best winter vegetables

‘A real winter warmer’. It’s a turn of phrase evocative of hearty meat stews, low and slow braises, pies full of offal and intrigue…yep, animal parts play a huge part in the comfort food of the season. But here at IDEAL we just love the moodier, more assertive vegetables of the season; a more than capable match to their protein heavy counterparts. If you’re wondering what to do with your groceries this week, now a chill is in the air, then read on; our 5 IDEAL vegetables to cook with this winter.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH

That bulbous, heavy-as-a-newborn butternut squash can be a little intimidating on the approach. The exterior can feel Fort Knox impenetrable, the stringy, seedy section a chore to remove, and the length of cooking time required off putting. But squash those feelings of trepidation at once; this nominally-a-fruit-but-used-as-a-vegetable foodie favourite is versatile, nourishing and oh so delicious. Use it in a curry, roasted in a warm salad, even in a dessert. Check out our 5 IDEAL ways to cook with butternut squash over here for more inspiration.

best winter vegetables

CELERIAC

Another vegetable with a face for the radio, shall we say, but what lurks within is elegant and alluring in the extreme. Perhaps our favourite vegetable, this, celeriac is the mature, stylish older sibling that celery always wanted to be. Firstly, it needs washing (there’s often a fair bit of dirt lurking in the crevices, but hey, isn’t there always?) and peeling. To do this, ensure the bottom of the veg is flat – you might need to slice a little off – and then simply use a sharp kitchen knife to ‘shave’ the edges, cutting down towards the chopping board in long strokes, methodically.

It’s now time to cook it. We adore a celeriac puree; simmer cubes in cream until totally tender and giving to the merest suggestion of a knife, then lift them out of the liquid with a slotted spoon and into a food processor. Blend, adding a little of the cream to loosen as needed, then pass the mixture through a sieve to ensure it’s smooth. Season with salt and a squeeze of lemon.

This silky, suave puree works equally wonderfully with a roast beef or a grilled fillet of white fish. Alternatively, simply roast cubes in the oven until browned and giving. Or, get proper cheffy and salt bake the thing whole. Check out chef Paul Foster’s cracking recipe for doing so over here.

best winter vegetables

KALE

Long before it was beloved of health-fad-foodies around the globe, people were eating kale regularly because, well, it’s delicious. It certainly does no harm that it’s great for you, with antioxidant properties, and containing loads of fibre and calcium amongst other things. In the shops, go for the smaller bunches if available, they’ll contain more flavour and be more tender, too, and make sure you prioritise a brightly coloured product. 

But we’re here to talk about cooking, so cook we shall. Yep, we’re not huge fans of this raw, whatever people may say. Instead, simply rip out the stalk and inner ‘rib’, or cut either side of it, to release the good parts. Many suggest giving it a little massage in warm water to tenderise, but we’re not on board with that; we like a bit of chew. Rather, shred the kale, and create a simple, shallow emulsion of olive oil and water in a wok or pan, and cook the veg through for 3 to 5 minutes in this. Season generously with salt (or even soy sauce) and serve with a piece of steamed white fish. 

Or, fry off some anchovies until they break down in olive oil, then add garlic and chilli and colour just slightly, then stir fry the shredded kale. Boil some pasta and add the cooked pasta to the pan with a little of the cooking liquid for a simple, healthy midweek supper. Alternatively, you could simply boil some larger leaves for around 5 minutes in salted water and add to a salad. A more healthy, but less delicious method, we think.

best winter vegetables

LEEKS

Mmm, winter. Can you taste it? Nope, that’s just some leeks, sweated down in butter and tasting nostalgic and of the season. Firstly, to prepare them. Don’t buy those ‘trimmed’ ones from the supermarket; the unwanted, greener parts can be deployed in stock just fine. So, do that trimming at home, then remove a couple of layers of the tougher outer leaves (again, these can be used to wrap the traditional French herb parcel, a ‘bouquet garni’). Then, slice down the middle and give the inside a little wash under the tap, as there’s often dirt trapped in there. 

Slice finely and sweat the leeks down in a little butter and olive oil with an onion in the mix too. Don’t allow to colour, but simply to soften for a good ten minutes. Add peeled, cubed potatoes and some stock, season to your taste, and simmer until the spuds are tender. Blend and enrichen with cream. There you have a vichyssoise soup. Or simply cook sliced leeks in butter for 15 minutes before mixing with some blanched butterbeans and a mustardy vinaigrette; a beautiful accompaniment to sausages or even Welsh rarebit. 

TURNIPS

Perhaps not as perennially popular as the humble potato, this starchy member of the cabbage family is a more than capable replacement, and damn delicious too. In the shops, look for those firm to the touch, with their green tops in tact and looking healthy. Some peel, some don’t, but all should wash them thoroughly; dirt gets lodged easily.

We love to mash them as an intriguing, peppery alternative to standard mashed spuds. Just cube, boil, mash and mix with a little butter and cream. They’re also great roasted, treated in much the same way you would that pesky potato which keeps muscling in on this conversation. Finally, channel the energy of the Middle East with by pickling turnips pink; cut them into discs or baton, bring a 3:1 water to red vinegar to the boil with a little salt and spices of your choice (we’re going for cloves and a bay leaf), allow the mixture to cool then pour over your turnips, which have by now found their way into a kilner jar. Perfect with a kebab.

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