Winter Vegetables for All Year

Amid all the doom and gloom about the economy, Wikipedia (the online citizen encyclopedia) sent me a tip of the day about 7 ways folks survived the last depression. The assumption is, of course, that they will work this time, too, if in fact that’s where the economy is going.

One of the hints they gave was to grow your own food. Not easy in a drought. Not easy to find “full sun” sometimes in Pacific Grove. Not easy if you have to go to work every day and can’t afford to stay up all night to keep the deer and raccoons out of the garden.

(I’m thinking about those potatoes I grew that the raccoons dug up. All that effort and space and we only got enough for two people for two meals. )

But I have a 30 year-old book on edible landscaping and I’m researching (from my recliner chair) things that I could grow here that would look nice as well as taste good. One conclusion I have come to is that it’s not going to happen in time for this spring, and probably not even for summer. I’m still going to have to go to the store and the Farmers Market, where winter vegetables are right now holding sway.

Since my mom’s side of the family came from blustery Cornwall, she used a lot of winter vegetables. I was raised on turnips (“neeps”), rutabagas, parsnips, carrots and all kinds of squash. There were Brussels sprouts and kale, sweet potatoes and yams. Winter vegetables might be boiled and mashed, sliced thin and added to pasties, or cut into chunks to stretch a stew or winter soup. Squash might be baked or steamed. Most times she just cooked them and served them with butter, and I never knew the possibility of not liking them. There was never any brown sugar to entice me to eat them and no honey glazes on the carrots.

Did you roar off to the store and buy sea salt to make that pineapple recipe, and now you’re wondering what to do with the rest of it? Well, these two recipes use sea salt, not that regular salt wouldn’t do. But there’s something about the salt not permeating the dish but rather being kind of a here-and-there thing that I like. In fact, I used that mixture of crushed red pepper flakes and sea salt as a rub on a pork roast last weekend and I may even try it again.

Meanwhile, back at the root cellar, here’s a recipe for a wine glaze for winter root vegetables I cut out of Country Living magazine. I substituted winter vegetables: theirs called for tomatoes and radishes and, even as adventurous as I am, it’s hard for me to imagine a cooked radish. Theirs also called for some prosciutto and I decided that was a pain in the neck. But if you want to, you can julienne some prosciutto and heat it a bit and toss it with the vegetables at the very end.

Red Wine Glaze for Winter Vegetables
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup red wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried rosemary

Combine the balsamic vinegar and red wine in a medium saucepan and simmer until the liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup — about 25 minutes.

Here’s the vegetable part:
Gently toss a couple of pounds of cubed winter vegetables with the olive oil. Sprinkle with the pepper and salt. Spread them out on baking sheets and drizzle with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the glaze, and sprinkle with the rosemary. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until the hardest vegetables are tender. Use an egg flipper to turn them once or twice.

Lucky for us, squash is usually available all year around. Prices may go up in the off season, but sometimes you just gotta have a spaghetti squash. If you’re stuck in a butternut or hubbard rut, you need to try spaghetti squash. Even kids think they’re fun. Here’s how to do just the squash, which you can then serve with butter. Then we’ll do a meat casserole. At the firehouse, I would serve spaghetti squash with leftover tomato-based spaghetti sauce from the previous shift and they lapped it up.

Basic Baked Spaghetti Squash
Preheat oven to 350-375.
Halve raw spaghetti squash with a sharp knife (from end to end is my choice). Scoop out the seedy part with a spoon and give it to the chickens.
Place halves onto a glass baking pan face up. I always put about a cup of water in the bottom of the dish but some people don’t even do that.

Place onto the upper middle rack of the oven for about 30-40 minutes. When you can take a fork and fluff up the squash, it’s ready. For fun, serve it right in the squash skin. For not so fun, fluff it out into a serving dish.

Meat casserole with spaghetti squash
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 chopped bell pepper (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes (with or without liquid)
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Bake the spaghetti squash and fluff out the meat of it into a bowl.

In a large skillet, cook the beef, onion, bell pepper and garlic until meat is browned and vegetables are tender. Drain off fat; add tomatoes, Italian seasoning and squash. Continue to cook and stir for about a minute. If you choose to include the liquid from the canned tomatoes, cook longer until it’s all absorbed. You probably won’t need any salt and pepper because there’s a lot in the tomatoes, but you can always add it at the table.
Transfer mixture to an ungreased 1 1/2-quart casserole dish. Stir in most of the cheese but save some out for sprinkling on top. Bake uncovered at 350° for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with the remainder of the cheese and cook for 5 minutes longer, or until the cheese melts.
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