Fall produce is at its peak, with the best flavors and arguably their greatest value for delicious and hearty seasonal meals. Carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes are harvest favorites – but consider other, perhaps less common, seasonal vegetables that add variety, nourishment and culinary interest to your Thanksgiving and family menus: Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, eggplant, Swiss chard and winter squash.
Brussels sprouts: they look like baby cabbages! What’s different is the way they grow. They’re really leafy green buds that grow on a single long stalk from the small tender ones (1/2 inch diameter) to those that may be three times the size. They’re generally cut off the stalk before being readied for sale. Why the name? Brussels sprouts as we know them now were probably cultivated as long as 800 years ago in a region in present day Belgium that was already called Brussels.
To buy: For tenderness, choose smaller sprouts with bright green leaves and firm, tight heads. Avoid those that are yellowing or turning a drab green. If they’re still on their stalk, better yet! You can store them a bit longer!
To store: Refrigerate sprouts in an airtight container for up to 3 days. With longer storage a stronger flavor may develop.
To prepare: Trim the ends; remove and discard the loose outer leaves, then clean them. You now have options: either cut them in half or quarters, or keep them whole but make a cut through the center of the stem so heat penetrates the sprouts as they cook. You can boil, grill, roast, sauté, steam or stir fry sprouts, but to keep their delicate flavor and aroma, don’t overcook them! Gently separate the leaves if you stir fry the sprouts.
Recipe idea: Feature roasted Brussels sprouts with prosciutto or bacon, goat cheese and spaghetti as a main dish -- Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Pasta -- in a harvest menu. Tip: Roasting is simple; just drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and roast for 20 minutes.
A type of winter squash, the pear-shaped butternut squash has a sweet, nutty flavor and orange flesh that’s much like pumpkin. Like other squash, it grows on a long, trailing vine.
To buy: Select firm squash that’s heavy for its size, with a deep-colored, hard rind that’s blemish free. For convenience, look for pre-packaged, cut-up, raw butternut squash.
To store: Keep whole butternut squash in a cool, dark place for a month or longer; refrigerate it if you prefer.
To prepare: Enjoy butternut squash roasted or toasted, pureed or mashed, or halved and grilled or baked! To prepare you can: 1) peel, remove seeds, cut up and simmer squash for all kinds of mixed dishes, 2) slice in half lengthwise, remove seeds, and bake cut side down or bake cut-side up, with butter, nuts and spices in the hollow or 3) cut in ½ to 1-inch slices and roast.
Recipe idea: Complement your Thanksgiving meal with this memorable and seasonal side dish: Butternut Squash & Linguine. Butternut Squash simmered in wine and garlic, tossed with cooked linguine, goat cheese (or blue cheese or Parmesan) and sage, and topped with prosciutto and perhaps toasted walnuts. A delicious harvest dish!
Like broccoli, cauliflower is a flower; hence its name from Latin: caulis meaning stalk and floris meaning flower. And like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, cauliflower is botanically part of the brassica family. In fact, Mark Twain recognized its upscale qualities, calling it “nothing but cabbage with a college education.”
To buy: Choose a firm head with crisp leaves by the stalk and compact florets; size doesn’t make a difference. While white cauliflower is most common, look for unique varieties in specialty stores: green, orange and purple
To store: Wrap raw cauliflower tightly and refrigerate for up to 5 days. Once cooked, refrigerate for just 1 to 3 days for peak quality.
To prepare: Enjoy cauliflower raw or enjoy it roasted, boiled, steamed or sautéed. The outer leaves and stems are edible, too. Remove the stems and break the florets into smaller pieces for even cooking or for finger food snacks. Or steam or bake the head whole. Cook just until soft, not mushy.
Recipe idea: Add elegance and nutrition to mac ‘n cheese -- Creamy Stove Top Cauliflower Mac n Cheese -- by blending freshly cooked, mashed cauliflower with the creamy cheddar cheese-pasta mixture. Tip: To speed food prep time, pre-cook the cauliflower and macaroni ahead, then finish cooking just before serving time.
For more flavorful dishes -- with pasta partners – featuring other seasonal produce, check the Dreamfields recipe file. Hint: Penne with Roasted Eggplant & Savory Mushroom Ragout could be a great side with your turkey dinner! And Penne Rigate with Turkey, Swiss Chard and Walnuts an easy Thanksgiving dish if you’re short on time to prepare a big turkey dinner!