By Cathal Armstrong (Courtesy photo)
ALEXANDRIA, VA. - I love the seasons. We spend the culinary calendar anticipating the bounty of each season.
The glorious asparagus and peas of spring, the tomatoes and basils of summer and apples and pears in autumn are just a few of the harbingers of each season. Winter, however, is just a bit longer than I prefer in this region.
When the first parsnips arrive by mid- or late Sep-ember, we are so thrilled. Chefs love their parsnips as much as any other vegetable, but when March arrives and they are still on the availability list from area farms, we just roll our eyes and pray for anything green.
There are, however, plenty of other options in winter. It just takes a little digging, if you’ll pardon the pun. Think about roots, lots of roots, other than parsnips.
One of my favorite vegetables is parsley root. Just as the name implies, it is the root of the parsley plant, and it is loaded with flavor. Just this week we are putting a new dish on the Restaurant Eve menu with smoked ham hocks, baby leeks, parsley root and a nice piece of rockfish on top. It’s a dish that really catches the sense of this particular season with its deep and warming flavors.
Another vegetable that used to be really unpopular — because we overcooked them — are the great Brussels sprouts. The tiny heads — my kids called them Teen- age Mutant Ninja Turtles — when handled correctly are really delectable.
Start by blanching them in very salty water to shock their green color, stir fry them with ginger and chilies or saute them with some on- ion, garlic, bacon and thyme and you have a meal in itself.
There are two great local farmer’s markets that are open year-round: Courthouse on Saturday and Dupont Circle on Sunday. The markets have become more of a social affair. You will find cheese mongers, bakers, ice cream as well as all of the meat and eggs you could possibly want. But for me, the buzz of people and the occasional chef demo or book signing contribute to a happy place to start your Saturday or Sunday.
Braised meats are the way to go for main courses. Few things are more comforting than beef short ribs, braised properly with some heirloom carrots, roasted onion and nice creamy mashed potatoes.
For best results, be sure to prepare the braise the day before you want to eat it. It is most important to allow the meat to cool down completely in the braising liquid and then slowly reheat it if you want to avoid dry stew.
Of course, if you’re like me, you have preserved some of last summer’s fruit for a special occasion. One of my fondest memories of my youth is the strawberry jam my mother made in late spring on top of some warm creamy rice pudding for dessert.
Mother’s jam with my father’s rice pudding was a marriage of sorts that brings me home every time I smell strawberries or serve rice pudding at the restaurant.