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Shop like a chef: How to buy fresh produce in winter

Wednesday - 12/5/2012, 9:07am  ET

farmers1.jpg
Dupont Circle Farmers Market is open all year. (Courtesy of Fresh Farm)

Alicia Lozano, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - As the weather cools down and gardens shrivel up, food lovers might start to think that their fresh produce options are limited to supermarket wares. This is not necessarily the case, say two local chefs who frequent local year-round farmers markets.

In Dupont Circle and Silver Spring, for example, a wide variety of products are still available despite the changing weather: fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat and charcuterie, poultry, cheese, baked goods, pastries, oysters and crab.

"The late autumn and early winter present some challenges to any shopper because the amount of products start to decrease, however trust your farmers," says Chef Aaron McCloud of Cedar restaurant in Penn Quarter. "They produce some of the best products that you're going to find, so trust what they're selling."

Keep an eye out for butternut and winter squashes, hearty greens, brussels sprouts, sweet carrots, apples and leeks, says Ris Lacoste of RIS restaurant on L Street.

Because last year was so mild, fresh produce was readily available throughout winter and contributed to 17 menu items that consisted primarily of locally grown ingredients, she says.

"When selecting produce over the winter, I'm lucky because I know who to ask," Lacoste says.

For the novice, here are a few simple shopping tips:

  • Look for butternut squash that is heavy and dense. These are great for roasting or pureeing.

  • Brussels sprouts should be compact and bright green. Chop them in half, toss them in olive oil and salt, and roast. Add nuts or spices for more complicated recipes.

  • Keep an eye out for organic apples with firm flesh and no visible blemishes.

Not sure where to find delicious produce in the winter? Several farmers markets are open year-round:

  • Silver Spring, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April through December, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. January through March. Located at Ellsworth Drive between Fenton Street and Georgia Avenue.

  • Takoma Park, Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Located at Carroll and Laurel avenues.

  • Dupont Circle, Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. April through December and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. January through March 2013. Located at 20th Street NW between Massachusetts and Connecticut avenues.

  • Old Town Alexandria, Saturdays from 7 a.m. to noon. Located at Market Square, 301 King St.

  • Del Ray, Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. Located at the corner of East Oxford and Mount Vernon avenues.

  • Falls Church, Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon April through December and 9 a.m. to noon January through March. Located at in the city hall parking lot, 300 Park Ave.

  • Leesburg, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Located at Virginia Village Shopping Center on Catoctin Circle SE.

Check out Lacoste's winter recipe for squash ravioli with sherried onion sauce, walnuts and cranberries:

Squash Ravioli with Sherried Onion Sauce, Walnuts and Cranberries

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)