mark strausman
Executive Chef Mark Strausman

Chef Mark Strausman always knows where—and when—to find the best ingredients. The Freds executive chef doesn’t let the fact that it’s the dead of winter stop him from checking in at one of his favorite places, New York’s Union Square Greenmarket. On a recent trip, he let The Window tag along to get his tips on how to make the most of the market’s offering any time of year and what to look for at its peak—think: hardy root vegetables that have been weathering the winter months in local farmers’ root cellars.

This idea of seasonal eating is one that strikes close to home for Strausman, not only for the quality of the produce it ensures, but also because it makes sense in terms of dollars and cents. “Seasonal eating means that you’re not only getting what’s at the peak of freshness, you’re also being economical. Produce is less expensive when it’s plentifully available in its season, and it’s better then too,” he tells us. “Let Mother Nature dictate what you should be eating.”

Strausman also shared with us one of his favorite ways to prepare everything he picked up on this shopping excursion: a Farmer’s Market Winter Vegetable Roast. which is featured on the Freds menu as an accompaniment to fish or poultry. “This medley of roasted veggies—with its parsnips, squash, beets, and Brussels sprouts—is not only very colorful and beautiful, but also tasty,” Strausman tells us.

Scroll on for his tips and pointers, then stop by any of our four Freds locations to see how Strausman practices what he preaches.

mark strausman

“Sweet potatoes and squash are my favorite winter vegetables. They’re both extremely healthy and full of nutrients, which have become of paramount importance both for the restaurants and for me personally—as long as it doesn’t mean giving up flavor! That’s why both sweet potatoes and butternut squash, in particular, are so great, since they’re chock-full of fiber and vitamins, but are very flavorful and versatile. For example, you can use sweet potatoes to make gnocchi rather than a starchier white potato.”

mark strausman

That’s not to say that other varieties of potatoes don’t have their place on the menu, too. “Better than almost any other vegetables, potatoes store extremely well in root cellars and are as great now as when they were dug up—these were likely dug in November around the time of the season’s first frost. Potatoes have been the staple diet of people around the world for centuries—look at Van Gogh’s painting, The Potato Eaters. To this day, there’s a magic that exists when a potato meets butter. My favorite way to eat these is just boiled with lots of butter—you can keep trying to do different, more complicated preparations, but why, when they’re so delicious done so simply?”

mark strausman

“Add a little spice to your life! Any food, even dessert, can potentially benefit from a bit of heat. Theses chilies have a great depth of flavor, and there’s the bonus that they’re very decorative too. I keep a bunch of these out on a hook in my kitchen and just pull one or two off and pulverize them whenever I need them.”

Mark Strausman
Here, Mark stops for a quick chat with Don Lewis, the founder of Wild Hive Farms, which specializes in heritage grains—like spelt, rye, and live oats—and products made from them, like flours and whole grains. Strausman and Lewis have known each other for years, and Strausman sites Wild Hive’s polenta as the best available outside of Italy.

“Winter is one of may favorite times of the year to go to the market—it’s not as crowded as during the summer, and you can really spend some time meeting the farmers, speaking to them, and learning about their products. In the winter, they have a bit more time to chat, and most of them are so passionate about what they do that they’d love to talk to you and educate you about it. As global citizens, we should all be educated about agriculture and where our food comes from.”

mark strausman

“At the restaurant, we do a dish where we peel cipollini onions and roast them with red wine. We cook them very slowly until they caramelize to the point that they’re almost gooey. They’re sweeter than other onions, and prettier, so however you’re using them, I would slice them rather than mincing so that you can still show them off.”

mark strausman

“Parsnips are really underutilized. They make a great puree, are also amazing as parsnip soup, or can be shaved thin and fried until crisp, almost like a healthier version of a potato chip.”

mark strausman

“My favorite use for the great Bosc pears this time of year is in a pear salad that can be served as a dessert. For the salad, just slice the pears, and then add some sugar, mint, and orange juice. You can also add some fresh local cheese from the market, and it’s perfect for the end of a meal where you want something sweet that’s still light.”

mark strausman

“I love to use cranberries when it comes to making cocktails. By simply boiling and pureeing them, you can create a juice that can be used instead of pomegranate juice in any recipe, and they’re great in a martini. You’ll never again go back to the store-bought cranberry juice that’s full of corn syrup.”

mark strausman
Mark follows his nose to sniff out the best offerings at each vendor. Here, he checks out oyster mushrooms.

Farmers Market Winter Vegetable Roast

15 Brussels sprouts
2 Large beets, scrubbed (do not peel)
12 Oyster mushrooms
8 Cipollini onions
3 Multi-color Carrots
1 Large butternut squash
2 Acorn squash
1 Parsnip
2 Large potatoes or 12 small potatoes
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 Clove garlic
2 Dried chilies, optional
2 Tablespoons sugar
Salt to taste
2 Pinches nutmeg

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Bring two pots of salted water to a boil. With the tip of a small knife, cut an “X” into the base of each Brussels sprout. When the water boils, cook the beets and brussels sprouts in separate pots, until fork-tender. Plunge them into ice water to shock them and stop the cooking. While the beets are still warm, peel them and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Cut the Brussels sprouts in half and set aside.

Remove stems from mushrooms and set aside. Mince garlic and set aside.

Meanwhile, peel the onions and cut the stems off the squash, parsnip, carrots. Peel them with a sturdy peeler or sharp paring knife. Cut squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and cut into 1-inch chunks, and do the same with the carrots, parsnip, and potatoes.

When all the vegetables are prepared, toss them together and spread them on cookie sheets or in earthenware baking dishes. Drizzle with olive oil and dot with butter. Sprinkle with sugar, plenty of salt, and nutmeg, as well as with pulverized chilies if you’re using them. Bake until tender all the way through and a little crusty. Start checking the vegetables after 30 minutes.

If you want to make the vegetables more crusty, raise the heat at the end of the cooking to 500 degrees. Bake until sweet and crusty and serve immediately or at room temperature.

Reserve a table online at Freds Madison Avenue, Freds Downtown, Freds Chicago, or Freds Beverly Hills.

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