Did you ever wander down the produce aisle in your favorite market and pick up a fruit or vegetable you've never seen before? Or maybe you've heard its name, but don't know how to use it. A recent tour through the produce department at Guido's Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield with cookbook author Alana Chernila, the market's marketing and events manager, turned up some very interesting things. We asked her to pick six misunderstood, or under-used items from the produce department and give us examples of how to best use them. The results were surprising, and delicious.
From the United States, this vegetable has white flesh and purple skin. When selecting Oriental yams, Chernila recommends looking for ones that are firm.
"It's pretty starchy and sweet, and is a great alternative to a white potato," Chernila said, " although its sweetness is more mellow than a regular sweet potato."
The yams are good roasted or chopped and fried in oil in a pan.
An early winter green, good for fall and winter salads, this sturdy member of the chicory family is usually imported from Belgium. When picking out endive, look for heads with no brown on the edges.
"The leaves are crispy and floral with a little bit of bitterness. It's really a refreshing green," Chernila said.
A favorite use is to separate the leaves and use them as boats for appetizers, like dips or smoked salmon and capers. "The leaves make their own pretty little party bowl, and the flavor and texture hold up well."
"It isn't going to win any beauty contest," Chernila said of the large tan vegetable with many roots protruding from its end. Guido's typically has locally grown celery root. It has a starchy texture and tastes like celery. Look for one that is not too spongy feeling.
It can be eaten raw, or grated in a salad. It can replace celery in soups and stews. To use it, cut it horizontally into rounds and trim off the knobby, rough skin.
This reddish-orange fruit from California is sweet and packs a citrus punch. Choose fruit that are really soft, and have give when gently squeezed, like a very ripe tomato.
It can be eaten raw, but is "a real holiday fruit that is used in persimmon pudding, a firm sweet, citrusy pudding," Chernila said, adding it is common in many Christmas desserts, like cake and holiday breads. It also can be blended into salad dressing.
This newly created squash, grown in the United States, looks more tan and smaller than butternut squash, and it has a deep orange-colored flesh. It is richer and starchier than butternut squash, almost custard-like.
The little squashes can be halved vertically and seeded, then roasted with butter and salt. "They're lovely for stuffing, maybe one of wild rice, leeks and rice, and make a nice entree," Chernila said.
The skin is edible, and the seeds can be roasted and eaten, also.
Also known as Red Moon radishes, these radishes are the size of a lemon with a white or tan green tinge. The ones available at Guido's are grown in New Lebanon, N.Y. Inside, vibrant pink flesh fades into the light green skin, making a round of the radish look like a miniature watermelon. The taste is "pungent, rich with a little bit of spiciness, but not too much," Chernila said. Buy radishes that are firm, not spongy, and which ideally have not too many gashes on the skin.
It can be eaten raw, used in salads or cut into thin rounds and topped with butter and salt for an appetizer.
The radishes can last for months if refrigerated.