Vegetables

Keep it Bright: Blanching Vegetables

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The weather's gorgeous and no one wants to be indoors cooking for hours. Hence, blanching is the perfect vegetable technique for Spring. Many vegetables can be blanched in a pot full of boiling water until crisp and slightly under-done. Drain the vegetables and immediately plunge into a bath of ice water to stop the cooking and retain the bright color. You can cook several night’s worth of vegetables this way and store them in the fridge in containers lined with paper towel to capture the moisture. 

To use, sauté vegetables in good oil or butter just until warmed through or toss them into a salad. Mix vegetables that are grown in the same season; they naturally taste delicious together. 

Here’s a list of vegetables to use for blanching and fun combinations for sautéing. The italicised vegetables should not be blanched.

Asparagus, snow peas or sugar snap peas with:

  • Green onion, shaved fennel and slivered ham or prosciutto
  • Salted cashews
  • Sugar snap peas and frozen petite peas, lemon zest
  • Sesame seeds sautéd in sesame oil

Carrots with:

  • Green onion, lime juice, and chopped cashews
  • Ghee or coconut oil with cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper
  • Cauliflower, mint & preserved lemon

Broccolini with:

  • Garlic, olive oil and chili flakes
  • Capers, toasted hazelnuts or pine nuts 

Green beans with:

  • Bacon and toasted walnuts or pecans
  • Diced tomatoes, garlic and nicoise or black olives

Carrots with:

  • Caraway seeds
  • Chick peas, Moroccan spices

Broccoli, cauliflower with:

  • Garlic, crumbled (leftover) Italian sausage
  • Raisins soaked in hot water then sautéed, blue cheese crumbles, pine-nuts
  • Cauliflower with curry and raisins
  • Sautéd mushrooms, shallots, basil, Pecorino 
  • Brown butter, pumpkin seeds, cumin

Blanched Spring Vegetables with Arugula, Olive Oil, Lemon & Cheese

Here's a quick, delicious, and very detoxifying salad that I love to make-

In a bowl, add a large handful of arugula per person along with a handful of blanched vegetables per person.  Note that in the photo, I've used asparagus, snap peas and fava beans. Toss with just enough good quality olive oil to coat the leaves with no oil puddling at the bottom of the bowl. Squeeze fresh lemon juice to taste and toss with a spoonful of capers. Cover with a blanket of freshly grated Parmesan. Enjoy!

 

Aroma Therapy, Coaxing the love out of vegetables & Minestrone

    

 

 

Aroma Therapy

You know that feeling when something in the kitchen smells so good and you just breath it in and you begin to drool? That’s what I call aroma therapy! 

Pulling the natural aroma and flavor out of vegetables takes a bit of coaxing and love. You want to create depth by layering flavors. And as usual, nature tells us how to do it. Have a look at my “vegetable tree”. Seeing vegetables in this way gives a visual of what order vegetables prefer to be added to a dish to bring out their best. 

At the base of the tree are “root vegetables” or vegetables that grow underground and include carrots, onions, parsley, leeks, garlic, celery root (celeriac) and more. They are sweet in nature, caramelize well and are known as “aromatic vegetables” or “aromatics”. Most, if not all, traditional cuisines have a combination of aromatic vegetables that begin every soup, stew or sauce. The French use a “mirepoix”, a mixture of onion, carrot and celery. In Germany a “suppengrün” of celeriac, carrot and leek is used.   Cajun cuisine has the “Holy Trinity” a mixture of onion, celery and green bell pepper. Asian cuisines add turmeric root, ginger and lemongrass. Italian soffritto is often made with bits of leftover prosciutto or pancetta.

Here’s how I do the coaxing~

Following your recipe, start with the aromatics and sauté them gently to allow moisture to evaporate and condense the flavor. Add bay leaves, *hearty herbs and peppercorns here. You can put a lid on the pan for the first 4 or 5 minutes to sweat the vegetables. Remove the lid and continue to cook, stirring until the vegetables are tender.

Next add low-to-the-ground vegetables like celery, hearty cabbage, cauliflower and so on. At this point, I don’t add a lid as it can discolor some vegetables. Cook until the color is vibrant but the vegetables are still crisp tender. Season as you go to layer and bring out flavors using salt and spices. Add broth, sauces, or splash of white wine.

Now, add leafy vegetables: kale, chard, Napa cabbage and bitter greens like radicchio. Once the vegetables are cooked perfectly and the flavoring is perfect too, turn off the heat and add minced *tender herbs for a splash of brightness in the dish.

Voila, you’ve got a lovely meal that is full of depth, flavor and color. Bon Appétit!

  • *Hearty herbs are herbs that need to be cooked: sage, thyme, marjoram, oregano
  • *Tender herbs are herbs that are tasty raw: cilantro, parsley, dill, mint, chives

Minestrone Soup

Using the methods above, apply the techniques to Italian Minestrone, a simple a soup with equal proportions of vegetables and broth. In Italy, Minestrone changes from region to region and season to season. This recipe is a guide. Use what you have and what you like.

Spring & Summer:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 oz. pancetta scraps, minced
  • 4 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed or chopped
  • 3 medium leeks (white and light green part), sliced thinly
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and sliced or diced
  • 1 cup celery root or celery, diced or sliced
  • 4 medium new potatoes, large dice
  • 1/2 pound green beans in 1-inch pieces
  • 1 piece of parmesan cheese rind
  • 1 - 15 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes and juice, crushed by hand
  • Chicken broth or water
  • 3 cups savoy cabbage or swiss chard, chiffonade (cut like thin ribbons) 
  • 2 small zucchini, large dice
  • 2 cups pre-cooked white beans
  • 1/2 cup dry pasta (use odds and ends of pasta from your pantry)
  • Good olive oil
  • Minced parsley
  • Crostini & grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté pancetta and garlic until fragrant. Stir in the carrots and celery root and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the leeks and sweat the aromatic vegetables with the lid on until they are translucent. Season lightly.   

Add potatoes, green beans, parmesan rind and tomatoes with their juice. Add chicken stock or water just to cover the vegetables. Simmer 30 minutes or until veggies are tender. Skim any impurities that rise to the surface.

Add the cabbage, zucchini, beans and pasta if using. Simmer for 15 minutes or to taste. Turn off the heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Top with bread, cheese and minced parsley.

In Winter replace summer vegetables with:

  • 1 lb. winter squash like butternut
  • 2-3 parsnips
  • Use kale instead of swiss chard or cabbage

For a thicker soup, remove two cups of soup with veggies and purée in a blender. Add the mixture back into soup.

Bon Appétit!

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, Pumpkin Seed Crumble

I love my Brussels sprouts with this crumble. It's a tiny bit sweet and the sugar can be left out if you prefer but I love it with the saltiness of the bacon. - Serves 6

Make the crumble: 

Makes 3/4 cup

  • 6 Tbls. pepitas or squash seeds 
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 2 Tbls. organic brown or coconut sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • About 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt

Preheat oven to 350˚ Scatter seeds on a dry cookie sheet and bake in the oven for about 8 minutes, or until lightly browned. Keep an eye on them! Set aside. 

Put the almond flour, sugar and lemon zest in a food processor or clean coffee/spice grinder and pulse to combine. Add the seeds and pulse a few times to break them up. With the machine running, slowly pour in enough olive oil so the mixture comes together into a moist crumble. Season to taste with sea salt. 

  • Pepita Crumble is delicious sprinkled over sautéd or roasted vegetables
  • Makes a great coating/breading for chicken or fish
  • Can be made days ahead 

Brussels Sprouts:

  • 1 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 2 to 3 slices thick cut maplewood bacon cut into 1/4” thick pieces (optional)
  • 2 Tbls. olive oil
  • Pepita (pumpkin seed) Crumble, below
  • salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Clean the sprouts by trimming the bottom and removing any bruised outer leaves. Blanch the sprouts by dropping them into the water until they are crisp-tender and not quite done, 2 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes. Remove the sprouts from the water with a slotted spoon and drop them into the ice bath to stop the cooking and preserve the color. As soon as they are cool, drain them and dry on paper towel. Halve them lengthwise if they are large or if desired.

  • This can be done one day ahead. Place in a gallon bag or container with paper towel to absorb the moisture. Pat them dry very well.

Before serving, in a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and render the fat while allowing it to cook through and become crispy, 5 to 10 minutes. Set the bacon aside on paper towel to drain and remove all but 2 tablespoons of the remaining fat in the pan. Heat to medium. (Use olive oil if not using bacon or the bacon fat.)

Add the sprouts to the pan and sauté the sprouts for 5 to 8 minutes or until the brown slightly and become tender. Do not cover with a lid. Check by piercing with a sharp knife. Don’t cook to long, you want to maintain the bright green color.

Add the bacon, toss and season with salt and pepper. Place in a serving dish and top with the crumble.

Roasting Vegetables

Roasting vegetables is a great way to prep ahead for busy days. Vegetables can be roasted and stored in the fridge. Then:

  • Rewarm in a 325˚ oven
  • Toss into pasta
  • Toss into salads
  • Stir into risotto
  • Stir into stuffing
  • Stir into soup

Here's how:

Preheat oven to 375˚ - 450˚

Wash and drain veggies well & pat dry. Cut into similar size. Toss lightly in olive oil, coconut oil or melted ghee depending on the flavor profile of your vegetables. Sprinkle lightly with salt and place on parchment-lined sheet pan. Do not crowd. Roast until tender. Check by poking with a sharp knife. Test for seasoning adding s&p and a drizzle of flavored oil such as truffle oil, nut oils, olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh herbs.

Great veggies for roasting:

  • Winter veggie 
  • Asparagus
  • Green beans
  • Summer squash
  • Winter squash
  • Root veggies, carrots, turnips, parsnips...
  • Tomatoes, halved
  • Onions, halved, cut side down
  • Shallots, peeled
  • Sweet potatoes, leaving skin on make “steak fries”
  • Japanese eggplant halved lengthwise
  • Cauliflower and broccoli, cut into florets
  • Not good: leafy vegetables

Flavors: Sprinkle before roasting with~

  • “Hearty” herbs such as thyme, oregano or rosemary
  • Smoked or sweet paprika 
  • Mexican spices: oregano & cumin
  • Indian spices: curry powder, turmeric, pepper
  • Chinese five spice with sweet veggies
  • Moroccan: Cumin, coriander, cinnamon
  • Drizzled honey (go lightly)

Flavors: Sprinkle after roasting~

  • Minced “fresh tender” herbs such as cilantro, parsley, tarragon, chives
  • Add pitted Kalamata or dry cured olives into the oven the last 5 minutes of roasting
  • Pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts added to oven last 4 to 5 minutes to toast
  • Capers
  • Toasted breadcrumbs
  • Citrus zest

My favorite topping for Thanksgiving Vegetables: Pecan Gremolata~

  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh minced parsley
  • 1 Tbls. lemon zest
  • 1 smallclove garlic, minced

Place pecans on a sheet pan and toast lightly while veggies are cooking, 4-6 minutes. Chop pecans until coarsely ground. Transfer to a bowl and add remaining ingredients. Season to taste and drizzle over veggies.