Vegetables

Vegetables

By
Claire Thomson
Contains
21 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849499552
Photographer
Mike Lusmore

Using vegetables creatively and with variety is one of my main incentives as a cook. Supported by the larder, vegetables are the lynchpin to my everyday cooking. I can very easily forgo meat and fish in the food I cook at home if I am well stocked with seasonal vegetables and pantry ingredients are all in keen supply: flours, grains, pasta, noodles and pulses, dairy, various fermented goods and spices give me an endless bill of rapid, delicious combinations. Vegetables are never an afterthought, and onions, garlic too, are always in my storecupboard.

Olive oil is essential for me where vegetable cookery is concerned. It is the culinary axis between fresh produce and the storecupboard. My everyday olive oil is of a solid, benchmark quality, nothing terribly posh. Along with salt and pepper, olive oil forms a kitchen triad – it links my daily cooking back to the storecupboard. These three key ingredients have no place on a shelf or in a cupboard: they are stationed beside my chopping board, next to the stovetop, ready for use at all times. I also tend to have a more specialist, regional extra virgin oil that I use to dress finished dishes. A common mistake is to use olive oil for cooking everything, which means an awful lot of it is wasted. Olive oil has a lower smoke point than other cooking oils and will often burn before it gets to the temperature required to sear or hard-fry ingredients. Common sense must prevail: olive oil is happiest just hot, warm or at room temperature, never at a raging heat. This is why, used to soften so many vegetables over a moderate heat or to dress a dish, olive oil will triumph. Many of my savoury recipes begin with an onion and enough olive oil to just cover the base of the saucepan, cooking the onion until soft and translucent. Over a moderate heat, this should take between 8 and 10 minutes, with the onion collapsing in the heat and turning sweet and irreplaceable, but never browning. Likewise, used cold to dress cooked vegetables, pasta, pulses, grains or dribbled over seasoned yoghurt, olive oil is alchemy. Depending on the flavours of a dish, i.e. not too assertive, I might choose to use the more expensive extra virgin olive oil here, letting the oil be star of the dish. Not all dishes are flattered by olive oil, however. Sometimes the pepperiness of olive oil needs to be tempered by a neutral oil (vegetable, sunflower or groundnut) in a dressing, so the dish is not so overtly olive-y – the leek vinaigrette, for example. Some dishes feature so many other flavours in the mix that olive oil just isn’t necessary, and inexpensive neutral oil will fit the bill – the Caesar salad is one of these. Liberal in use, but canny in usage, is my approach.

Fresh vegetables invite you to cook and enjoy them as the year unfolds. They are very different in application from the dried and preserved commodities of the storecupboard, almost all seasonless in use. Tomatoes? I would rather use good-quality tinned, drained of their juice and seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil for any cooking requiring whole fresh tomatoes if the season is anything other than summer or early autumn. The recipes in this chapter celebrate fresh vegetables, all bolstered with key larder ingredients. Marry wintry vegetables with warm robust spice and roasted sourdough, such as in the root vegetable recipe, and pair sprightly spring radishes and rhubarb with a young fresh goat’s curd, for example. Cooked creatively, with enthusiasm and support from the storecupboard, a largely vegetable-based diet is no hardship.

Larder basics

Store cupboard

olive oil (basic and extra virgin)

neutral oil (vegetable, sunflower or groundnut)

tinned plum tomatoes

Fresh

onions

garlic

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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