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Crunch Time for Winter Veggies

Perry Hoffman is having a great fall. First came the news that Wine Spectator magazine had given etoile Restaurant its “Best Of - Award of Excellence.” Then, in October, came the restaurant’s first Michelin star. Now Perry and his culinary team are preparing for a string of lavish holiday events, including the Chandon Glitter Ball on December 31st.

Winter VeggiesPerry Hoffman is having a great fall. First came the news that Wine Spectator magazine had given etoile Restaurant its “Best Of - Award of Excellence.” Then, in October, came the restaurant’s first Michelin star. Now Perry and his culinary team are preparing for a string of lavish holiday events, including the Chandon Glitter Ball on December 31st.

We know that Perry likes to cook with seasonal ingredients. But we wondered how he manages to pull it off during these late fall and winter months, when there’s so little left to pick in his restaurant herb and vegetable garden.

Winter veggies from Chef Perry’s garden.

Walking on freshly turned earth where rows of green beans, squash and tomato plants still flourished only a few weeks ago, Perry lead us to a section where a few green shoots were poking through the rich Napa Valley soil.

“These are our winter vegetables — turnips, parsnips, beets — and they’re just starting to pop up right now. We’ll be picking them over the next several months, right into the winter. Of course, we’re lucky enough to be in Northern California with a year-round growing season. But even in colder climates, these vegetables are incredibly sturdy. They like winter!”

“Root vegetables are slow to grow, almost 120 days for a parsnip. When you plant a parsnip it’s tiny, maybe a quarter of a gram. And then it turns into this two-pound monster. The restaurant is closed in January, so right now we’re actually planting for February. When we come back we’ll have a whole garden filled with winter vegetables like these.”

Paper-thin slicing brings out the crunch.

“When I think of winter cooking, I think of a big piece of Osso Bucco or a braised lamb shank in a flavorful red wine sauce. I think of roasted parsnips or parsley root. They both have the nutty, earthy flavors of fall spices like clove, cinnamon and all spice.”

“But there’s another side to winter veggies, one that many people overlook. When you shave them paper-thin and eat them raw, they’re crunchy, sweet and flavorful. Here at etoile Restaurant we actually serve them raw more than cooked. We do shaved vegetable root salads, garnishes and appetizers. I t’s a great way to enjoy some of the season’s biggest flavors.”

“In our kitchen, we use a truffle slicer with a razor-sharp edge to cut raw veggies paper thin, almost translucent. A mandoline is the next best choice, and they are pretty common. But even if you just have a sharp knife and a steady hand, you can slice them pretty thin and get that nice crunchy texture.”

Preparation tips for raw winter vegetables

“Here’s the preparation technique we use at etoile Restaurant for crisp winter vegetables like parsnips, turnips and beets.” — Chef Perry Hoffman

Wash vegetables in cold water, trim off any greens and root sprouts. Using a sharp knife, peel off the skin all the way around the root. Slice thinly using an electric or manual slicer, or a well-honed knife with a thin blade. Lay slices on cutting board, trim edges and cut into strips. Toss with salad greens, serve on a raw vegetable platter or use as a garnish for seafood dishes after cooking. The sweetness of winter root vegetables marries well with the delicate flavors of broiled scallops or etoile Restaurant’s recipe for Saffron Lobster Pappardelle