Karen Martini's five favourite winter vegetables (and two recipes)

Karen Martini's Minestrone with roasted vegetables.
Karen Martini's Minestrone with roasted vegetables. Photo: Gareth Sobey

Chef and food writer Karen Martini shares her five favourite vegetables to look out for at the market in winter.

Fennel is a personal favourite at this time of year, and can be enjoyed raw when shaved for salads or cut into wedges and roasted in olive oil.

Fennel is one of the most flavoursome winter vegetables, delicious eaten raw and cooked.
Fennel is one of the most flavoursome winter vegetables, delicious eaten raw and cooked. Photo: Supplied

Carrots are sweeter and more tender in the cooler months.

Look out for beetroot, which is also sweet, earthy and deliciously tender.

Brussels sprouts come into their own during winter. My tip is to choose the smaller ones as they have a sweeter flavour.

Often referred to as the weirdest vegetable at the market, kohlrabi is in the same family as broccoli and cabbage. The flavour is like radish meets turnip and it can be eaten raw or cooked.

Here are a couple of great ways to make the most of winter produce.

Minestrone with roasted vegetables

Warming and nourishing, minestrone is the perfect family meal in the colder months. For me, winter minestrone is all about root vegetables, winter greens, beans and pasta; plus an intense broth. Parmesan rind is optional but it adds intensity and really fills out the savoury profile. Ask your favourite deli  for a piece of parmesan rind – they will often have some they can give you or might be able to put some aside for the next time you're shopping. Fresh borlotti beans are an exceptional addition, if you can find them. They become soft, plump and creamy in texture (especially the next day). For an optional garnish, toss kale leaves in oil with a little salt and dehydrate in a low oven until crunchy. Or to really elevate your minestrone, crumble over a few hot roasted and peeled chestnuts, along with grated parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil to finish.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 250g fresh borlotti beans, podded, or 125g small dried haricot or cannellini beans, soaked overnight
  • 3 carrots, cut into rough 2cm dice
  • 2 parsnips, cut into rough 3cm dice
  • 1 white sweet potato, cut into rough 3cm dice
  • 1 kohlrabi, trimmed and cut into 2cm dice
  • 2½ tsp fennel seeds 
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 3cm-thick piece pancetta, diced
  • 2 large brown onions, finely diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 bulbs fennel, diced
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 10cm piece parmesan rind (optional)
  • 1½ litres chicken stock, preferably homemade 
  • 200g green beans, cut into 3cm lengths
  • ½ bunch of chard or silverbeet, cut in 2cm widths removing most of the stem
  • 3 handfuls short pasta, such as tubetti or stellini or tiny pasta rings
  • grated parmesan, to serve

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced or 200C conventional.
  2. Cook the fresh borlotti beans (or soaked dried beans) in simmering water for 20 minutes, or until just tender – a little bite here is OK, as they'll be cooked again in the soup. Drain and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, toss the carrot, parsnip, sweet potato, kohlrabi and fennel seeds in olive oil, season with salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper and tip them onto a lined baking tray. Roast for 25 minutes. They will shrink a little and intensify in flavour.
  4. Meanwhile, add 30ml of oil to a large heavy-based pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and fry for 3 mins then follow with the onion, garlic, celery and fennel. Cook to soften and slightly caramelise, stirring frequently, for 15 mins.
  5. Add the bay leaf, rosemary sprigs and tomato paste to the pot and cook for two minutes, stirring to coat the vegetables. Add the cooked borlotti or dried beans, parmesan rind, roasted vegetables, stock and one litre of water and bring to a simmer and cook for 15 mins.
  6. Add the green beans and silverbeet and cook for a further 15 minutes. Add the pasta for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Keep an eye on the liquid level – it should be a thick soup but you may have to add a little more water.
  7. Once cooked, adjust the seasoning (remove the parmesan rind if you like, but it will keep imparting flavour if you're not serving all the soup at once) and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and grated parmesan.

Serves 6-8

Note: To make this a vegetarian soup, use vegetable rather than chicken stock, leave out the pancetta and pop in two chunks of parmesan rind instead. You can swap the fresh or dried beans with 250g drained tinned beans, adding at the end to warm through.

Fennel and orange salad with currants & fetta. Karen Martini SALAD LOVE recipes for Epicure and Good Food. Photographed by Marina Oliphant. Styling by Caroline Velik. Photographed June 18, 2013. The Age Newspaper and The Sydney Morning Herald. Karen Martini Salads, Marina Oliphant

Photo: Marina Oliphant

Fennel and orange salad with currants and olives

Fennel and navel oranges are both at their best in winter and happen to be delicious together. This refreshing salad is great with braised or slow-roasted lamb or pork.

INGREDIENTS

  • 80ml (⅓ cup) red wine vinegar
  • 80g currants
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • ½ large red onion, finely diced
  • 80ml (⅓ cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • 80g black olives, pitted
  • 1 large bulb fennel
  • 3 navel oranges
  • 4 sprigs mint, picked

METHOD

  1. In a small pot, bring the vinegar, currants and a good pinch of chilli flakes to the simmer for a minute or two. Take off the heat, add the onion, oil and olives, mix through and allow to sit – the currants will plump up and the onion will soften.
  2. Slice the fennel into wedges about 1cm thick. Peel and slice the oranges into rounds of similar thickness.
  3. Add the fennel, orange slices and mint to a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss together. Tip into a serving bowl, and dress with the currant and olive mix.

Serves 4-6 as a side

Karen Martini's go-to Queen Victoria Market traders

  • Queen's Harvest, stall 63-66, I Shed
  • The Apple Corner, stall 22-26, B Shed
  • Berries Corner, stall 21-25, H Shed
  • The Traditional Pasta Shop, shop 3-4, Dairy Produce Hall
  • The Epicurean, shop 14-16, Dairy Produce Hall

Karen Martini is an ambassador for Melbourne's Queen Victoria Market