A winter vegetable feast
IF you, like us, are a tad bored with the whole Veganuary thing – television adverts telling us that we can save the planet by eating some ersatz meat substitute and the constant trumpeting of the virtues of a “plant-based diet” (already 2020’s most overused cliche, as it was in 2019) – we suggest the rebranding of the month as “Veg(e)anuary,” (vejanuary) a healthy and simple way of celebrating the bounty of British winter vegetables, which you can enjoy (with or without meat.)
None of these vegetables are difficult to find – all are full of flavour, simple to prepare and cook and delicious to eat. Our town has an excellent greengrocer, butcher and baker. Not everyone is so lucky, but across the Fine Times Recorder region there are many good independent food shops, delis, farmers markets and farm shops, selling their own and locally grown vegetables, salads and herbs, as well as their own or locally sourced meat, game and poultry.
Beetroot – currently fashionable for a vast range of sweet and savoury dishes, from beetroot brownies to beet-burgers, they are also wonderful roasted or turned into vividly colourful soups; just, please, don’t boil them to destruction in vinegar!
Cauliflower – another old favourite that is having a moment! A few years ago, cauliflower was dismissed as boring and bland – now trendy chefs are serving it roasted, baked, spiced, “riced,” pureed or sliced as “steak.” But you still can’t beat a really good cauliflower cheese, made with proper Somerset Cheddar cheese.
Leeks – probably the most versatile of all the alliums, leeks have a milder flavour than white onions, and work well in quiches or savoury tarts, as a side dish with tarragon and cream, finely chopped when young as a salad vegetable or as the basis of the classic leek and potato soup (or the cold vichysoisse).
Petits posies (also known as kalettes) – we first discovered these delicious nutty sprout-type vegetables at White Row, where they are called “petits posies.” Now they are sold in many supermarkets as “kalettes.” Also sometimes known as “flower sprouts” or “kale sprouts” they are a hybrid, a nutritious cross between kale and Brussels sprouts, which can be eaten raw or cooked. They can be steamed, tossed in olive oil or salted and boiled – just don’t overcook them!
Purple sprouting broccoli – widely regarded as the queen of brassicas, PSB (as it is sometimes known) tastes as delicious as it looks. A classic way of serving it is with hollandaise sauce, but other than over-cooking (to be avoided with all brassicas!) you really can’t go wrong with it.
Romanesco – related to cauliflower and broccoli, romanesco is very attractive, but that’s not the only reason for serving it. You can use it in any way that works with cauli or broccoli, but it is particularly good lightly steamed or dressed with a good bechamel sauce. Like broccoli, it doesn’t keep long, so use it within a couple of days of buying.
Sprouts – for reasons that we have never understood, some people hate Brussels sprouts. It is their loss. Properly cooked (and there are so many ways to cook them), sprouts are bright, nutritious, attractive and versatile. From Christmas day with the turkey to bubble and squeak for a Monday supper with the remains of the Sunday roast veg, they are delicious.
Savoy cabbage – red (as pictured) or green, Savoy cabbage can be cooked in any way you would cook other cabbages. And it looks so handsome in the vegetable basket.
Finally, not a vegetable and not local, but definitely seasonal (January-mid February), so we had to include Seville oranges. You don’t have to be a marmalade-maker to enjoy the wonderful, tastes of this bumpy-skinned citrus fruit. They are believed to have originated in China and India more than 3,000 years ago – their Indian name is “narayam”, which means “perfume within”. Brought to Europe by Arab traders and groves of them were established in Andalucia, particularly around Seville. There are many ways to use them, including Seville orange meringue pie and a wide range of sauces and dressings for game, lamb, duck or to add citrussy aromatic flavours to basmati rice.
If you need inspiration for ways to cook any of these vegetables, we suggest Sophie Grigson’s Vegetable Bible, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Veg and Christine McFadden’s Farm Shop Cookbook.
The vegetables photographed for the feature came from Wincanton Fruit and Veg and White Row Farm Shop near Frome.