With the winter’s bitter cold comes a desire to hole up in your kitchen and cook warm, satisfying fare. While the choices for fresh produce aren’t as plentiful as the summer’s, there are still lots of fruits, vegetables and seafood to work with.
We asked Leitha Matz of FreshDirect, for selections at their peak right now.
“The big story in produce is citrus,” said Matz, a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education, who once worked at Tabla. “It actually comes into season late in December through March.”
While traditional favorites such as clementines and tangerines are great right now, Matz recommended trying some more unique, and lesser-known citrus fruits, including the red-fleshed cara cara oranges. “You can eat them right away like an orange, but they might also add panache to a salad.”
Matz suggested tossing together a shaved fennel and orange salad using a cara cara orange, which has a little more spice and less acid than the average orange.
Another unusual citrus fruit worth checking out is the sweet and tart pomelo, which hails from Southeast Asia. “A lot of people are intimidated by it because it’s enormous, and it’s green and yellow,” Matz said.
She recommended sectioning it off and eating it like an orange. And though they bear a resemblance to grapefruits, they’re not as bitter.
Also in season are Meyer lemons, which have a sweeter flavor than the average lemon. In fact, they’re rumored to have some sort of cross-breed with oranges, Matz said. She likes to play up their sweetness in savory dishes such as pasta or lemon vinaigrettes.
Value in vegetables
Winter vegetables take more work to prepare than summer vegetables (which can often be eaten raw, bare or with just a light dressing), but the leafy greens that are in abundance this time of year are worth the effort.
Arugula is nice either in a salad or sautéed, Matz said. And kale is another winner because it cooks quickly. “I like to throw in a cider vinegar and chili flakes and just sauté it,” she said.
Matz also suggested root vegetables for the colder months. “What I like about parsnips and carrots is that they actually get sweeter after you let them sit in cold storage, because their starches get more sugary,” she explained.
The season’s seafood
Unlike meats, you can actually see a seasonal difference with seafood, since they’re sensitive to their environment. “Oysters, and some fish, will fatten up during the cold,” Matz said. (Hence the old adage that you should only eat oysters in months with “r”s in them.
Matz recommended making oysters in chowders. “You can do vegetable and tomato-based versions (canned tomatoes work just fine) or go with the cream versions,” she said.
On the fish front, fluke, scallops and wild striped bass are the choice picks, according to Matz. Also, Barramundi, normally an Australian fish, and dorade, which comes from the Mediterranean are good this time of the year.
When it comes to preparing fish, Matz recommends the simplest methods. “Having worked in a restaurant I’ll never use anything but a cast-iron pan for fish. … What I love about the cast-iron is you can heat it up very hot, put fish skin side down, and cook it on both sides.” She suggested spooning butter on both sides of the fish as they cook and leaving it in the pan for about five to eight minutes. It can be served topped with herb snippets or straight up.