Dare to try fall’s more unusual veggies

There are some ingredients that beg to be put together in one recipe. In summer, it’s cucumbers and tomatoes or peaches and cream. But fall is filled with the flavors and aromas of apples and cinnamon, sweet potatoes and maple syrup, or ripe pears and pungent Stilton cheese.

Fall is also the time of year when some of the less popular vegetables are paired in ways that no one can turn down. It’s the perfect time to introduce some of these to your family, perhaps for the first time.

Greens like kale, collards, and Swiss chard are plentiful. Beets, which either people love or hate because of childhood memories; and fennel, celery root, and kohlrabi, which don’t get marketed very well, are piled high on produce bins ready for adventurous cooks.

It’s time to expose these autumn treasures for the gems they are. In many cases, these are the simplest vegetables to prepare. They are incredibly used raw in salads.

I happened into a brewpub the other night and had a salad that inspired this article. I sat for a moment staring at the huge plate piled high with arugula, red beets, fennel, and mild blue cheese that created a delicate pink mountain of intense flavor and thought to myself, “Others shouldn’t be deprived of this recipe.”

Here are produce items that are at their peak in fall and winter. Look for: Beans, beets, bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery root (also called celeriac), collard greens, kale, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, parsnips, pumpkin, rutabaga, squash, chard, turnips and watercress.

Most can be found in your supermarket, however many are carried only in small quantities for fear that they will not sell. Produce stands and natural food stores may have larger quantities and better quality. And don’t forget to visit farmers’ markets.

Now here are quick ideas for using some of that produce:

Greens like collards, kale, chard, spinach: Wash well in a large bowl or clean sink in a few changes of water to remove any sand or grit. Pull the heavy stem end out (except for spinach) and chop the greens before sauteing in olive oil or a mixture of canola and Asian sesame oil.

Add some minced garlic, ginger root, or both. I always toss in some crushed dried red pepper flakes, as I like things spicy. After sauteing for 4 to 5 minutes until the greens are tender, I finish with sea salt or tamari, or soy sauce. The whole process takes minutes and is well worth it.

Brussels sprouts: My mom used to cook them until they melted. Instead, try trimming and then halve and toss them in olive oil with herbs and salt. Roast in a 375-degree oven on a baking pan for 35 minutes until golden brown and tender.

Jerusalem artichokes: They look like ginger root but can be peeled and added raw to salads or lightly stir-fried with other vegetables. They are crisp and sweet like water chestnuts.

Celery root: It looks like a large hairy root or potato but is wonderful peeled and sliced thinly or cut into matchsticks, then tossed with walnut or olive oil and lemon juice, salt, and fresh-ground black pepper.

Mix some walnuts and chopped apples in for a simple dish you will always return to.

Hard squash, pumpkin: Always great simply baked with a maple or brown sugar glaze. I halve the squash, remove the seeds, microwave on high power for 10 minutes, then bake in a 375-degree oven for 30 minutes until tender.

Just before the pieces are tender, I mix some ginger ale or apple juice with brown sugar, cinnamon, and maple syrup to glaze the tops of them.

And finally, here’s my version of that salad I enjoyed, Beet and Fennel Salad With Blue Cheese and Walnuts, which incorporates two of my favorite fall vegetables in perfect harmony.

BEET AND FENNEL SALAD WITH BLUE CHEESE AND WALNUTS

Chef Steve’s tip: You can make this salad with cooked or raw beets, it’s up to you. I give directions for both. You can use Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala, or Honey Crisp apples for this recipe.

Cooked or Raw Beets:

1 large beet

Water, optional

Pinch salt, optional

Fennel Salad:

1 fennel bulb, trimmed, core removed, sliced very thinly

1 apple, unpeeled, cored, and chopped

6 cups arugula leaves

1 cup crumbled mild blue cheese or gorgonzola cheese

1 / 2 cup chopped walnuts

1 / 4 cup extra-virgin olive or walnut oil

1 / 4 cup apple cider vinegar

Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

To make beets: If using cooked beets, peel and quarter the beet. Bring a small saucepan of water to boil over high heat. Add a pinch of salt and simmer beet for 5 minutes until tender but still al dente. Drain, cool, and chop.

If using a raw beet, peel and shred with a grater or using the shredding disc in a food processor.

To make the salad: In a large bowl, add beets, fennel, apples, arugula, blue cheese, walnuts, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Mix well and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

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