The Winter Kitchen

February 10, 2017

Winter. I look forward to it every year. For me as a cook, winter is a season of ingenuity, challenge and opportunity. Bring it on I say! Winter means different things to different people. What can seem to many like endless months of dreariness and constant chill is for others a happy, white fairyland of activities from skiing to snowshoeing. For children, dreaming of a no school day because of an impending nor’easter is a right of winter passage. For me as a chef, it means hunkering down with pots and pans and giving some thought to preparing cold weather foods that release their good taste in due time, no rush.

There is no denying that cooking can be a challenge for those of us who live in cold climes and that the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables is greatly diminished in winter but that should not stop one from using his or her ingenuity “to get by until spring.”

One of the ways I do this is by frequenting my local winter farmers markets. It is so wonderful to see such locally sourced and available winter ingredients such as kale, turnips, onions, Brussels sprouts, squashes, potatoes, carrots, garlic and apples.

I plan my cooking around ingredients like these and fill in with other items from my local grocer and try to purchase foods that are as close to home as possible.

I am most content on a winter’s day to be in my kitchen for hours on end. Making an honest loaf of bread or some sort of comfort food like meatloaf or macaroni and cheese or a great chili like the vegetarian version offered here is most satisfying and fills my home with such delicious smells that when my family comes through the door, the immediate reaction is “what smells so good?”

With just a little forethought, one can eat very well in winter. Think soups, stews, slow cooked pot roasts, vegetable casseroles, quiches, fish chowders. Pretty soon as you begin compiling ideas based on readily available ingredients, the list will seem endless and before you know it, you will have cooked your way into spring!

Yes, we can put a long winter to good use in the kitchen.

This is a great do-ahead recipe to make on a snowy weekend and will keep beautifully in the refrigerator for a few days. It is even good as a sauce over pasta.

Vegetable “Chili”
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 small zucchini, cubed
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1-teaspoon celery salt
1-teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2-teaspoon paprika
1/4-teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons fresh minced thyme
Salt to taste
Grinding coarse black pepper
1 cup chopped button mushrooms
3 cups diced tomatoes with their juice
1 cup canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained or 1 cup cooked wheat berries, orzo, or rice
1 cup grated cheddar cheese for sprinkling

Pour the olive oil into a medium size soup pot along with the onion, celery, zucchini, and butternut squash. Cook together covered over medium heat until the vegetables soften, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle them with the celery salt, celery seed, oregano, paprika, chili powder thyme, salt and black pepper. Stir in the mushrooms and continue cooking until the mushrooms soften. Pour in the tomatoes. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add the beans, wheat berries, orzo or rice. Stir well. Serve in bowls and sprinkle with cheese.

The beauty of this stew is that it can also double as a sauce for chunky pasta like rigatoni. No vegetarian tastes to satisfy? How about adding some tiny meatballs!

Chunky Vegetarian Vegetable Stew
Serves 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-teaspoon hot pepper flakes (optional)
2 ribs celery, minced
4 small eggplants cut into 1-inch chunks
2/3-cup water
6 plum tomatoes cut into 1-inch chunks
2 medium zucchini cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup frozen corn
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt to taste
Grinding black pepper
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/2 cup grated Ptarmigan Regina cheese
Heat the olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan; add the onion and celery. Cook until the vegetables soften. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic softens.
Add the eggplant and the water; cover the pot and allow the eggplant to soften. Uncover the pot and add the tomatoes and zucchini. Cover the pot and cook until the zucchini softens. Stir in the corn, celery seed, oregano, salt and pepper. Cover the pot and cook for about 3 minutes.

All the vegetables should be soft but not mushy. Just before serving, stir in the basil and cheese.

Serve hot in soup bowls.

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