The very first blog entry I posted as the Hungry Locavore was about the eating doldrums of late winter. And here we are again. The winter vegetables have lost their charm, only the pachysandra has managed to emerge from the snow banks, and it’s a long haul in the Northeast from now until even the first herbs. I know, some of you are picking strawberries already—grrr!
Here are some hold-me-over dishes I’m cooking these days:
1. Pesto Lasagna
I guess you can use jarred pesto or buy imported basil to make some fresh. I have foil packets of various herb pestos, which I always need to use up, wedged into my freezer. I make a not-too-thick béchamel sauce (aka standard white sauce: butter, flour, milk), and then melt in the frozen pesto. Starting with the sauce and ending with Parmesan, I layer no-cook lasagna noodles (they’re not only faster but thinner), adding ricotta, too. I cover and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.
2. Chili of All Kinds
You probably already have your favorite chili recipe, with or without beans. I have lots of frozen peppers, hot and otherwise, and some local corn, too, so I’ll make either a vegetarian version or a sort of white chili without tomatoes and with white beans and ground turkey. Any of these mixes made with a little less juice can stuff tacos, burritos or enchiladas, too. If your parsley or other herbs have survived over the winter in pots, throw some in the chili.
Photo by Judith Hausman
3. Pot Pie
The leftovers from the stewed chicken I made got mixed with white sauce (this time made with chicken broth, not milk); those same peppers and corn mentioned above; and some chopped, cooked winter carrots and leeks. Then I covered with a pie crust and baked for 30 to 40 minutes.
This’ll work with leftover red meats, too; just make the sauce with beef stock and red wine instead. You can also pack in diced cooked potatoes, sliced mushrooms, and cooked greens, such as string beans, broccoli or cabbage. Use vegetable broth, skip the chicken or beef, and you’ve made it vegetarian.
4. Thai-curried Vegetables
Frankly, I just follow the directions on the little jar of green Thai curry. Tonight, I’ll mix (not local) broccoli di rabe and (local) sweet potatoes with the coconut milk. Other greens or cabbage work fine, too, as do sliced turnips, white potatoes, peppers, carrots and so on. The addictive, lively slow burn of the green (or hotter red) Thai curry paste really perks up a tired winter palate. Oh, OK, add in some chicken or pork if you like. Pile it all on top of rice.
5. Poached Pears and Berries
One vendor at my winter farmers’ market still has firm, local pears from cold storage, and my own hoarded berries need to be eaten. Halve and core the pears, and put them face down in a sauté pan with a pat of butter and enough liquid to come about halfway up. I use white or red wine or substitute cranberry or pomegranate juice, which turn the fruit a pretty garnet-red. Add sugar according to taste, how sugary your juices are and how sweet the pears are. Sometimes just water and thin slices of lemon and ginger are nice for poaching fruit, too.
When the covered pear halves have simmered to fork-tender, uncover the pan so the juice reduces, and at the last moment, add in some raspberries, blackberries or blueberries. Cook them just a bit so they warm but don’t break down too much. This stuff is great dished onto ice cream, pound cake, biscuits or, yes, just onto nonfat Greek yogurt, you spoil sports.