ooking in winter poses more challenges than the rest of the year. The longer, sunny days of spring and summer nourish asparagus, tomatoes and olives, but winter is unforgiving — and this has been a harsh one. Plants cling to life against the cold and snow.
Carrots and radishes seek cover underground, allowing their tough, broad leaves to provide the necessary vitamins from the scarce rays of sunlight. Heads of radicchio are veritable cocoons with tough, tightly wrapped leaves protecting those more tender concealed within.
Winter squash, zucca, has such hard flesh that chefs are forced to make repeated trips to the sharpening stone. Underneath their protective exteriors some of them offer tender, juicy interiors, while others need a skilled hand to bring out their best flavors.
Root vegetables are at their best oven-roasted to the point that a fork can easily pierce them and they begin to crisp up on the outside. One such vegetable can make a simple side dish. Mix two or three and you end up with a hearty, multi-colored option. And don’t forget to play with spices: Olive oil and salt can certainly do the trick, but a little rosemary and sage give the dish more depth.
If you’re buying vegetables at a farmers’ market, or anywhere they still have their stems on, leave some of the stalk for a nice touch of green. Don’t throw out the leaves — beet greens or radish tops are delicious sautéed with a little bit of olive oil and garlic.
Winter squash (also known as butternut squash) can offer up amazing sweetness when slow-roasted in the oven. It’s also tasty when simmered in a pan with some water to help it soften.
But before any of that you need to get to the flesh. You can peel them with a knife, especially if they have a very uneven exterior. A peeler also works quite well, and ensures you don’t waste any of the flesh. Kinds of winter squash vary, but in general their flavor is delicate, too much so to carry a dish. It needs a complementary element or two.
It’s perfect match, to me, is radicchio (chicory). On its own, radicchio’s bitters can overwhelm, but with zucca‘s sweetness as a balance, the two reach a pleasant equilibrium. Pair the two with just about any pasta you choose, top it off with a Parmigiano Reggiano stagionato, and you have a wintry dish destined to satisfy.
Winter Vegetable Dinner Menu (serves 4)
Antipasto: Insalata di finocchio e aranci tarocchi
- 4 blood oranges.
- 2 heads of fennel.
- 1 red onion.
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar.
- Olive oil.
- Chili flakes
- Slice onion and submerge in red wine vinegar with a pinch of salt.
- Peel and slice oranges into small wedges.
- Thinly slice the fennel.
- Drain onion and combine with orange and fennel slices.
- Dress with red wine vinegar (the same from the onions) olive oil, salt and some chili flakes.
Primo: Risotto con zucca e radicchio
- 500 gr winter squash.
- 1 large to medium head of radicchio.
- 2 shallots (finely diced).
- 1/2 cup dry white wine.
- 400 g rice (Arborio or Carnaroli).
- Olive oil.
- 1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano or Grana Padano.
Carrots, celery and onions for broth
- In a large pot make a vegetable broth w. carrots, celery and onions
- Peel and cut squash into small cubes
- In a large saucepan with some olive oil begin sautéing squash
- Remove outer leaves of radicchio and cut the inner leaves into ribbons
- Once squash begins to brown add a cup of broth and the radicchio. Continue simmering until squash just starts to fall apart.
- In a medium pot sauté shallots with a little bit of olive oil
- Once they soften add the rice and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly so none of the rice grains turn brown, to toast the rice. Listen carefully, it’s toasted once you hear it beginning to crackle.
- Add the wine to the rice, stir for 30 seconds and then begin adding broth.
- Continue adding broth a few ladles at a time and stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes
- Once the rice is almost cooked, it should still have a little al dente crunch, add the squash and radicchio to it.
- Let them finish cooking together for another 3-4 minutes, adding a little more broth if needed.
- Turn off the flame and stir in the grated cheese and freshly grated nutmeg. Serve immediately.
Contorno: Misto di verdure al forno
- Celery root.
— Cut into equal-sized cubes, toss with salt and olive oil and roast at 185C until you can easily pierce them with a fork.