VPR Cafe: Winter Farmers Markets Are About More Than Just Root Vegetables

Feb 13, 2015

Not long ago, farmers market fanatics had to wait patiently for the market to start in late April or early May, and rued the moth of October, when the markets finished for the year.

These days are long gone, and according to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, there are 17 regular winter farmers markets in Vermont.

Melissa Pasanen, food writer for the Burlington Free Press, visited a variety of winter markets throughout the state, including markets Burlington, Montpelier, Brattleboro and Rutland.

She explains that Burlington and Montpelier are every other week (on alternating weekends), Brattleboro and Norwich are every week and Rutland has a winter market twice per week.

Winter markets, especially in Vermont, are often associated with an overwhelming amount of root vegetables. But is this the case?

Pasanen says that although there is an abundance of root vegetables at the winter markets (for which she’s shared interesting recipes below), there is much more. “That’s something that I think has actually changed since they began … there is so much more, and one of the things I love about markets in general, but particularly the winter markets, are the unexpected things you find.”

Pasanen says that although there is an abundance of root vegetables at the winter markets, there is much more.
Credit Burlington Free Press

Pasanen's interesting finds at winter farmers markets:

  •        Root vegetables
  •        Dry beans, which she says are “beautiful, different and fun.”
  •        Hand-made ravioli
  •        Cultured, freshly-churned butter
  •        Heady Topper hot sauce
  •        Fermented, pickled foods
  •        Organic oats
  •        Baked goods
  •        Local cheese and meats
  •        Local brewers and wine makers

So what can’t be found at the winter markets? “Obviously, none of those beautiful tomatoes and not as many of those light, fluffy green things. But there are an increasing number of those things – people are growing green things,” she says. She also says that although many summer markets work with EBT dollars, Brattleboro is the only winter market that offers this service.

"Obviously, the markets are smaller and you do have to go out in the cold to get to them, but once you do get to them, it's cozy." - Melissa Pasanen, food writer

“Obviously, the markets are smaller,” Pasanen says. “And you do have to go out in the cold to get to them, but once you do get to them, it’s cozy.”

How to cook with root vegetables

These two basic techniques shared by local chefs in a September workshop at the Eat by Northeast Festival are perfect for featuring the abundant root vegetables winter markets have to offer.

Gratin Basics

By Sarah Langan, South End Kitchen

A baked casserole of thinly sliced vegetables with liquid poured over and topped with bread crumbs and/or grated cheese. Bake until tender, bubbly and browned on top. Serve as a vegetarian main dish or side dish with meat.

Best vegetables to use: Starchy types, especially potatoes and winter squashes, but almost any vegetable will do, from roots to leaves and stalks.

Best pan to use: a shallow-sided baking dish.

Technique:

  • Thinly slice vegetables (1/8 to 1/16 inch) and layer into baking dish.
  • Season as you go with salt and pepper (herbs are good, too).
  • Pour over warm liquid (cream, milk, béchamel sauce or tasty broth) to just cover.
  • Top with grated cheese (cheddar, Parmesan or Gruyère).
  • Bake in a moderate oven about 350 degrees until the vegetables are tender and the top is bubbling and brown.

Tips:

  • Warming the liquid before pouring over the vegetables shortens the baking time.
  • First sauté any type of onion (onions, leeks, shallots, etc.) and layer this in with the vegetables for more flavor.
  • Top with breadcrumbs and cheese for a crunchier topping.

Vegetable Stew Basics

By Molly Stevens, cookbook author and cooking teacher

Seasonal vegetables slowly simmered together with a flavorful liquid until flavors mingle. Also called ragout, braise and medley.

Best vegetables to use: Almost any vegetable can be worked into a stew but especially good for root vegetables (carrot, turnip, celeriac, rutabaga, beet) and hearty brassicas (cauliflower and cabbages).

Best pan to use: a deep skillet, large saucepan or soup pot.

Technique:

  • Chop the vegetables into hefty chunks.
  • Sauté aromatics (such as garlic, carrots, celery, chilies, ginger, onion, etc.) in a bit of oil or other fat.
  • Add the vegetables and let them brown slightly.
  • Add liquid such as broth, chopped tomatoes, coconut milk or even water.
  • Cover and simmer gently until tender.

Tips:

  • If desired, start by sautéing a little sausage, bacon or other cured meat first to add a meaty note to the stew.
  • Take your time sautéing the aromatics; this adds a deep flavor to the stew.
  • Chop the vegetables according to how hearty they are. Tougher vegetables should be smaller and tender ones larger. This way they will be done at the same time.
  • Turn the stew into a pot pie or cobbler by transferring it to a baking dish and topping with a crust or biscuit topping. Bake until topping is done and stew is heated.

The VPR Cafe is produced in collaboration with the Burlington Free Press and is made possible on VPR by City Market in Burlington.

Broadcast on Feb. 15, 2015.