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Seward-made Spring Items

Seward Co-op’s production kitchen is cranking out salads, entrees, dips, sausages and desserts for spring. Here are some highlights of what you’ll find:

•Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
•Flourless Chocolate Cake Slice (Made Without Gluten)
•Thai Peanut Tofu Wrap (Vegan)
•Carne Molida Burrito

Sausage

Jerk Chicken Sausage—Get ready for some real spice. Our sausage makers bring in ingredients from local Community Foods producers Kadejan and The Beez Kneez for this brand-new recipe. Familiar with the Seward-made Hot Link? This Jerk Chicken Sausage is even hotter, thanks to habanero and cayenne peppers.
Launch date: March 1

Persian Lamb Meatballs—Another new and totally delicious product, this Seward-made meatball is defined by the spice blend in it. Our sausage makers use spices found in Iranian cuisine, such as coriander, cinnamon and cardamom. Rose petals and star anise bring a sweet, fragrant and slightly spicy hint. Enjoy with tahdig (Iranian crispy rice) or baba ganoush—or at the center of a Persian stew.
Launch date: March 1

Lamb Umbrian Sausage—This sausage brings together two Italian sausages: Lucanica from the southern region of Basilicata and Luganego from the northern region of Lombardy. We use lamb and pork from Peterson Craftsman Meats that are soaked in red and white wine infused with garlic and bay leaf. The spices are earthy and sharp, complementing the pecorino romano and pine nuts.
Launch date: March 1

Shepherd’s Pie—Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with this Irish favorite packed with lamb from Peterson Craftsman Meats, a local Community Foods producer in Osceola, Wisconsin. Our pie is hearty and topped with mashed potatoes. Simply bake and enjoy!
Launch date: March 9

Guide to Winter Squash

Not sure what to do with all the gorgeous winter squash in Produce? National Co-op Grocers has compiled descriptions of common varieties, as well as some handy tips for selecting the right squash for you and plenty of delicious squash recipes you’ll love.

General selection tips
Winter squash are harvested late summer through fall, then “cured” or “hardened off” in open air to toughen their exterior. This process ensures the squash will keep for months without refrigeration. Squash that has been hurried through this step and improperly cured will appear shiny and may be tender enough to be pierced by your fingernail. When selecting any variety of winter squash, the stem is the best indication of ripeness. Stems should be tan, dry, and on some varieties, look fibrous and frayed, or corky. Fresh green stems and those leaking sap signal that the squash was harvested before it was ready. Ripe squash should have vivid, saturated (deep) color and a matte, rather than glossy, finish.

Acorn
This forest green, deeply ribbed squash resembles its namesake, the acorn. It has yellow-orange flesh and a tender-firm texture that holds up when cooked. Acorn’s mild flavor is versatile, making it a traditional choice for stuffing and baking. The hard rind is not good for eating, but helps the squash hold its shape when baked.

Selection: Acorn squash should be uniformly green and matte—streaks/spots of orange are fine, but too much orange indicates over ripeness and the squash will be dry and stringy.
Best uses: baking, stuffing, mashing.
Other varieties: all-white “Cream of the Crop,” and all-yellow “Golden Acorn.”

Blue Hubbard
Good for feeding a crowd, these huge, bumpy textured squash look a bit like a giant gray lemon, tapered at both ends and round in the middle. A common heirloom variety, Blue Hubbard has an unusual, brittle blue-gray outer shell, a green rind, and bright orange flesh. Unlike many other winter squashes, they are only mildly sweet, but have a buttery, nutty flavor and a flaky, dry texture similar to a baked potato.

Selection: Choose a squash based on size—1 pound equals approximately 2 cups of chopped squash (tip: if you don’t have use for the entire squash, some produce departments will chop these into smaller pieces for you).
Best Uses: baked or mashed, topped with butter, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
Other varieties: Golden or Green Hubbard, Baby Blue Hubbard.

Butternut
These squash are named for their peanut-like shape and smooth, beige coloring. Butternut is a good choice for recipes calling for a large amount of squash because they are dense—the seed cavity is in the small bulb opposite the stem end, so the large stem is solid squash. Their vivid orange flesh is sweet and slightly nutty with a smooth texture that falls apart as it cooks. Although the rind is edible, butternut is usually peeled before use.

Selection: Choose the amount of squash needed by weight. One pound of butternut equals approximately 2 cups of peeled, chopped squash.
Best uses: soups, purees, pies, recipes where smooth texture and sweetness will be highlighted.

Delicata
This oblong squash is butter yellow in color with green mottled striping in shallow ridges. Delicata has a thin, edible skin that is easy to work with but makes it a poor squash for long-term storage; this is why you’ll only find them in the fall. The rich, sweet yellow flesh is flavorful and tastes like chestnuts, corn, and sweet potatoes.

Selection: Because they are more susceptible to breakdown than other winter squash, take care to select squash without scratches or blemishes, or they may spoil quickly.
Best Uses: Delicata’s walls are thin, making it a quick-cooking squash. It can be sliced in 1/4-inch rings and sautéed until soft and caramelized (remove seeds first), halved and baked in 30 minutes, or broiled with olive oil or butter until caramelized.
Other varieties: Sugar Loaf and Honey Boat are varieties of Delicata that have been crossed with Butternut. They are often extremely sweet with notes of caramel, hazelnut, and brown sugar (They’re delicious and fleeting, so we recommend buying them when you find them!).

Heart of Gold/Festival/Carnival
These colorful, festive varieties of squash are all hybrids resulting from a cross between Sweet Dumpling and Acorn, and are somewhere between the two in size. Yellow or cream with green and orange mottling, these three can be difficult to tell apart, but for culinary purposes, they are essentially interchangeable. With a sweet nutty flavor like Dumpling, and a tender-firm texture like Acorn, they are the best of both parent varieties.

Selection: Choose brightly colored squash that are heavy for their size.
Best uses: baking, stuffing, broiling with brown sugar.

Kabocha (Green or Red)
Green KabochaKabocha can be dark green with mottled blue-gray striping, or a deep red-orange color that resembles Red Kuri. You can tell the difference between red Kabocha and Red Kuri by their shape: Kabocha is round but flattened at stem end, instead of pointed. The flesh is smooth, dense, and intensely yellow. They are similar in sweetness and texture to a sweet potato.

Selection: Choose heavy, blemish free squash. They may have a golden or creamy patch where they rested on the ground.
Best Uses: curries, soups, stir-fry, salads.
Other varieties: Buttercup, Turban, Turk’s Turban.

Pie Pumpkin
Pie pumpkins differ from larger carving pumpkins in that they have been bred for sweetness and not for size. They are uniformly orange and round with an inedible rind, and are sold alongside other varieties of winter squash (unlike carving pumpkins which are usually displayed separately from winter squash). These squash are mildly sweet and have a rich pumpkin flavor that is perfect for pies and baked goods. They make a beautiful centerpiece when hollowed out and filled with pumpkin soup.

Selection: Choose a pie pumpkin that has no hint of green and still has a stem attached; older pumpkins may lose their stems.
Best uses: pies, custards, baked goods, curries and stews.

Red Kuri
These vivid orange, beta carotene-saturated squash are shaped like an onion, or teardrop. They have a delicious chestnut-like flavor, and are mildly sweet with a dense texture that holds shape when steamed or cubed, but smooth and velvety when pureed, making them quite versatile.

Selection: Select a smooth, uniformly colored squash with no hint of green.
Best Uses: Thai curries, soups, pilafs and gratins, baked goods.
Other varieties: Hokkaido, Japanese Uchiki.

Spaghetti
These football-sized, bright yellow squash are very different from other varieties in this family. Spaghetti squash has a pale golden interior, and is stringy and dense—in a good way! After sliced in half and baked, use a fork to pry up the strands of flesh and you will see it resembles and has the texture of perfectly cooked spaghetti noodles. These squash are not particularly sweet but have a mild flavor that takes to a wide variety of preparations.

Selection: choose a bright yellow squash that is free of blemishes and soft spots.
Best uses: baked and separated, then mixed with pesto, tomato sauce, or your favorite pasta topping.

Sweet Dumpling
These small, four- to-six-inch round squash are cream-colored with green mottled streaks and deep ribs similar to Acorn. Pale gold on the inside, with a dry, starchy flesh similar to a potato, these squash are renowned for their rich, honey-sweet flavor.

Selection: pick a smooth, blemish-free squash that is heavy for its size and is evenly colored. Avoid a squash that has a pale green tint as it is underripe.
Best uses: baking with butter and cinnamon.

Miscellaneous Varieties
At some food co-ops, farmer’s markets, and apple orchards in the fall you may encounter unusual heirloom varieties of squash that are worth trying. If you like butternut, look for Galeux D’eysines, a rich, sweet and velvety French heirloom that is large, pale pink, and covered in brown fibrous warts. You might also like to try Long Island Cheese squash, a flat, round ribbed, beige squash that resembles a large wheel of artisan cheese.

If you prefer the firmer, milder Acorn, you might like to try long Banana or Pink Banana squash. If you like a moist,dense textured squash (yam-like), try a Queensland Blue or Jarrahdale pumpkin. These huge varieties are from Australia and New Zealand, respectively, and have stunning brittle blue-green rinds and deep orange flesh. Both are good for mashing and roasting.

Produce at its Peak: Seasons Turning

For the most part, I adore living in a seasonal landscape. Still as I cycled to work this morning pushing against a truly Arctic wind, I felt defiantly not ready for the weather to change. One of our flower farmers dropped off buckets of celosia (cockscomb) and asclepia (Oscar) earlier in the week and he casually mentioned that snow was on its way. Our last delivery from our other local flower farm was a few weeks back after a frost put an end to the wild and beautiful blooms at Humble Pie. Whether I am ready or not, the season is turning.

The Last Local Tomatoes

That same frost signaled the beginning of the end for local tomatoes. While some plants may rebound from an isolated frost, the shortening days and overall cooler weather make it difficult for developing tomatoes to ripen. Once the field plants have passed we’ll continue to bring in delicious locally-grown hydroponic tomatoes until it just becomes too cold and dark for those operations to produce. Local tomatoes ripened on the vine have a far superior flavor and texture to winter tomatoes brought in from other regions. Take advantage of these fruits while you can – eat them fresh until you’ve had your fill then preserve them for a taste of the garden in February.

My favorite method for preserving tomatoes is roast them long and low in oil to create a type of tomato “confit”. Slice tomatoes in half, generously coat with olive oil, and set skin-side down on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and place a half-dozen sprigs of thyme among the tomatoes. Place in an oven at 250° and cook slowly for several hours until the tomatoes have nearly flattened and are slightly shriveled. They should be chewy but not tough or leathery. Pack them tightly in a jar, pour over the oil and juices from the pan adding more oil if needed to cover the tomatoes then heat process to seal.

Winter Squash

In name and association, winter squash sounds like a cold-hardy plant but it really isn’t. Unlike tomato plants that may rebound from a dip below freezing, these temperatures more often than not finish the squash plants. Thankfully, by this time of year the plants have done their work – the squash themselves are mature and ready for curing and storing the winter long.

Squash has a flexible flavor- one that can be prepared beautifully as a sweet or savory dish. I use squash as a base for soups and risotto as well as for baking – my “pumpkin” pie is usually made with butternut squash. In the autumn, we see so many more squash varieties from our local growers. Stick to the old time favorites if you like, but the sweetness of a delicata and the nuttiness of the small orange Hubbard are not to be missed. Squash doesn’t need to be fussed with and any of these varieties can be halved, de-seeded, and roasted flesh-side down with a few herbs and a clove of garlic in the cavity. Or just roast them whole and do the cutting once cooled when the squash has softened from cooking.

Sweet and Hardy Brassicas

Luckily, there are plants that not only weather the cooler temps but are better for it. Most brassicas transform with a frost to become sweeter more flavorful versions of their summer selves as the cold triggers the plant’s starches to convert to sugar. There are so many delicious brassicas to choose from this time of year: several varieties of kale; broccoli, cauliflower, and the fractal florets of romanesco; kohlrabi in green and purple; red and green cabbage as well as savoy; and fresh, firm, and tiny Brussels sprouts. We are also lucky that some among this list not only withstand the cold but store well and will provide us with locally-grown produce well into the winter.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes began arriving from Wisconsin Growers Co-operative a few weeks ago and along with long-storing brassicas, they will sustain us with some locally grown produce throughout most of the winter. There are over 300 varieties of sweet potatoes and this year we are excited to add the Bonita and the Stokes Purple varieties to the now familiar Beauregard, Jewel, Garnet, Japanese purple, and O’Henry White. In general, sweet potatoes fall into two categories: soft and firm. The soft varieties – Beauregard, Jewel, Garnet, and for the most part the Stokes Purple – become soft, moist and sweeten considerably with cooking. The firm varieties – O’Henry, Japanese purple, and now the Bonita – remain firm and have a nutty – only slightly sweet – flavor. Like squash, sweet potatoes can be roasted whole (with a few pricks to the skin with a fork) and the longer one cooks, the sweeter the result. This is especially true with the “soft” varieties. I love adding a few cups of mashed Beauregard to my biscuit batter for a beta-carotene rich and flavorful take on this classic.

For firm varieties, I prefer roasting. Using a knife or mandolin, cut thin disks from a firm variety of sweet potato – my personal favorite for its nutty flavor, firm texture, and contrasting color is the Japanese purple. Brush a deep oven-safe sauté pan with a mixture of butter and olive oil – reserving half the mixture for later. Arrange the disks in the pan in concentric circles similar to a roll of coins. Brush the sweet potatoes with the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until the edges are golden and the flesh is cooked through. Heat a cup of crème fraîche along with a sprig of rosemary and a dried hot pepper until the crème fraîche is more liquid than solid. Pour the herbed crème fraîche over the sweet potatoes and garnish with chopped flat leaf parsley and rosemary. Warming and delicious.