Don’t sweat the Brussels sprouts

And don’t boil them, either. Seriously: Magpie’s Ed Roehr can help.

Magpie Caterers and Cafe’s beef stew puts Campbell’s to major shame—for a million winters.

Magpie Caterers and Cafe’s beef stew puts Campbell’s to major shame—for a million winters.


Magpie Caterers Market and Cafe, 1409 R Street, Suite 102; (916) 452-7594;

For the record, tomatoes are not a fall or winter vegetable. And let’s face the facts, neither are eggplants or zucchini. Although cooking collard greens and Brussels sprouts as a side for that favorite fall dish sounds less than appetizing, it doesn’t have to be.

According to Ed Roehr, co-owner of Magpie Caterers Market and Cafe, comfort food such as stew and soup are the perfect dishes to introduce winter vegetables. Roehr, who once considered himself a reluctant chef, is all but reluctant when it comes to using fall and winter produce to create a seasonal menu for Magpie Caterers. He learned to appreciate seasonality while working at a restaurant in Venice, Italy, where local produce was part of a centuries-long tradition.

“It’s not about fine dining. It’s about people being proud of their own area and stuff that they’ve bred and raised themselves,” Roehr explained. It’s a culture of embracing local produce, even after the tomatoes and green beans have gone for the season.

Why this stigma with winter vegetables?

I think the [summer] vegetables were really processed well, or canned well. So in the last, maybe, 20 or 30 years, I think maybe people have gotten more comfortable with the summer crops: tomatoes and corn and green beans. Those are things, over the last 20 or 30 or 50 years, we’ve gotten really comfortable growing, canning and freezing. Living this far away from the equator, the freshest vegetables are going to end up being the ones that grow in fall or winter.

What produce is available during the fall and winter?

Well, there are Brussels sprouts and there’s winter squash and there are beets and turnips and all kinds of greens: collard greens and kale, all kinds of kale. Some of the winter fruits are very interesting. Persimmons are very good. Those vegetables, the root vegetables and leafy greens, I think people really need to just not be afraid to try them.

Are there tricks people can use when preparing winter vegetables?

You don’t have to boil things. People tend to boil Brussels sprouts, and they can maybe start to get a real distinctive flavor or odor [that’s] sulfury. And if you just sauté Brussels sprouts or roast them in the oven with just maybe a little liquid, you taste the full flavor and they don’t get that sulfury-ness.

[It’s] the same with collard greens and kale. We’re so used to seeing Southern greens that are always so stewed. A lot of those vegetables you can sauté or braise. You can just cook them on the stovetop and sometimes take the stem off everything and cook the stem longer, and then cook the rest of the greens, and you can get a lot more flavor and probably a lot more nutrition, too.

What produce do people overuse in the fall/winter?

Maybe fresh tomatoes, actually, are overused in the winter. We don’t have tomatoes in the winter. Tomatoes are important, and you kind of need a tomato sometimes no matter what.

If we want to talk about a culture of canning things, that’s the time when canning and jarring and pickling things is appropriate. … It’s better to have nice stewed tomatoes in the winter from cans than to have fresh tomatoes that were picked unripe and taste like cardboard no matter what. Everything has an exception, and maybe it’s better to have tomatoes that you canned two months ago. So, yeah, I think the most overused things in the winter are summer vegetables.

There are a lot of pumpkin farms in the fall. Is there a way to incorporate pumpkins into something other than pumpkin pie?

Oh yeah, definitely. Pumpkins are a kind of winter squash, and you can roast pumpkins, cut them in wedges and roast them. You can fry them in tempura batter. You can eat them like sweet potatoes. You can make purees out of them and make soups out of them. You can even make sauces with them or make pasta with them. There’s so much you can do with winter squash.

Can people incorporate winter produce into traditional comfort food?

Absolutely, because all those comfort foods are really—you know, stews—that’s the perfect place for turnips, and that’s what ought to be in stew, really. That’s the easiest place to get people to eat more seasonally, because they’re already going to like it. If you put winter squash into macaroni and cheese, people are going to enjoy trying a spin on something people have already been comfortable with. Yeah, I definitely think comfort and casual food is a great place to allow people the time to try out new things.

What dishes will Magpie offer this season?

Some of it is just about the culture of the season. We’re going to be offering a couple of soups. We’ll have a braised meat and/or stew every day. And we’ll have a vegetable stew every day. …

We’re going to use a lot of winter squash. We always do. Japanese pumpkins, different kinds of winter squash. We’re going to use a lot of greens cooked in nice ways. We use a lot of persimmons when we can. When we first started this, it was 2005 and we were a little bit timid about offering a strictly winter menu during the winter. But it turns out I think all of us in the kitchen are very comfortable now with the winter offerings. I think we all agree that fall and winter are probably Magpie’s really strong season, because there are many things that are kind of underenjoyed that we can make.