There’s More Than One Way To Cook Vegetables
It’s Sunday. Sundays for us were all about routine. My Dad would get up pretty early and fire up the grill. My Mam wouldn’t be too far behind him while my brother and I would be calmly awoken to the smell of sausages and rashers. There is nothing quite like waking up to the smell of bacon. There was no question of savouring the moment however. As soon as the breakfast was cooked my Dad would be roaring repeatedly “Peeeee, breakfast is on the table……Shaaaaaaaaane, breakfast.” He has an endearing way of shouting these things but it can trigger frustration and anger if repeated consistently for ten minutes. After breakfast – grilled sausages, rashers, pudding and fried eggs thrown between two slices of bread and covered in brown sauce – we were sent to get ready for mass. I would find my best tracksuit (yes you read that correctly) while my brother would generally use the time trying to feign sickness. “Are we ready for Mass” came the stern call from a man who did not want to be late. “I’ll just put the potatoes on first” invariably came the reply from my Mother.
Unlike in my house now, potatoes weren’t just a Sunday treat. We had them most days with the odd meal of pasta or rice thrown in. When I started cooking I avoided the potato at all costs. I also avoided carrots, parsnip, turnip and cabbage – all vegetables that were boiled in our house. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with boiling vegetables, it is incredibly easy to produce a bland, tasteless mush if you’re not careful. Thankfully there is more than one way to cook a vegetable and although boiling will probably remain a national pastime, it’s surely time to mix it up a bit.
Roasting vegetables is by far my favourite way to make them shine. A little extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper is all that is really necessary but it’s important to pay attention to the temperature and setting of the oven. For a conventional oven my starting point is 220 degrees while that drops to 180 degrees for a fan assisted oven. Because the fan moves the air around quite quickly, anything over 180 usually means a burnt outside before the inside is tender. As there is a 40 degree difference, the timings also change between the two with the conventional (220degC) taking about 25 minutes for most vegetables and the fan assisted (180degC) taking approximately 40 minutes. For me, the conventional oven is a far better option for roasting vegetables especially anything with a green element – the air movement in the fan oven tends to disintegrate the greens at any temperature. Almost all vegetables are suitable for roasting but my favourites at the moment are cauliflower (florets and stalks), romanesco (florets and stalks), potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage (in chunks), leeks, onions, peppers and Jerusalem artichokes.
Frying comes a close second to roasting as a way to get veggies as flavourful as possible. We are eating potatoes fried with peppers, onions and smoked paprika far too often while mushrooms fried in butter with a little marjoram is one of life’s great pleasures. I’m also loving cabbage and kale fried in extra virgin olive oil with a little garlic and chilli. Most people think that cabbage and kale need to be blanched in boiling water first but I find this not to be the case. If you prefer them a little softer then simply add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan with the vegetables and fat. They will steam in the water and once it evaporates will fry in the butter/oil.
If you’re a steadfast boiler and balk at the above suggestions then at least season the water well and cook until al dente. Drain the water and toss in a little butter/olive oil to add some flavour. I have yet to find a single savoury ingredient not enhanced with the addition of copious amounts of butter!
What are your favourite techniques for cooking flavoursome veggies? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.