The Winter Kitchen

With a little planning, it's easy to eat well this time of year.

Winter. I look forward to it every year. For me as a cook, winter is a season of ingenuity, challenge and opportunity. Bring it on, I say! Winter means different things to different people. What can seem to many like endless months of dreariness and constant chill is for others a happy, white fairyland of activities from skiing to snowshoeing. For children, dreaming of a no-school day because of an impending nor'easter is a right of winter passage. For me as a chef, it means hunkering down with pots and pans, and giving some thought to preparing cold weather foods that release their good taste in due time, no rush.

There is no denying that cooking can be a challenge for those of us who live in cold climes, nor that the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables is greatly diminished in winter. But that should not stop us from using our ingenuity "to get by until spring."

One of the ways I do this is by frequenting my local winter farmers' markets. It is so wonderful to see such locally sourced and available winter ingredients, such as kale, turnips, onions, Brussels sprouts, squashes, potatoes, carrots, garlic and apples.

I plan my cooking around ingredients like these, fill in with other items from my local grocer and try to purchase foods that are from as close to home
as possible.

On a winter's day, I am most content to be in my kitchen for hours on end. Making an honest loaf of bread or other comfort food-such as meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, or a great chili like the vegetarian version offered on page 22-is most satisfying and fills my home with such delicious smells that when my family comes through the door, the immediate reaction is "what smells so good?"

With just a little forethought, it's simple to eat very well in winter. Think soups, stews, slow-cooked pot roasts, vegetable casseroles, quiches, fish chowders. Pretty soon, as you begin compiling ideas based on readily available ingredients, the list will seem endless. Before you know it, you will have cooked your way into spring!

Yes, we can put a long winter to good use in the kitchen.

Apple and Pear Pie

Makes 1 two-crusted pie

There is something so soothing about a home-baked pie, especially in winter when the scent of apples, pears, cinnamon and cloves fills the house with welcoming and hypnotic smells.


6 large Cortland apples, peeled and thinly sliced

4 large Bosc pears, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

11/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon salt

1. Combine the apple and pear slices in a large bowl with the lemon juice.

2. In a smaller bowl, mix together the sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Pour the sugar mixture over the apples and pears, and mix to coat them well.

3. Set aside.

Pie Dough

21/4 cups cold, unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted, cold butter or shortening, cut into bits, divided

6-7 teaspoons ice cold water, divided

1 tablespoon milk or cream

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

2 tablespoons coarse brown sugar

1. Add the flour and salt in a mixing bowl, and stir to combine. Add the 3/4 cup of butter. With a fork or a pastry blender, blend the ingredients together, working quickly, until you have a mixture of tiny, irregular flakes and bits about the size of coarse breadcrumbs.

2. Sprinkle in the water a tablespoon at a time, stirring gently with a fork after each addition.
Add just enough water for the dough to form
a rough mass.

3. With floured hands, pat the dough into a round disk and cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Divide the pie dough in half. On a lightly floured, board surface, roll out one piece to a 13-inch circle. Use it to line a 9-inch-by-2-inch-deep pie plate. Trim the edges to be even with the rim of the pie dish. Spread the Filling into the crust, packing in well. Dot the Filling with the 2 tablespoons of butter.

5. Roll out the second piece of dough to an 11-inch circle. With a pastry wheel, cut the dough into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Made a lattice top for the pie. (If you prefer a closed top, just roll out the second piece of dough to fit the top of the filling and trim the edges.) Pinch the edge of the dough even with the edge of the pie pan.

6. Place the pie on a baking sheet to catch any spillage. Brush the top of the pie with the milk or cream, and sprinkle with the almonds and brown sugar.

7. Bake 40-45 minutes, or just until the crust is nicely browned and the fruit is bubbling.

8. Remove the pie from the oven and let cool completely on a rack. Cut into wedges, and serve as is or with vanilla ice cream.

Vegetable "Chili"

Serves 4-6

Winter means being resourceful with menu planning and what is available at the grocer. I took my inspiration for this vegetable "chili" from ingredients that you can find all winter long. This is a great do-ahead recipe to make with kids on a snowy weekend. It will keep beautifully in the refrigerator for a few days, or you can make batches and freeze them. The recipe is even good as a sauce over pasta.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 small zucchini, cubed

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 teaspoon celery salt

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

2 tablespoons fresh minced thyme

Salt, to taste

Grinding coarse black pepper

1 cup chopped button mushrooms

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice

1 cup canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained; or 1 cup cooked wheat berries, orzo or rice

1 cup grated cheddar cheese, for sprinkling

1. Pour the olive oil into a medium-size soup pot along with the onion, celery, zucchini and butternut squash. Cover and cook over medium heat until the vegetables soften, about 4 minutes.

2. Sprinkle with the celery salt, celery seed, oregano, paprika, chili powder, thyme, salt and black pepper. Stir in the mushrooms, and continue cooking until the mushrooms soften. Pour in the tomatoes.

3. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add the beans, wheat berries, orzo or rice. Stir well.

4. Serve in bowls and sprinkle with cheese.

Cranberry Cornbread

Serves 8

This super-fine textured cornbread is the result of grinding the cornmeal to a fine powder in a food processor, but you can omit this step. (The texture will be a little coarser.) But either way, this cornbread is a favorite for teaming with hearty winter soups and stews.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for buttering the pan

2/3 cup sugar

2 large eggs at room temperature

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup fresh cranberries or 1/2 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch-square pan with foil and butter the foil. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat the ½ cup butter with the sugar until creamy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well blended.

3. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk and baking soda. Set aside.

4. Using a food processor, pulse to grind the cornmeal
until it is fine. Add the flour and salt, and pulse a few times.

5. Add half the flour mixture to the bowl with the butter mixture and beat in. Add half the buttermilk and blend in. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat in. Add the remaining buttermilk and blend in. Stir in the cranberries.

6. Pour into the pan and bake 35-40 minutes until set and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool. Serve warm and cut into squares.

Recipes from Ciao Italia Family Classics