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3 Tips for Choosing Quality Produce in the Winter
By Mary Ann Esposito,
Author of Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites: Quick and Delicious Recipes from an Italian Kitchen

Ah winter! Fun in the snow making snow angels with the kids, ice skating and snowshoeing. If only all that joy and satisfaction could be found at your local grocery store come January. And unless you live in warmer climes, most of us along with warding off colds, the flu, and grouchiness at the thought of a looming long winter, are at a loss as to what to buy and eat when the choices are almost as bleak as the weather. 

Sure, lots of us will crave warmth reaching for cans of soup, full of sodium and other stuff too difficult to try and pronounce. We'll scavenge the produce aisles in hopes of finding some lively looking salad greens from California and fruit from Florida, instead of some foreign country. We'll console ourselves with grapefruit, navel oranges, apples and pears while dreaming of fresh local strawberries not due until June.

January, February and March can be tricky if you are picky about where your food comes from. Chilean plums, Mexican grapes, blueberries from Uruguay, anyone? Even in the winter months, it's important to choose foods that are as local as possible.

Here are three suggestions for choosing foods that can sustain you from January until the first bunch of locally grown asparagus makes its lovely anticipated appearance in spring. 

1)
Dried beans such as garbanzo, kidney, split pea and pinto beans are readily found on grocer's shelves. They can be turned into delicious, high fiber, high protein dishes that will power you through the cold. For instance, how about a hearty sausage, lentil and ditalini soup from my latest cookbook: Ciao Italia, Five Ingredient Favorites from an Italian Kitchen? Easy to make and you won't believe how good just a five ingredient soup can be.

2) Winter squashes of every color and description are in my opinion, the workhorse vegetables of winter along with onions, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms. Creamy and velvety squash soup is a favorite as is a rich risotto made with diced squash, and spaghetti squash does a great stand-in for spaghetti and meatballs. If you have some eggs, an onion and mushrooms, a tart is a nice change of pace as is a steaming bowl of onion soup with a blanket of melted cheese over the top.

3) Don't overlook leafy Swiss chard, kale, carrots and beets. Swiss chard and kale can be steamed for use as a side dish, incorporated into crustless quiche or stuffed and baked. Combine cooked beets and carrots for a nice winter salad; add some feta cheese, and a handful of walnuts or pine nuts and you have a perky salad that can banish winter blues with one taste.

Yes, January can be a challenge on many levels but sacrificing good food does not have to be one of them if you think, choose wisely, and cook in season.

©2009 Mary Ann Esposito, author of Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites: Quick and Delicious Recipes from an Italian Kitchen

Author Bio
Mary Ann Esposito, author of Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites: Quick and Delicious Recipes from an Italian Kitchen, is the creator and host of the long-running PBS series Ciao Italia, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2010. She is the author of eleven successful cookbooks, including Ciao Italia Slow and Easy and Ciao Italia Pronto! She lives in Durham, New Hampshire.

For more information, please visit www.CiaoItalia.com.