Parsnips: Why is it that people go crazy for carrots but ignore parsnips? They're among the sweetest of the root vegetables, particularly after they've gone through the first frost. With the first deep chill, enzymes in the root begin converting stored starches into the sugar the plant will need come spring -- it's the vegetable equivalent of transferring money from savings into checking. Like other root vegetables, parsnips are covered with a corky skin that serves to protect them from any soil-borne foes, and they have a hard core that is actually the plumbing that transfers water from the soil up to the plants' leaves. Useful as those might be in the ground, they do nothing but get in the way on the plate, so careful cooks will remove them before cooking.
Jerry Rutiz and Weiser Family Farms, $3 per pound.
Russian kale: Of all of winter's hardy greens, none are more popular than the many members of the kale family, and dark green, red-stemmed Russian kale may well be the sweetest of all. The tips of the leaves are tender enough to be eaten raw, but they are infinitely improved by cooking. Not only does it tenderize the tough parts of the leaf, but it also brings to the surface a surprising sweetness you might not have expected was there. Be careful: Russian kale has incredibly tough, woody stems, so be sure to remove as much of them as possible before cooking.
Coleman Family Farm, $1.50 per bunchCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times