The Food Fanatic’s Shopping Guide
Fresh from local farms to your table. (In some cases, with a pit stop.)
The Curated Cauliflower (Not to Mention the Boutique Brussels Sprout)
You can think of buying vegetables like shopping for clothing. When you need a workaday pair of khakis, new undershirts, a fresh batch of dress socks, Macy’s has you covered. For special occasions, however, the boutique experience is the way to go. Likewise, Star Market or, better, RUSSO’S is reliable when you’re suddenly out of yellow onions, or need five specific items for your stew. But only PLUM PRODUCE—the Stel’s of veggie markets—buys produce the way chefs do, using the same purveyors as No. 9 Park, L’Espalier, and any other upscale Hub restaurant where the menu catalogs the entire family tree of the WINTER SQUASH purée accompanying your slow-roasted kurobuta pork chop. The slightly higher prices yield not-so-slight rewards: carrots as sweet as fruit; camera-ready CAULIFLOWER IN NEON GREEN and SPECKLED EGGPLANT; mesclun mixes of lettuces whose individual flavors haven’t become muted by refrigerated-truck travel. You may see only a dozen BRUSSELS SPROUTS in the entire shop, but all 12, guaranteed, will be worthy of a spot atop a pedestal.
Cranberry sauce consists of basically two ingredients: cranberries and sugar. And mostly it’s the latter, meaning the brand of FRESH CRANBERRIES you use is much less important than the brand of sweetener. Nonetheless, if a bag of nonlocal, nonorganic Ocean Spray berries makes you cringe—we do, after all, live in America’s cranberry capital—you can spring for one from PARADISE MEADOW ($2.50/12 oz.), picked and packaged on a bog in East Bridgewater. Available at Stop & Shop.
The Outsourced Side Dish
Everyone’s invaded your house this year, and they all expect you to provide the entire feast save for their obligatory single bottle of Beaujolais. You’re already doing the turkey and hosting; why fuss over the sides? Especially when outsourcing is so darned tasty: At SAVENOR’S, the HERBED BREAD STUFFING comes studded with house-made sausage, SMASHED FINGERLINGS are loaded with butter and cream, and the TURKEY GRAVY, built on a light roux, is rich and hearty. Across town, THE BUTCHER SHOP and LIONETTE’S tempt last-minute meal providers with silky puréed spuds and winter squash, respectively—the latter punctuated with zingy Buzzards Bay cranberries. RUSSO’S pulls heavily from its open-air produce display to create a bright orange mash of carrots and turnips, glazy beets balsamic, and rosemary-roasted Red Bliss potatoes. And in Lexington, WILSON FARMS chef Todd Heberlein and his staff turn acres of Lexington’s just-picked produce into CRANBERRY-APPLE STUFFING, tart CRANBERRY SAUCE scented with orange and candied ginger, and a spoon-coating soup of ROASTED AUTUMN VEGETABLES.
The Hot Potato
Among the sweet spuds, the ubiquitous RED GARNET is a solid pick for soups, pies, and casseroles. But for mashing and glazing, we’re pro-Okinawan, an exotic tater hailing from Hawaii (it’s native to Japan) that’s also called a PURPLE SWEET POTATO. Sugary like candy, a little nutty in flavor, and drier and firmer than comparatively mushy reds, it has florid purple flesh that turns even more vivid when cooked. Try them mashed, with plenty of butter, a little salt and brown sugar, and some fresh orange juice and zest.
On the savory side, traditional russets do a fine job as a butter-delivery system, but YUKON GOLDS are the master masher’s pick, thanks to their golden hue and nutty-sweet taste (even better with a little buttermilk in the mix). Available at Russo’s, Shaw’s, and other fine produce purveyors.
The Crunchy Casserole Topping
Ratcheting up the food geekery beyond even their usual, Cook’s Illustrated staffers once spent months trying to develop a from-scratch version of CANNED FRIED ONIONS —which are to holiday side dishes what tinselly stars are to Douglas firs. Gallons of canola oil later, they finally gave it up as a fool’s errand. Fortunately, there is an alternative to slumming it with French’s: Try GOLDEN FARMS ($2.59/3 oz.), an organic brand available locally.