Where are those pea shoots, that asparagus and tender lettuces? Did our spring vegetables not get the word that it’s T-shirt weather and time to toss salads and grill?
Until the farmers stock their market stalls, we make do, waiting for fields to flourish. This is not the time for a quick stir-fry or a half-minute blanch, as the travel-weary veggies in our markets are best when they’re braised.
It may sound counterintuitive to use this cooking method of low, slow heat that’s most associated with meat. But as the vegetables gently simmer in a rich, fragrant stock, they absorb the complex flavors and mingle with each other in the pot. All that’s needed is a splash of lemon or wine to brighten them up.
The process is delightfully easy. First, cut the vegetables into equal-sized pieces so that they cook in the same amount of time. Use a sauté pan, with straight sides that allows you to fit all the vegetables in at once. The sides help keep the liquid from splashing out of the pan and a tightfitting lid minimizes evaporation as the vegetables simmer.
Start by sautéing the garlic, onions and/or shallots first until they’re a caramel color and become sticky before adding the other ingredients. Those little nuggets of flavor will dissolve when the stock is added, and give the dish more body and enriched taste.
Once you’ve added the vegetables, simmer on low so that just a few bubbles break the surface; then cover the pan. The size and type of the vegetables will determine the cooking time, which can range from 10 to 20 minutes. The vegetables are done when a paring knife slips easily in and out, but their texture is still firm.
If you’d like a more robust sauce, remove the vegetables from the pan with a slotted spoon and set them aside; increase the heat and reduce the liquid by half. Go for glory and finish the sauce with a swirl of heavy cream before returning the vegetables to the pan.
Wait a few minutes before serving this dish, so the flavors marry and the ingredients can settle. It’s best served warm or at room temperature rather than piping hot. As with all braises, the leftovers are even better the next day.
Some call this a side dish, but with a hunk of rustic bread to sop up the sauce, I’ll consider it a happy, almost-spring meal.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.