Excerpts from VEGETABLES
by James Peterson
including sample recipes
- Baby artichokes are an excellent accompaniment to meat or fish, while larger ones are best served with a simple sauce as an appetizer. Whatever size you buy, look for leaves that cling tightly to a body that has no brown or soft spots and take care not to overcook them.
- Pricey purple asparagus is pretty, but turns green when cooked. The white asparagus found in the U.S. is exorbitantly expensive and usually not worth bothering with. Buy asparagus spears all the same diameter so they'll cook evenly.
- Often discarded broccoli stems are readily usable but take longer to cook than the florets. Peel the stems with a paring knife, slice or chop them, and cook the stems a few minutes more than the florets. One of the best ways to liven up a plate of broccoli is to toss it cooked in a hot flavored butter, such as garlic and parsley butter.
- Because beets can take so long to cook, it makes good sense to cook them in the microwave. To microwave 4 medium beets, arrange the beets (unpeeled) in a microwavable dish, cover, and cook for 8 minutes. Let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Turn, re-cover, and cook for 3 minutes. Let rest for another 10 minutes, then poke with a knife to test for doneness. Cool slightly before peeling.
- Although cabbage is often thought of as a food of the poor, it has sneaked in through the back door of some of the world's finest restaurants because it makes such a good foil to such rich meats as squab and foie gras. Cabbage stores well—up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator in a paper or plastic bag with holes poked into it.
- Collard green cooks are divided into two camps. Traditionalists insist on cooking for hours, usually with pork and something smoked, while members of the more modern school prefer to cook for only 15 to 20 minutes. The modern approach works best with the youngest, most tender greens. Older greens are better when long simmered with bacon or ham hocks.
- Fennel is underrated even by the French, who cook it long enough to eliminate all its texture and most of its flavor. The Italians are more reverent and serve it raw in simple salads. Look for smallish bulbs. Unless it is very small and delicate looking, you'll need to peel off the outer stringy membrane and the bottom of the root end with a vegetable peeler.
- The name Jerusalem artichoke has such a convoluted and mysterious origin that several pages could be spent expounding various theories. Suffice it to say that Jerusalem artichokes—sometimes called "sun chokes"—have no relation to artichokes and aren't particularly popular in Jerusalem.
- Although it's now hard to imagine life without garlic, it was supposedly impossible to find in England before World War II, and even years later required a search through London's more bohemian neighborhoods. A lot of recipes make garlic bread unnecessarily complicated. The easiest method is simply to toast the bread, rub each slice with a peeled garlic clove, and then just spread with butter or brush with olive oil.
- There's always a great deal of debate about whether to wash mushrooms. I wash almost all except very clean looking morels, which absorb a lot of water. Don't leave mushrooms soaking in a sink filled with water, but quickly rinse them in a colander while gently tossing with your fingers. Wipe very large mushrooms, such as porcini or portobellos, with a damp towel instead of washing.
- The world is divided about okra. There are those who lick their lips as soon as they hear the word and those, more numerous I fear, who have such an aversion to things slippery and slimy that they would rather not even think of okra. One of the simplest and most satisfying ways to cook okra is to slice it and stir in hot fat until it softens slightly, although no one agrees exactly what "softens slightly" actually means. Fifty years ago, cookbooks recommended cooking okra for 2 hours. My own experience is that 20 minutes is about right.
- Parsley root is a food only fully appreciated by Eastern Europeans and cookbook author Richard Olney. It tastes a lot like celeriac, but a little more aggressive, with a more herbal and refreshing aroma. According to Olney, parsley root lends "a very particular and delicate flavor to stews or court bouillon." It can also be cooked up in soups or puréed with mashed potatoes.
- Parsnips, the mention of which conjures up images of school cafeterias and Dickensesque orphanages, are a pleasant surprise when properly cooked—sweet like carrots, but with the satisfying starchiness of potatoes. You can glaze parsnips as you would carrots or toss them with a little oil or melted butter and roast.
- Most of us are confused by the difference between a sweet potato and a yam. When we see "yams" at the market, we're most likely looking at sweet potatoes. Authentic yams originated in Africa and are a completely different vegetable—which actually has very little taste and works best as a foil for other foods. Sweet potatoes can be baked or used to provide an interesting variation in potato salads.
by James Peterson
William Morrow & Company, Inc.
1998, Hardcover, US $35.00
Reprinted by permission.
This page created September 1998