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Local farmers share tips for fall and winter cooking

As the leaves change color and the weather changes, the yield in the local farmers markets gracefully transforms from the delicious grab-and-eat summer fruits to a generous variety of squash, root vegetables and leafy greens that require a little bit of heat before eating.

With the smaller variety of produce in the local markets during fall and winter, it’s easy to fall back on the same recipes when cooking every night.

The Sacramento Press asked local farmers at the markets for some of their favorite cooking ideas for the fall and winter harvest, and they had a medley of suggestions.

Carolyn McCormack of McCormack Farms in Walnut Grove is finishing her end-of-summer pear harvest and said she often makes pear tarts this time of year.

“It’s five minutes of prep time, and it tastes like it came from a French bakery,” she said.

McCormack said she prefers to use Bartlett pears or red pears. After peeling and slicing the pears in half, she lays them cut-side down on a pie crust in a pan.

For the custard, she mixes one quarter of a cup of flour, one cup of sugar, one teaspoon of vanilla, two eggs, and one quarter of a cup of melted butter into a bowl and pours the mixture over the top of the pears. The tart bakes at 325 degrees for one hour.

Most markets will be out of pears by the end of the month, she added, though you could make the tart with apples if you slice them thinner, and consumers may still find Asian pears in the markets through November.

Throughout autumn and the early winter, the markets will be overflowing with an assortment of squash. Squash can be steamed, roasted, boiled and then pureed into a soup, and some even sauteed. Squash with a thicker rind is usually cooked first, such as pumpkins, kabocha squash and banana squash, and those with thinner skin can be peeled during preparation.

Variety of winter squash, including delicotta (striped) spaghetti squash (yellow), kabocha squash (dark green) and pumpkins.
“Winter squash is a good comfort food,” said Rob Montgomery of Rob’s Natural Produce in Durham, Calif. He said he primarily likes to bake acorn squash with a little bit of butter and cinnamon, and it tastes a bit like sweet potatoes, though almost any squash tastes good cooked that way. The squash can be baked at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes.

Shirley Kiele of Shared Abundance Organic Farm in Auburn said her favorite type of squash is butternut squash and that there are several ways to cook it.

From left: kabocha, spaghetti and butternut squash
One of the ways, she said, is to roast it.

“You cut it into slices or little cubes and you roast it in the oven. Some people like to put brown sugar or butter or something on it – I like to just roast it by itself with a little bit of olive oil,” she said.

Another way to prepare the butternut squash is to puree it and make butternut soup. Kiele said that to make the soup she steams the squash after cubing and then puts it into a blender with onions, garlic, and a little bit of cayenne. The squash could be boiled as well, but it would take on excess water.

Montgomery said spaghetti squash can be used as a substitute for pasta noodles because when boiled, the squash separates in strands that resemble noodles.

spaghetti squash

To cook, cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Bake at a minimum of 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes or boil in a pot until tender and then use a fork to rake the stringy flesh out of the rind.

“You can use them any way you would use noodles,” he said. “It’s kind of like noodles with a zucchini flavor, and it’s a sweet squash,” he added, and the “noodles” go fine as just a side dish with butter on it.

Along the lines of gluten-free, low-carb dishes, Stephanie Martinelli, of Martinelli Hood Ranch in Hood, Calif., said she likes to make health-conscious dishes, with no carbohydrates or starch, and she makes a lasagna that replaces lasagna noodles with zucchini.

To make the lasagna, Martinelli said she typically slices the zucchini into half-inch strips, making sure they’re fairly even.

You get about five slices per zucchini, she said, and depending on the size of your pan, you would want to make three or four zucchini layers, she said.

To assemble, alternate layering the pan with traditional tomato sauce – mixed with the meat of choice – and the zucchini slices until the pan is filled. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, and remove the foil 10 minutes before the lasagna is done.

Martinelli said she also likes to make acorn squash stuffed with onions, meat and rice. She halves the squash, drizzles it with salt and pepper and bakes it at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, and then stuffs it with the cooked meat, onions and rice.

Acorn squash
A great variety of leafy greens also last throughout the cold season, including mustard greens, collard greens, chard and lettuce.

Andy Rogers, proprietor of Palermo County’s “R” Farm, said he likes to stay traditional with the greens using a Southern-style method of an added ham hock or bacon.

“Just chop them up, put onions, garlic and some kind of a pork product and just boil them down – just collards and throw the kale in at the end,” he said.

Collard greens usually take about 45 minutes to cook on a medium to high temperature.

As for chard – Rogers said he has a great recipe.

Rainbow Chard
Rogers said he boils the chard leaves whole for about 15 minutes, puts them in a colander and presses the water out of them. Then. in an 8-inch-by-8-inch pan, he layers the chard leaves, his favorite Italian dressing, feta cheese and bacon bits “like lasagna” and covers and puts it in the refrigerator for an hour, though, he usually leaves it overnight.

Rogers said he then cuts the chard-lasagna into squares “like brownies” and serves it like a salad.

The winter harvest may seem a bit daunting to some, but bad weather outside strikes up an opportunity to delve into new dishes and many ingredients will be available at the local farmers markets throughout the winter.

For information on which markets will be open for the winter, click here.

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