Vegetables

Vegetables

By
Justin North
Contains
32 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740665377
Photographer
Steve Brown

In my view, the French tend to make much better use of vegetables than we do in Australia. As anyone who’s spent time holidaying in France will tell you, vegetable dishes are not restricted to playing a ‘bit part’ in a meal.

In France, vegetables are often served as a separate course in their own right, and vegetable dishes feature prominently in the French repertoire of little starters, or hors d’oeuvres.

Visitors to France also speak in wonder of the amazing fresh produce markets. Most French housewives still far prefer to do their fruit and veg shopping at a market where small local producers bring their produce than in a giant, impersonal ‘supermarché’. It’s fascinating to watch the French in full shopping-mode: prodding, sniffing and firing questions at the store holder. You can tell immediately that these are people who care about the quality of the produce.

When it comes to selecting and buying vegetables, my best advice is to do as the French! Firstly, avoid large supermarkets which bulk-buy and keep their produce cold-stored. I’m a big fan of local and farmers’ markets – you know the produce is fresh and you’ll get a far greater variety of produce than in a supermarket. Don’t be afraid to touch the produce either; pick the vegetables up, inspect them for blemishes, feel their weight, check that they are brightly coloured, crisp and firm. Flabby, tired vegetables are a real no-no. It’s also a good idea to buy smaller amounts of vegetables more frequently – that way they are more likely to be of optimum freshness when you cook them.

When you get them home, unpack and store your fresh vegetables away as soon as possible. While most vegetables are best kept in the refrigerator, tomatoes are best stored at room temperature and some root vegetables and onions can also be kept in a cool, dark larder – although not many homes tend to have these any more. Cover or wrap different vegetable types and store them separately. Leafy and delicate vegetables should be wrapped in damp (not wet) kitchen paper or a tea towel – or even sealed in kitchen storage bags.

When preparing vegetables, in general you should wait to wash, peel or cut them until just before cooking as they begin to deteriorate once exposed to moisture and air. Some vegetables need nothing more than a quick rinse, others need to be peeled.

There are myriad methods for cooking vegetables, and they include many of the techniques touched on in other French Lessons: steaming, braising, pan-frying or deep-frying and so on. Some of my favourite examples are outlined in the recipes below. As a general principle, though, remember that no vegetable improves by being overcooked! Most vegetables should be served with a slight crunch (what the Italians call al dente).

Dicing

A broad term to describe cutting vegetables into smallish, even-sized pieces, depending on further use. Generally, the vegetables are first cut into thin slices, then into sticks and then crosswise to achieve small cubes.

Mirepoix

A rough dice of vegetables which are to be used to enhance the flavour of stocks, soups and sauces. Traditionally a mirepoix consists of carrot, onion, leek and celery, and sometimes fennel and garlic. A white mirepoix is used for white stocks, and contains no carrot.

Macédoine

A medium-size dice (4 mm) of mixed vegetables, usually carrots and turnips, that are cooked separately and then tossed together in a little butter, and perhaps fresh herbs. A macédoine is often served as an accompaniment, and may be warm or cold.

Brunoise

Perfect tiny dice (2 mm) of vegetables that are used as a garnish for sauces, soups and stuffings.

Julienne

A method of cutting vegetables into even-sized thin sticks, a little like skinny matchsticks. They are cut into even slices, around 2 mm thick, and then cut into strips, around 3 cm long. A julienne of vegetables may be cooked in a little butter and used as a garnish – especially for soups and consommés. They may also be served raw as an hors d’oeuvre.

Jardinière

A vegetable, generally root vegetables, cut the same as a julienne except a lot larger, usually about 3 mm thick and about 3–4 cm long, resulting in a large baton.

The humble potato

Finding the correct potato to make the perfect purée can be tricky as it depends not only on the variety, but also on the time of year.

In general, I like to use desirée potatoes, which are firm, waxy and buttery, but as their growing season progresses they can sometimes become watery and floury. I might then switch to royal blue, spunta or yukon gold, and as they too start to change in texture I switch back to desirée. It is worth learning how to perfect the basic purée, which can then be flavoured with all kinds of additions, making it a truly versatile accompaniment to any meal.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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