Regular readers to this blog may know that I’ve been trying to eat less meat and reminding myself that once-hated vegetables taste great when they’re properly cooked. But when you’re spending a lot of time in the kitchen, it’s far too easy to fall into the same ruts of blanching broccoli, grilling asparagus, and steaming green beans. That’s why I was excited to come across Thomas Keller’s series of instructional videos about new ways to cook vegetables on MasterClass. Keller demonstrates a few less familiar techniques for working with carrots, parsnips, eggplants, zucchini, beets, and more, using methods that help bring out the best flavor and texture from each ingredient.
Keller explains that it’s worthwhile to select vegetables when they’re at their seasonal peak, especially while they’re young (i.e., newly picked), and to use the cooking method that’s most appropriate for each one. For preparations like roasting zucchini or baking beets, the cooking process aims to remove moisture from the vegetable, which helps concentrate their flavor. Keller also discusses how different methods of preservation can make good-quality vegetables available to you even when they’re not in season.
Here are few of the new ways to cook vegetables that I’m looking forward to inserting into my rotation:
- Glazing carrots: This method highlights the vegetable’s natural sweetness. Cook your carrots over high heat, with just enough water to cover them, and a teaspoon each of butter and sugar. The water will evaporate as the butter emulsifies and the glaze reduces. Don’t overcook the carrots or you’ll start to caramelize the sugars instead of leaving the vegetable shiny.
- Pureeing parsnips: For this root vegetable, as well as others like rutabaga or celery root, Keller suggests simmering it in a pot with cream and water. Once it’s fully cooked, transfer the vegetable and its cooking liquid to a blender. Add butter and process until it’s completely smooth.
- Roasting zucchini: First, slice the vegetable in half, score it with a crosshatch pattern, season it with salt, and let it sit for half an hour to draw out the moisture. Then, sear the flesh in a hot pan with neutral oil for about five minutes. After the zucchini is well-caramelized, roast it in a hot oven for another 25 minutes, which makes the interior come out soft and creamy.
- Baking beets: This technique is preferable to boiling beets, but it may take a while, depending on the size of your vegetables. After you clean them, season, and sprinkle with oil, wrap them in foil and bake until you can insert a knife and feel very little resistance. Then, peel the beets while they’re still warm (using gloves to protect your hands from stains and parchment paper to cover your cutting board). Season with salt and dress with your favorite vinegar.
- Preserving eggplants: Similar to a preparation you might use for duck, you can confit this vegetable by slow-cooking it in oil at a low temperature. First, as with zucchini, it’s best to score the eggplant and season it before cooking to draw out as much moisture as possible. Place it in a baking pan, cover with warm, neutral oil, and cook at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes. You can add flavor to the dish by using the same technique to preserve garlic. The vegetables will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week if they’re stored submerged in oil.
- Pickling radishes: You can endlessly vary this preservation technique by using different vegetables and flavor profiles for your pickling liquid. In one preparation, just combine water, sugar, white wine vinegar, garlic, thyme, and mustard seeds in a pot and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Then pour the hot liquid over your vegetables (radishes, peppers, onions, and cauliflower all work well) and chill in the refrigerator until you’re ready to eat.
With each of these techniques, make sure you have the right amount of seasoning to bring out the best flavor of each ingredient. And to make your vegetables taste even better, it’s often worthwhile to complement them with additional fresh herbs. Or, for many preparations, you can’t go wrong with some extra melted butter.
What are your favorite new ways to cook vegetables? Leave a comment and let me know!
What I Ate: Roasted zucchini garnished with parsley