A little while ago, lots of us decided to aim for a meat-light diet. We thought that, for our own health and the health of the planet, we’d eat less meat and more plants. In the summer, this went swimmingly. The table was overflowing with the brightest and freshest produce, from aubergines to tomatoes, courgettes to cucumbers. In winter, it’s easy to lose heart slightly, assuming there’ll be nothing but cabbage soup for three months. Not a bit of it! Winter vegetable dishes can be just as satisfying as their summer cousins.
Winter vegetables are often sturdy customers. They can stand up to the rigours of winter in the fields and so can stand up to slow winter-style cooking too. But don’t let them become dreary also-rans, relegated to side dishes. Make them the star of the show!
Take that winter salad staple, chicory. Yes, it’s great in a winter salad. It will happily sit in the fridge for days on end, while rocket and watercress wilt around it. But, griddle it, char it or gratinate it and it becomes a different animal.
Chicory Gratin with Bacon and Parsley Crust
You will need:
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 heads of chicory (witloof)
- 200ml double cream
- 50ml vegetable stock or white wine
- 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
- 1 rasher streaky bacon
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 handful breadcrumbs
- 1 handful grated cheddar cheese
- small handful parsley leaves, chopped
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
- Cut the chicory in half lengthways and boil for 5 minutes or so until just cooked through. Drain well, then lay in an oven proof dish.
- Mix the wine/stock, cream, mustard, parsley leaves and some salt (celery salt if you have it) and pepper, then pour over the chicory.
- In a food processor, whizz together all the remaining ingredients together with some salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the chicory and bake for 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling.
Even cabbage can be a real slow-cooked winter star. We’re not talking about grandma’s “boil it for half an hour until even the neighbours are passing out” cabbage. Yes, as a general rule, cabbage should have the merest dash of water and only a passing glance at the hob. Red cabbage, however, seems made for Sunday morning pottering. It is almost impossible to overcook. Indeed, it is at its best cooked for a couple of hours, in a good amount of red wine or cider. Strangely, a good pinch of mixed spice seems to work well too.
If you’re roasting some root veg, give them some extra umph with some herbs and spices. Carrots particularly work well with a good hit of chilli to balance their sweetness. Try mixing carrots with olive oil, salt, pepper, ground cumin, ground coriander and ground chilli before roasting.
One of our favourite ways of putting winter veg firmly in the spotlight is to make a savoury crumble. It’s one of the most economical dishes going. Use a whole mixture of your favourite roots – celeriac, turnips, carrots, parsnips, swede. Pre-boil them and mix with bechamel sauce. Top with an oaty, cheesy, nutty crumble topping and bake until golden.
Even the best of us resort to Mediterranean veg in the midst of winter. A good way to wake up some frozen Med-veg is to roast it with olive oil mixed with dried oregano, paprika and ground cumin. Stuff into flatbreads with a generous amount of hummus. Alternatively, sprinkle chopped mint, chilli and lemon zest over your cooked veg to really make it feel like summer again.
With a few little hacks and a bit of planning, there’s a chance we might not all revert to fully fledged carnivores by summertime. We’ll spend the winter enjoying some slow-cooked veggie comfort food instead.