preparation information and cooking ideas.  The heart of the book is her extensive and varied collection of recipes for soups, salads, side and main dishes.  Her enthusiastic commentary introducing each section and recipe makes this book a really fun one to browse or read straight through and the clear format and instructions make cooking and eating winter vegetables very satisfying.

Roots ckbkDiane Morgan, Roots: The Definitive Compendium, 2012

Diane Morgan is a Portland, Oregon cookbook author and her beautiful new book is a recent addition to my cookbook shelf.  While she includes many of the familiar roots—beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga and turnips—she also introduces many less familiar North American as well as Asian roots such as salsify and scorzonera, galangal and malanga.  The book is organized alphabetically by root so a read through brings the mind-expanding experience of moving from celery root to crosne, sweet potato to taro, yam to yuca.  The gorgeous photographs and thorough profiles of both the old standards and exciting new entries as well as the internationally inspired recipes make me want to locate seeds for new roots that might grow here as well as find a good Asian market.  I’ll be pouring over this book during the winter weeks ahead.