How to buy and eat the best of the season, according to chefs

Despite the cold weather and seasonal gloom, winter hides a surprising abundance of produce to enjoy. Bright citrus abounds, adding sunshine to any dish; hearty root vegetables surface ready to shine, roasted or pureed into comforting goodness; and complex winter greens, kissed by bitterness, present plenty of competition to their summer counterparts.

Some seasonal vegetables—among them kale, cabbages, parsnips, and beets—taste even better after a winter frost, as they send sugar production into overdrive to make a sort of natural antifreeze. Take it as a lesson in resilience from nature: overcoming a bit of hardship makes life all the sweeter. 

Here are the winter fruits and vegetables chefs are most excited about right now, plus their tips for choosing them at the market and making the most of them at home.

Cauliflower

Doug Psaltis
Chef and partner, RPM Steak and RPM Italian
Chicago

I’m most excited about cauliflower. It’s such a diverse and healthy vegetable, one you can roast whole and serve as a main dish, as a mash or puree in place of potatoes, and so much more.

In Season: Cauliflower is fairly widely available year-round, but look for winter cauliflower, which is harvested November through May.

How to Buy: Look for compact heads of cauliflower that are firm, clean, and white. Avoid those that have any dark spots or brown coloring.

How to Enjoy: I especially enjoy cauliflower roasted whole in the oven and covered in nutty, melted Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. First, steam the whole head of cauliflower until al dente, then cover with Parmesan and roast until caramelized and golden brown. When properly cooked—in this case, roasted—cauliflower should have a sweetness to it with a caramelization that is deep, earthy, and nutty. It should not taste at all sulfurous. 

RPM Roasted Cauliflower

Makes 1 whole head

  • 1 head cauliflower, about 2 pounds
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

In a large pot fitted with a steamer basket or insert, add enough water so that it reaches just below the insert (being careful not to let it touch). Heat the water over medium heat to a rapid simmer. Add the cauliflower to the steamer and cover with a tight-fitting lid; steam until softened, about 12-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes; season to taste with salt and pepper. Set the marinade aside.

Remove the cauliflower from the pot, pat dry, and let rest until cool enough to handle.

Transfer the cauliflower to a roasting dish; drizzle with the marinade to lightly coat, then sprinkle with a generous amount of cheese. Roast the cauliflower until cheese has turned golden-brown and the cauliflower is slightly charred in spots.

Garnish with parsley, if using, and serve.

Courtesy of Doug Psaltis/RPM Restaurants