The Wonderful Colours of our Winter Veg!

What was striking to me, when I got my box last week (see photo), was the colour factor and the freshness of all the winter veg. I don’t think we think of winter veg as colourful, but it is something that is to be highlighted in the cooking when possible. It is well known that the more colours you have on your plate, the more antioxidants the food will provide you with. So here we go! How can we preserve the colour factor and the nutritional value of each of these veg?

First in my picture on the right is the parsnip. This ‘shy’ vegetable is rather sweet and most of us love roasted whole, halved or quartered parsnips which caramelise in the roasting tray to come out even sweeter; I often roast it in quarters brushed with a little honey (on Christmas day you can mix honey and sherry together in equal quantities to give the parsnips an extra kick), season well with salt and black pepper and cook for 20-25 mins at gas mark 6, 400°F, 200°C or until golden brown. I have made many a parsnip soup too, where I combine the sweetness of the parsnip with the sweetness of carrot and the colour is more appealing. When young, my children loved these soups in the winter; I used to sneak some haricot or butter beans into the blender for extra nutritional value and texture. These soups need to be well seasoned however, otherwise they will taste bland, I find. Parsnip and apple soup (peel the apples) with a hint of lemon is a combination that I worked with in one of my books and the colour comes out white. 

To prepare parsnip as a side vegetable, chop an onion finely and fry until soft (add a little salt to the oil to stop the onion from browning). When soft, add a teaspoon or two of a mild or medium curry powder, then 12oz (350g) cubes of cooked parsnips; carry on gently frying for 4-5 minutes then add 3-5 tablespoons water or double cream. Mash well with a potato masher and season again with salt and black pepper. A little curry powder can really transform a vegetable! The same treatment can be given to a mixture of parsnip and carrot puree, or to a swede puree; I have found our white swedes delicious and the purple ones very good too.

Parsnips, swedes, carrots, leeks and potatoes work extremely well cooked together in the same pot to create a very homely soup; I was brought up on a vegetable soup made with vegetables from the garden every night of the year. My parents had a dairy farm and my mother was a prolific gardener, and she was very attached to her soups in the evening! They were an absolute must! There is very little that you need to add to such a soup; just add some coarse unbleached sea salt or similar and black pepper during the second half of the cooking.

These days, I use parsnips in stir-fries too; I cut them into thin half-moons or matchsticks and use them with onion, carrots, cabbage, ginger, garlic, spinach and some peppers for colour, and whatever else I have. Stir-fries need a good marinade to be tasty; as you wait for a few minutes for the vegetables to finish cooking at the end, mix together in a bowl 3 teaspoons arrowroot (or cornflour), 3 teaspoons freshly grated ginger, 2-3 cloves garlic (grated on the ginger grater), 2 tablespoons Tamari (or good quality soya sauce), ¼ teaspoon chopped red chilli, and 6-8 tablespoons water or more. Mix this marinade until smooth, then pour over the veg in the wok and cook, covered, for half a minute –  it will transform your stir-fry!

Our chard and beet leaves are very colourful too when raw! To preserve their colour, cook the stalks for 4-5 minutes, no longer, then drain straight away. The leaves only need 3-4 minutes. Serve these with a really tasty cheese sauce, as in the picture, or a cream sauce. And if you have some cheese sauce left, serve some with roasted pumpkin, a method of cooking which also preserves the colour and the texture of the pumpkin.

In the winter, you can grate beetroot, a little red onion, carrot and pumpkin (yes, you can eat pumpkin raw!) to make a nice salad; dress with a horseradish dressing if you wish. If you would rather have something hot to eat, then serve cubes of cooked hot beetroot (cooked in boiling water for approx 30-40 mins) with a white sauce flavoured with a little horseradish or some apple sauce.

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