I love cooking, but admittedly, I tend to get more excited about carby dishes (handmade ravioli) and meaty dishes (a glistening, crispy roast chicken) than I do about my veggies, which tend to be a quick, simple side dish—spinach or bok choy wilted in oil with garlic and salt, or maybe roasted Romanesco or Brussels sprouts.
Talking to a vegetable enthusiast, though, can really fuel one’s curiosity about local veggies. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking to Lane Selman, an agricultural researcher, OSU assistant professor, and founder of Portland nonprofit Culinary Breeding Network. The nonprofit brings together agricultural researchers, farmers, plant breeders, chefs, and everyday veggie consumers to gain feedback from one another on what traits are most desirable in order to breed a better crop.
Culinary Breeding Network’s annual winter event, the Winter Vegetable Sagra and Variety Showcase, is intended to breed (sorry!) excitement about local winter veggies. Shopping locally in the winter doesn’t mean your veggie crisper is limited to carrots, potatoes, and turnips.
In fact, there are tons of crops, many of them heirloom varieties, being grown in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest: radicchio, winter squash, garlic, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celeriac, cabbage, and purple sprouting broccoli. This year, Winter Vegetable Sagra’s fourth, the celebration is taking place virtually—for free—from now until March, with presenters and chefs talking about their favorite veg (and giving cooking demos!) on Culinary Breeding Network’s YouTube channel.
Inspired by the Winter Vegetable Sagra, on my most recent visit to the Hollywood Farmers Market I picked up a black futsu squash and a delicata squash on the recommendation of the folks at the Flying Coyote Farm stand, plus a head of radicchio and a couple shallots from Stoneboat Farms. A Google search for radicchio and squash led me to this New York Times recipe for a radicchio and roasted squash recipe with garlicky, lemony buttermilk dressing. I substituted tarragon for sage, scallions for shallots, chipotle for paprika, honey for maple syrup, pecans for pepitas, and left out the arugula entirely, making do with what was in my fridge and pantry. (Hey, we’re in a pandemic!)
The delicata squash caramelized and crisped around the edges, tasting something like a crunchy sweet potato—the ideal complement to the slightly bitter, crunchy radicchio. The zesty, creamy buttermilk dressing, which had a whole clove of raw garlic grated into it, tied together all the flavors and made the salad feel like a restaurant-quality indulgence (I may or may not have drunk the leftover dressing out of the bowl). I used run-of-the-mill grocery store garlic that I’ve been trying to get through for weeks, but I bet it’d be even better with one of the heirloom varieties from the farmers market.
I emailed Selman about my newfound excitement for PNW radicchio and winter squash, and in turn, she sent me another recipe to try from the Culinary Breeding Network: radicchio salad with paper-thin sliced raw black futsu squash, dressed with a punchy citronette made of anchovy, lemon, olive oil, garlic, and shallot, with a healthy grating of Pecorino over the top.
This is all to say that I’m officially now a PNW veggie nerd. I’ve texted all my friends about the wonders of black futsu, delicata squash, and radicchio, and now I’m spreading the word to all my readers. The Hollywood Farmers Market is now on its every-other-week winter schedule, so there won’t be another market until December 19—but the PSU market is still happening every Saturday, and there are tons of other good markets happening all over town. Eat your veggies!