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!

 

Perfect Roast Chicken with Salsa Verde

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A perfectly roasted chicken makes a delicious meal and if you're lucky, leftovers plus bones for broth. There's no reason we home cooks shouldn't achieve perfection which is why I've adapted my roasted chicken from one of the best restaurants in America, Thomas Keller's ad hoc.

The chicken

  • One 4- to 4 1/2- pound chicken, more or less (Serves 4-6)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs, lemon or orange halves, garlic cloves, etc.
  • 4 large carrots, left whole
  • 4 celery stalks, left whole
  • 1 small yellow onion, trimmed, leaving root end intact, and cut into quarters
  • Kitchen twine
  • 1 Tbls. olive oil
  • 1 to 2 cups white wine, chicken or vegetable broth or water

Salsa Verde (below and optional)

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until it comes to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 475° F. 

Using a paring knife, cut out the wishbone from the chicken. This can be found by running your finger along the neck cavity. This step is not necessary but will make it easier to carve the chicken. Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper. Fill the cavity with the herbs, citrus halves, garlic cloves, etc., and massage the inside of the bird to infuse it with the flavors and plump the bird. Tie the legs together at the ankles with the twine.

Place the whole vegetables in the center of a roasting pan to act as a shelf that will lift the chicken up off the pan. This will help it to evenly brown and crisp. Place the chicken on the “vegetable shelf” and rub the skin with the olive oil. Season it generously with salt. Add 1 cup of water, wine or broth to the roasting pan. Put the chicken in the oven and roast for 25 minutes or until the skin is beautifully browned.

Reduce the heat to 450°F and roast until done.

Chicken is done at 165˚ - 170˚ Roast the chicken for a total of 45 minutes plus 7 minutes per pound [e.g. a 4-pound chicken = 45 + 7 minutes X 4 lbs. = 73 minutes]

The temperature should register 165°F in the meatiest portions of the bird which are the thighs and under the breast where the thighs and breast meet. Check to make sure the juices run clear and are not pink. If necessary, return the bird to the oven and check every 5 minutes or so. Remove the chicken onto a platter or cutting board and tent loosely with foil. Let the chicken rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, squeeze the vegetables in the pan to remove the juices, then toss. Warm the remaining juices over medium heat. Add the second cup of white wine, chicken or vegetable broth. Bring the mixture to a simmer and scrape all the bits from the pan. Serve with the chicken alone with the juices and lemon wedges or try the salsa verde below.

Adapted from ad hoc at home, Thomas Keller

Salsa Verde The herbs in this sauce add a lovely fresh taste to the bird along with umami from the anchovies.

  • 1/4 cup capers, rinsed
  • 4 anchovy fillets in oil, drained (optional)
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped arugula
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped tarragon
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped chives
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped sage

Note: use the herbs you have and leave out what you don’t. 

Using a mortar and pestle or food processor, blend or mash the capers with the anchovies and garlic until a paste forms. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the remaining 1 cup of olive oil. Stir in the herbs and season with salt to taste. The salsa verde can be refrigerated overnight and is best served at room temperature.

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!