Don’t let its looks deceive you. Though bitter melon resembles a pale wart-covered cucumber, its assertive bitter flavor is essential to authentic Indian, Asian, and Filipino cuisine. Its acerbic taste and crunch balance rich, spicy foods. COOK’S NOTE: Unlike cucumbers or zucchini, bitter melon is better when it is a little past its green prime: The more mature melons are less bitter. At the market, look for large, pale bitter melons.
Rainbows of carrots are the pride of the market growers who display ever more shapes, sizes, and colors each year. The Nantes, deep orange and magenta; the Chantenay with its short, thick cone-shaped root; the tiny finger-shaped Bambina; the pointed Horn; the white Bolero—all are crisp, sweet, and complex. QUICK IDEA: Shred some carrots, and toss them with just a little walnut oil or olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Toss in chopped nuts and dried cranberries.
Rutabagas are the workhorse of farmhouse cooking. They grow to enormous sizes, store beautifully through the winter, and figure in roasts, purees, and stews. With their pale orange flesh and spicy turnip flavor, rutabagas add color and zip to dishes made with milder root vegetables. COOK’S NOTE: Use rutabagas in any recipe calling for turnips; they’re milder and bigger and easier to work with. Peel rutabagas before using.
Local Concord grapes pack a full-on grape flavor, musty and intensely sweet. White grapes are less hardy and more difficult to grow. Their flavor is less floral but clean and tart (they’re grown primarily for wine). QUICK IDEA: Put several cups of grapes into a bowl and smash them to release the juice. Strain the juice through a sieve to remove the seeds and skin. Sweeten the juice to taste with sugar and then add equal amounts of dry ginger ale. Serve over ice.
Celeriac (celery root)
Don’t be put off by this knobby, gnarled brown root; just taste the dense, ivory- colored, nutty beauty within. Celery’s ugly cousin is a favorite of the French, who bake it into smooth, sweet gratins, steam and puree it, and shred it for salads. COOK’S NOTE: Use a sharp knife to peel celeriac and trim away the fibrous roots. Once it’s peeled and sliced, it will discolor quickly, so hold it in water that contains a splash of lemon juice or vinegar.
What’s In Season