Vegetables.

Answers to your questions about what to do with all those damn CSA vegetables, and more.

From Matthew, 30 November 2009, Making broccoli tasty?

Q: I recall a butter and lemon sauce for flavouring brocolli and other dull vegetables, but have forgotten how to make it. Can you advise?

A: I have to say … I like broccoli! It’s tasty, but you can’t overcook it.

I’m not sure about the lemon butter sauce you learned, but the easiest way to make that sauce is to heat the butter in a small saucepan until it begins to foam. Then add lemon juice, and a pinch of salt while shaking the pan and turn off the heat. The proportions depend on your taste – I would use about 3:1 butter to juice, so say 3 tbsp butter to 1 tbsp juice, but I like it lemony. If you want to increase the pure lemon flavor without making it more sour, zest the lemon before slicing and juicing it. Add a little lemon zest to the butter and juice mixture.

Another, slightly more complicated, method is to melt the butter and whisk it while warm in a slow thin stream into the lemon juice in a bowl, forming an emulsion much like a vinaigrette. This produces a thicker sauce.

You also might consider making anchovy butter and keeping it hand for broccoli or cauliflower, as well as grilled meat or fish:

2 oil-packed anchovy filets, mashed to a paste
1 garlic clove, minced and then mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt
4 oz (1 stick/125g) of butter, softened slightly
small handful flat-leaf parsley, minced [optional]

Combine these ingredients well and form into a log on waxed paper. Roll up in the wax paper into a tight log. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Finally, one last condiment for broccoli. My husband’s Virginia relatives enjoyed a sauce of mayonnaise and red wine vinegar on steamed broccoli. It looks terrible, but it tastes delicious – about 1 tsp red wine vinegar per 1/4 c broccoli. For a more refined condiment, you could use homemade mayonnaise or aioli, and use lemon juice as your acid.

From Starvin., 29 November 2009, Salads: Making them tasty?

Q: I need a salad. All this thanksgiving fattening has me in an eater’s remorse. So I’ve been thinking of foraging and eating a salad (or 2) but can never figure how to make mixed greens alone appetizing. Any thoughts?

A: I know a lot of people are feeling that way after the holidays!

You’re right – mixed greens alone aren’t that appetizing. You need to bulk them up without bulking yourself up in the process. I hated salads growing up, because they always came to me drowned in gloppy creamy dressing, and loaded with vegetables that didn’t make sense in salad. When I started making salads myself, I really started enjoying the opportunities to eat tons of fresh vegetables and fruit. They’re also a good way to use up small quantities of leftover protein.

When I need a hearty salad, I add more fruits and vegetables and a little protein. To avoid the trap of high calorie salads, avoid these three pitfalls:

* Don’t add more than 3 oz of protein to your salad (2 if it is not lean protein). That’s a deck of cards of lean meat.

So, what’s a protein? That sounds obvious, but it’s not. Protein is meat, like steak, roasted or grilled chicken, or roasted duck or duck confit, but it also includes eggs, tuna – fresh or canned – and vegetarian items like grilled tofu, beans, and lentils. To a lesser extent, it includes cooked dry pasta, like orzo.

* Don’t use a high calorie salad dressing. That’s anything creamy. Use a vinaigrette, because you won’t be tempted to overdress your salad.

* No more than 1/2 oz of cheese, and if you’re really counting calories, avoid it altogether. If you use it, that’s only about half a domino of full-fat Cheddar-type, so you have to make it count with something flavorful like a strong blue cheese or Parmesan.

How do you build a meal-type salad? Ideally, you want to get some bitter, sweet, salty, pungent, and tart in each bite.

1. Bitter/refreshing: Arugula, watercress, frisee, cucumber

2. Sweet: Apple, pear, Asian pear, carrot, onion, fennel, roasted peppers, olive oil, nut oil

3. Salty: Walnut (also bitter), hazelnut, almond, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Cheddar cheese

4. Pungent/savory: Blue cheese (also salty), mushrooms, onion (also sweet), meat, olives

5. Tart: lemon, vinegar, yoghurt. Make a vinaigrette the easy way by combining acid and oil in a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio in a jar in the refrigerator, and shaking well before each use. For example, 2 tbsp lemon juice or red wine/sherry vinegar and 8 tbsp (1/2 c) olive oil. For added flavor, add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. That’s not the real way to make a vinaigrette, but it enables you to keep it in a jar in the refrigerator, and is convenient.

You also want some crunch and some not-crunchy texture to add substance to the salad.

A. Crunch: Iceberg lettuce, carrots, apples, Asian pear, fennel, nuts, croutons, raw onion, asparagus, green beans, cucumber

B. Not crunchy: Romaine lettuce, butter lettuce, pears, mushrooms, roasted red pepper, cheese, proteins – meat, beans, eggs – pasta, olives

Here are some good salad combinations to try:

* Arugula, prosciutto, cooked orzo or Israeli couscous, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, red wine or sherry vinaigrette (as described above)

* Frisee, green beans, asparagus, canned white beans (cannellini), hard boiled egg, lemon vinaigrette

* Frisee, apple, cooked chicken, blue cheese, walnut, sherry vinaigrette

* Arugula, fennel, white mushroom, Parmigiano-Reggiano, lemon vinaigrette

* Romaine, cucumber, walnut, onion, feta cheese, yogurt and lemon dressing.

* Butter lettuce, olives, oil-packed tuna, green beans, potato, cherry tomato, lemon juice.

* Arugula, steak, red onion, Asian pear, sriracha sauce, sesame oil and rice wine vinaigrette (1 part rice wine vinegar to 1 part sesame oil to 3 parts neutral vegetable oil)

Don’t be afraid to experiment! You can combine greens, and put together fruits and vegetables in any way that makes sense to you. Salads are a great and healthful way to keep your eating under control during the holidays – or any time.

 

frisee, Granny Smith, fennel, lemon vinaigrette.

 

 

From S., 22 November 2009, What do you do with a head of cauliflower?

Q: I have a head of cauliflower in my fridge. Two questions: (1) is it called a “head” of cauliflower or something else, and (2) what am I supposed to do with this? It doesn’t taste like anything!

A: Au contraire, mon frere! Cauliflower is delicious!

This is the season for cauliflower – you can find really fresh, snow-white heads – and they are heads – in the markets right now. Remove the leaves and cut out the stalk. You can peel it if you’re going to make a gratin (see below), or not. Then slice the head and divide it into florets.

Say you don’t have a lot of time, because, like me, you have another, non-cooking job. This is where technology becomes your friend. I know the microwave takes a lot of flack, but for certain tasks, it is ideal. Microwave radiation heats water molecules in food, cooking it at the boiling temperature of water. Although microwave cooking is less gentle than poaching – making it unsuitable for cooking proteins – it is ideal for cooking vegetables that can be steamed or boiled. In addition, because water vapor escapes during microwave cooking (as opposed to steaming or boiling), it is a useful cooking method for collapsing cell volume in vegetables such as eggplant. Microwaving cauliflower allows you to cook it in five minutes rather than waiting for the pot to boil, cooking the cauliflower, and draining it well so the water in the crannies doesn’t water down a gratin.

I sliced the cauliflower thinly (1/4″) and microwaved for five minutes. Meanwhile, I made a bechamel. To develop the most flavor, I browned the butter first. I finished the gratin with a panko and cheese blend. Into the oven for 10 minutes and under the broiler for 2. Gratin.

Prep time is minimal. Slice the cauliflower straight from the head after washing.

1 head cauliflower, washed
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp Wondra (or all purpose flour)
2 c milk
salt and white pepper to taste
espelette pepper, or cayenne
2 sprigs thyme, leaves only, minced
2 tsp minced chive
1 small summer truffle, shaved [totally optional]
1 c finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided into 2/3 and 1/3 cups
2/3 c panko

400F oven

Slice the cauliflower (1/4″), arrange in a single layer on a plate, cover with a slightly moist paper towel, and microwave on high for 5 mins.

Meanwhile, prepare a brown butter bechamel sauce. Brown the butter and sprinkle in the wondra/flour. Whisk well and cook for a minute or two to cook off the floury taste. Add the milk slowly, adjusting to the thickness of a medium bechamel (just thick enough to coat a spoon). Season with salt, pepper, espelette, herbs, 2/3 c cheese. Fold in cauliflower and truffle in gratin pan.

Combine remaining cheese and panko and sprinkle mixture over cauliflower. Bake 10 minutes. Turn on broiler and broil 8″ from heat for another 2-3 minutes. Turn for even browning if necessary.

There you go. 15 minute gratin. If you like it, let me know – I have a couple of Indian-inspired recipes for you to try. One is a refined take on aloo gobi, the cauliflower-potato dish, and the other is a soup based on aloo gobi. Or check out the duo of cauliflower I prepared a couple of weeks ago! Or last week’s olive oil-fried cauliflower with labneh!

From D, 11 November 2009: Using your garden’s or CSA’s fall bounty

Q: Hi! Love your website, especially ways to eat well (and quickly!) I will be trying the chicken menu tonight. As I near the end of my garden season, I’d love to make some kind of harvest’s-end meal– I have curly kale, beets, arugula and one or two teeny broccoli heads to work with. Any suggestions? I also have acorn and butternut squash and sugar pie pumpkins from the last farmer’s market of the season. Thank you!

A: Thanks so much!

If you’re trying to use them all in one meal, consider making soup with the squash and pumpkins as a first course. You can find the recipe for butternut squash soup – which works well with any winter squash –here. If you don’t eat meat, use a vegetable stock instead of the chicken stock.

As a bonus, you can use the soup as a sauce for roast meat, or even as a pasta sauce. Reduce the sauce down and toss it with penne, with a generous grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino cheese. Or use it to sauce a simple pork roast.

The beets and arugula will make a nice salad. If you want to go raw, peel the beets (be careful about staining your clothes!) and then slice them really thinly, using a mandoline or a Japanese benriner. Arrange them on a plate and squeeze some lemon juice over the beet slices; sprinkle with a little salt and some pepper. Make a lemon juice-based vinaigrette for the arugula, toss, and top the beets with the salad.

Kale and broccoli are both brassicas. They have different textures, but share earthy and slightly bitter/sweet flavors, and complement each other nicely. Here’s a way to use them together. Tear the kale off the stalk. Stack the leaves, roll them tightly like a cigar, and then slice thinly (chiffonade). Cut the tops of the broccoli florets off the broccoli stalk and peel the stalk. Slice the stalk thinly, stack 2-3 thick, and then slice again into 1/4″ batons (smaller if you can manage it). Peel and thinly slice a couple of garlic cloves and mince a couple of anchovies. To a saute pan over medium high heat, add some olive oil. Add the garlic and anchovies, some crushed red pepper flakes, and saute until just fragrant. Don’t let the garlic brown or it will be bitter. Then add the batons of broccoli and kale, a tablespoon or so of water, and saute-steam until the vegetables are just tender. Season with a little salt, taste again (anchovies are salty).

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