Q: Are there vegetables that you would never braise?
A: I'm more of a never-say-never kind of cook, so I wouldn't say any vegetables are off the table. But there are certainly some that I'd rather cook by other means. For instance, I don't love the way summer squashes collapse to mush when braised. Super-juicy vegetables, like tomatoes and tomatillos, don't braise well, either; they just turn to sauce — not that that's a bad thing.
Q: Can you serve braised vegetables as more than a side dish?
A: It's a cinch to turn a hearty pan of braised vegetables into a meal. Spoon them over your favorite grain (farro, rice or quinoa, or toss with pasta) and top with a handful of grated Parmesan or toasted breadcrumbs. I also love to pile braised vegetables into a deep-dish pie plate, add a top crust and bake it into a comforting pot pie.
Q: Can you overcook braised vegetables?
A: Although it's not as easy to overcook when braising as it is when steaming or boiling, you can take it too far. The goal is tenderness but not mush. There is also an element of personal taste in doneness for braised vegetables; some people prefer their carrots with a little bit of bite to them, while others like them tender enough to cut with a spoon. Both are perfectly good options.
Q: Do you ever braise spring or summer vegetables?
A: Absolutely. I've happily braised everything from peas and asparagus to radishes and green beans. The thing to keep in mind when you're braising spring/summer vegetables is that your objective is not to tenderize. They are already plenty tender. Instead, you are braising to infuse flavor, so the braise will be relatively quick.
For spring and summer vegetable braises, I like to braise on top of the stove (by the time the oven heats, the dish will be done; plus who wants a hot oven on a hot day?), and I keep the other elements light. Water or vegetable broth is my favorite warm-weather braising liquid, and a shower of fresh herbs to finish keeps everything bright.