Lesley Porcelli has an article in this month’s _Saveur_, “The Soft Approach” that raises an issue that I’ve been thinking about for a long time – that perhaps we’ve gone overboard in our resistance to long-cooking vegetables.
Don’t get me wrong – I grew up with grey, mushy broccoli and am grateful that those days are over. Ever since I read a Christopher Kimball recipe for beef stew, however, that had you adding the vegetables after most of the cooking is over so that the stew wouldn’t have “overcooked” vegetables, however, I’ve wondered – is there any place for look cooked produce? I don’t particularly want to eat crisp carrots in beef stew, nor do I mind the way the vegetables meld into the broth.
Porcelli argues yes (building on Marcella Hazan who has also been making that case for years) and offers some pretty terrific recipes for long cooked vegetables including this one for olive oil braised vegetables. Honestly, though, I wouldn’t use baby or new potatoes in this – why not a fingerling with all its flavors developed? Tasted great when I did it!
Unfortunately, the article itself doesn’t appear to be online at all, but it is something to think about – for decades the orthodoxy has been that one should cook vegetables as little as possible in the name of both health and flavor, and that kind of cooking certainly should have a role. But as Porcelli correctly argues, you are missing flavors that way too – particularly for sturdy older vegetables, root cellared crops and cabbage family vegetables, which, after a period of being briefly sulfurous, convert to a mellow sweetness with long cooking.
Autumn is the time for this kind of rich, mellow cooking, and the time in which we long for a sweetness that extracts every delicious flavor. That’s not to say that briefly blanched greens aren’t a part of the autumn diet, but it is worth considering what other options there are. As for the nutritional claims, as long as you are going to be eating the broth or braise that they are cooked in, most of the nutrients will be part of our diets, and in fact, probably some will be more nutritionally accessible to us. It is only the old practice of boiling vegetables for hours and then discarding the liquid that deserves to be abandoned entirely. Slow, soft and mellow deserve a place.