Allow me first to say, I love Thanksgiving. Family togetherness, pie, and Grandma Teel doing her best to not let slip her trademarked Georgia “good lawd” while making polite, dinner table conversation with our chosen family of ex-Peace Corps volunteers, artists, nerds, do-gooders and “creative” types. That said, I resent how the minute November arrives the only foods we can talk about seem to involve potato, cranberry, or poultry. There are bitter, punchy, interesting flavors out there, guys, and here are a few to look for…
–Radicchio & Escarole Bitter greens, baby! You might mistake escarole at the farmer’s market for a slightly curly head of lettuce, and though you can eat its tender leaves raw (I especially like it with avocado), it’s also great halved, grilled, and slapped with garlicky dressing. Radicchio is that reddish purple leaf with white veins that always shows up in your spring mix. While I find it underwhelming in that context, its bitter flavor and robust texture are great elsewhere. Look for the romaine-shaped treviso radicchio as well as smaller, round varieties and try your hand at the classic Italian dish of radicchio risotto drizzled with some aged balsamic.
–Kabocha These burly little Japanese pumpkins are full-flavored, but without a stringy texture. Use them as you would any other golden-fleshed winter squash, or simmer them in dashi stock with a little soy, sugar, and sake to make kabocha nimono, a Japanese side dish.
–Green Radishes It’s not springtime, but it is seriously radish season. A few weeks ago, we talked about the brilliant magenta of watermelon radishes, but they’re only one option on the menu these days. Just as watermelon radishes are bright pink inside, the squat, yellow-tipped green radishes (a variety from China) are neon green. Either will add color and zippy heat to a cool-weather salad. Under their matte exteriors black radishes are actually quite pale and juicy, like robust daikon radishes that you might also see. Peel and julienne either to pickle in rice wine vinegar with a little carrot for a easy accompaniment to a homemade bahn mi.
Keep your eyes out for…
–Purple & Orange Cauliflower The bright orange cauliflower that you might see at market appears to have been dusted with the flavor packet from a box of instant macaroni and cheese. Unfortunately, though the variety is called “cheddar” it is not, in fact, cheddar-flavored. It is great, however, because both cheddar cauliflower and the deep purple variety that you might find alongside it keep their brilliant hues when cooked. Roast, sauté, or steam and serve with béchamel amped up with some *actual* cheddar.
–Celery I refuse to discuss how stem celery is showing up at market just in time to be smothered in butter and folded into chunked bread for stuffing, but it is. Local stuff will be more squat and green than the uniform logs of celery hearts from the grocery store, but it’s loaded with big flavor that you’ll need to stand up to that butter and those unabashed carbohydrates.