November 27, 2013

A guide to winter gardening and seasonal eating in TexasStudents at Texas culinary schools are undoubtedly up to their ears in seasonal produce this month. With the holidays quickly approaching, Texans are giving thanks for the bountiful harvests made possible by the Lone Star State’s southwestern climate. If you’re hoping to combine your culinary training with sustainable eating practices, a winter garden can provide you with all the veggies you’ll need to craft fresh, regional dishes this holiday season and beyond.

Winter gardening in Texas
Even if you’re well-versed in gastronomy, gardening is a different animal altogether. The first thing you need to know is that all regions within the United States fall into various hardiness zones. These zones, as determined by the United States Department of Agriculture, specify which temperatures plants can and must withstand in order to thrive within a particular climate.

Most regions of Texas fall under hardiness zone 8, while the state’s southernmost areas are designated as zone 9 locations. The northern reaches of Texas contain areas that fall into zones 6 and 7 as well.

Before getting started, you should research your area to determine exactly what hardiness zone your town is located in. Your hardiness zone will determine which plants will best match your region’s weather and climate conditions.

A cornucopia of options
Though your hardiness zone will play a large part in selecting vegetables for your garden, there are a few staples that are often found in winter gardens across the Lone Star State. Popular local produce includes:

  • Beets
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Rhubarb
  • Brussels sprouts

Farm-to-table cuisine
Texas’ plentiful winter produce options create untold opportunities to experiment. Most culinary experts know that the quality of a vegetable and the way it is prepared – not the sauce drizzled on top – makes it stand out against sub-par produce. Your homegrown foods’ delicate flavors can be showcased in a variety of ways.

Soups and stews: Make a hearty vegetarian stew by simmering a variety of produce in water and vegetable stock before topping with your favorite spices. You can also make good use of a slow-cooker to craft a rich and flavorful beef stew.

Omelettes and frittatas: After lightly sauteing your veggies to unlock the flavor within, combine them with fresh-from-the-farm eggs for a high-protein breakfast or brunch plate.

Noodle dishes: Comfort foods like mac and cheese needn’t rely on bland cheese for flavor. Instead, combine a variety of high-quality cheeses for a light sauce before drizzling it atop macaroni noodles and a plethora of steamed veggies. Kale, broccoli, spinach and peas are particularly perfect when combined with cheese.