This time of year is all about vibrant displays of winter squash, pumpkins, apples, and other fall superstars at farmers tailgate markets. Late summer’s abundance continues through these chillier days, and most vendors are loaded up with dark leafy greens like collards, chard, and kale; root veggies like beets, carrots, and turnips; and tubers like sweet potatoes and potatoes. But there are also a few less-common items we’ve spotted over the past few weeks that deserve to be sought out as well.
Romanesco is back at markets this season, after the extreme wetness of 2018 limited its availability. This brassica stands out on market tables thanks to its spiky fractals and chartreuse color. A native of Italy, the mathematical patterns of its florets are a stunning example of nature’s complexity and precision. Closely related to broccoli and cauliflower, romanesco can be treated similarly, eaten raw, blanched, or roasted. Most importantly, you don’t want to overcook it; it does best when it still has at least a little snap at the center. It would do wonderfully roasted until just slightly charred in an earthy pasta dish, such as whole wheat spaghetti cooked with garlic, rosemary, chili flakes, crumbled sweet or spicy Italian sausage, and topped with pecorino-style cheese. Look for romanesco from Ten Mile Farm (Asheville City Market).
Sunchokes are another fun find this time of year. These knobby tubers look a little like ginger or turmeric, cook up similar to potatoes, but are reminiscent of artichoke hearts in flavor. Though sometimes called Jerusalem artichokes, they have no relationship to Jerusalem and are not a type of artichoke (though the two vegetables do belong to the same family, as does the sunflower). You can eat them raw (thinly shaved is best), roasted, or pureed. For a simple introduction, try shaved sunchokes and Parmesan over an arugula salad dressed with lemon and olive oil. Look for sunchokes from Wildwood Herbal (Asheville City Market, West Asheville Tailgate Market).
Though gourds are certainly abundant this time of year, one not seen very often is the chayote, which is native to Mexico. Pronounced chai-yo-tee, this pear-shaped fruit has light green skin with large wrinkles and tastes like a cross between cucumber and zucchini. It’s often used raw in Latin American cuisine. Cooked, it resembles summer squash, but it tends to remain firmer, making it a great choice for a cheesy baked gratin. The skin is edible, but often leathery, so peeling may be preferred; also remove the hard seed at the center. Look for chayote from Lee’s One Fortune Farm (Asheville City Market, Black Mountain Tailgate Market, River Arts District Farmers Market, Riverside Tailgate Market, West Asheville Tailgate Market).
Area farmers tailgate markets take place throughout the region. As always, you can find information about farms, tailgate markets, and farm stands, including locations and hours, by visiting ASAP’s online Local Food Guide at appalachiangrown.org.