Chris Zellers, MPP -Assistant Professor/Educator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Family & Community Health Sciences Department
Seasonal produce is a great way to enjoy the harvest of fall and winter foods in New Jersey. January through April most plants in New Jersey are not growing because of the cold weather. Before there were modern conveniences like grocery stores, refrigeration and freezers people would store root vegetables in root cellars supplying them with foods that keep through the winter. Root vegetables are hardy and although they get a bad name sometimes as starchy vegetables, they do serve a purpose because produce like beets, turnips and potatoes fill us up and keep us warm in cold winter months while other cold season produce protects from colds and viruses.
In season produce has health benefits and is usually less expensive to purchase than food that is not in season. During the fall in New Jersey seasonal produce includes apples, cranberries, arugula, beans, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, chard, dandelion greens, garlic, kale, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, scallions, squash, spinach, and turnips. These fall vegetables make a great addition to holiday meals and are complimented when roasted with herbs like rosemary and thyme. Fall vegetables like carrots or sweet potatoes provide a rich source of vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, manganese, folate, phosphorus, and fiber and are beneficial for eye health. Leafy greens like kale, spinach, mustard greens, dandelion greens, and arugula are packed with vitamins, minerals and folate that help the body make red blood cells. Folate is especially good for women of childbearing years because it helps with brain and spinal cord development of unborn babies. Leafy greens are high in fiber, low on the glycemic index and can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Garlic is a great compliment when roasting seasonal vegetables and helps provide immunity during the cold fall and winter months. The fruits and vegetables that are in season in New Jersey in the fall fill us up, keep us warm and provide immunity and protection against colds and virus that are frequent during cooler months.
Herbs and spices are a fun way to flavor fall dishes and can be used as a substitute for sugar and salt. Use basil in tomato-based dishes to sweeten them or add cumin to replace salt and add flavor. The recommended daily allowances of sodium for adults are 2300mg and the Center for Disease Control estimates the average American gets 3,400mg per day. Using spices and herbs to flavor food can reduce the amount of salt consumed each day while adding taste. Check package labels for sodium contents to see how many milligrams are in each packaged food and avoid adding salt where it’s not needed like in pasta water. Purchase low sodium canned goods and taste food before adding salt to dishes. Reducing sodium intake can prevent chronic diseases like hypertension. When using a recipe that calls for dried or fresh herbs the conversions are as follows: 1 tablespoon of finely cut herbs is the equivalent of 1 teaspoon crumbled dried herbs and ¼-1/2 teaspoon ground dried herbs. As a general rule, prolonged heating can cause flavor and aroma loss to fresh herbs. Delicate herbs can be added a minute or two before the end of cooking or sprinkled on food as serving. Less delicate herbs can be added to dishes about 20 minutes before cooking ends. Bread and batters may require herbs be added in the early part of the cooking process. Delicate herbs that can be added at the end of cooking include basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, marjoram, and mint. Less delicate herbs that can be added about twenty minutes before the end of cooking or as the recipe indicates are dill seeds, rosemary, tarragon, and thyme. Stocking up on seasonal produce and adding it to holiday meals as well as everyday meals during the fall and winter will add the nutrients needed to avoid illness, eat healthy and savor the great tastes of the season.
Roasted Vegetables- Prep time 30 minutes, cook time 45 minutes Serves 10-12
6 to 8 fingerling potatoes- scrubbed and cut lengthwise
10 baby turnips – peeled
1 or 2 large parsnips – peeled, trimmed and cut into 1 inch thick slices
2 medium red onions – cut into quarters
2 large beets – peeled and cut into small wedges
1 whole head of garlic – peeled and separated into induvial cloves
2 springs of fresh rosemary- rinsed
4 sprigs of fresh thyme – rinsed
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Directions: preheat oven to 400 degrees
After vegetables are prepared toss them all together in olive oil until covered evenly in a large bowl. Remove them from the bowl and put them in a baking dish and add fresh rosemary and thyme and sprinkle with fresh pepper. Toss again in dish. May sure the vegetables are evenly distributed in the dish. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes until veggies are tender, stir frequently to ensure the vegetables roast evenly. These roasted veggies make a great side dish in the fall and winter months.