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Get ‘Em While They’re Hot! Vegetable Cooking Techniques

Get ‘Em While They’re Hot!   Vegetable Cooking Techniques
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Chef Class Week 7
By Rona Lewis
Photos by Cathy Arkle

Last week we worked with mostly raw ingredients in the fruits and vegetable category. This week, we took those ingredients a step further. Like tasting the same brand of wine from different years, the same vegetable can have a very different taste depending on how you cook it.

May made this abundantly obvious when she demonstrated this fact with carrots. She boiled, roasted and sautéed this basic vegetable and added only a bit of oil, salt and pepper to the roasted and sautéed versions. The taste difference was astounding! I really don’t like boiled carrots, even with butter or sauce over them. But the taste of the roasted and sautéed versions was really lovely. The sugar in the carrot seems to caramelize and gets a smoky flavor while the outside browns a bit and changes texture.

She talked about the various kinds of cooking techniques to use for various vegetables throughout the year, but I’m going to stick to the winter vegetables available to us now and the best way to cook and store them:

Winter Squash
Butternut, acorn, sugar pumpkin, and kabocha area all examples of this type of hard shelled vegetable. These come out best when baked or roasted with a touch of butter and cinnamon. They all have a bit of sweetness to them. Spaghetti squash is the exception, as this is best baked with the flesh scooped out into long “spaghetti-like” fibers. I make this with my homemade tomato sauce all the time. The rest are terrific pureed or eaten right out of the shell. Make sure you have a super sharp knife to cut these in half-it’s HARD to split these babies!!

Root Vegetables
Carrots, rutabagas, beets, parsnips are terrific this time of year. When you buy them with the greens attached, cut them off as soon as you get home, as the greens continue to suck the moisture out of their root. Save the greens to cook on their own or to add to soup. Roasting works very well with this type of vegetable. Peel all but the beets, as they have a thin skin, and make sure they’re well cleaned. Cut them to an even size, toss in a bit of oil, salt, pepper, some herbs if you like, and then spread on a roasting pan. Make sure it’s metal and not Pyrex, by the way. Veggies brown better on metal than glass. Roast at about 425 for about 20 minutes. If you choose to sauté them, blanch them beforehand to speed up the cooking process.

Potatoes
I found this part really interesting. Not eating a lot of these high-carb tubers, I didn’t realize there were so many different kinds and each cooking technique produces a huge variety of textures and tastes.
There are 3 categories of potato:

Low moisture/high starch-These are the Idaho and Russet varieties. These are best for mashing, frying, scalloped and in casseroles. See, the higher the starch, the drier the potato is.

Moderate moisture and starch-These are the all-purpose like Main, US1, waxy yellow and red skinned. These tend to hold their shape after cooking. You can do a lot with these. They can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, roasted…you get the idea. Use them in soups and in potato salad.

High moisture/low starch-These are the new potatoes and many of the fingerling varieties. There’s no need to peel them, as the skin is very thin and soft. I like these roasted with a little olive oil and rosemary.

You know those weird green spots that occasionally show up on potatoes? Cut those off. That indicates a toxin called solanine. This is harmful if eaten in large amounts. It’s in the sprouts and the eyes, as well. Hopefully, you’ll have eaten your stash of ‘taters long before this happens!

Whenever you cut your potatoes, make sure to put them in water right away, as this prevents discoloration. Oh, yeah, sweet potatoes are cooked just like regular starch potato, they just have more Vitamin A.

Brassica
These are Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and all the different kinds of broccolis like Chinese, Italian and baby. Traditional broccoli is less fibrous, though, and is tasty sautéed, steamed or roasted. For the Brussels sprouts and cabbages, remove the outer leaves before steaming or roasting. Kale is my favorite vegetable on the planet and one of the healthiest. This and varieties like Swiss chard, mustard and collard greens are wonderful when sautéed with garlic, shallots and oil!

Onions
We know the white, yellow and red varieties. These are all mature onions that develop sulfuric acid as they grow. That’s why we cry when cutting them. The sweet kind, like Vidalia and Maui, however, are a little “easier on the eyes” (pun intended) and taste great on a sandwich. Do I really have to tell you all the ways to cook these guys? Did you know that garlic was included in this family? So are leeks and shallots.

Mushrooms
Cultivated mushrooms just means they’re farmed. These include Portobello, crimini, button and shitake. Wild mushrooms are foraged. These include chanterelles, morels, porcinis and truffles. Treat mushrooms gently. Use a damp cloth to wipe them or submerge in water for just a moment to clean, just before cooking or they’ll absorb too much moisture and the texture will be ruined.

Each one of us had a different recipe to cook this week. Here is mine. Cathy got to make beer battered onion rings! To see that recipe, go to www.cathyarkle.com/andshepausedforthought.

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