Long Cooked Vegetables

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.

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carrots, potatoes, celery, et al go at the bottom of my huge clay roaster. The whole chicken sits on top. Oven time is 3 or more hours (depending upon the size of the chicken).

They are always awesome, greasy, juicy, caramelized and just perfect to go with slices of chicken. It's probably one of the laziest sumptuous dinners my dad ever taught me. (had to get my own clay roaster though, thank gawd for goodwill)

I couldn't agree more: the flavour of a beef ragout with the potatoes, carrots and rutabagas meltingly soft, the onions, tomatoes and peppers and celery reduced to a rich broth (with plenty of bay black papper and thyme), yum!

The same principle goes for a rich spaghetti sauce.

But I love cooking and I'm willing to do some extra effort: Some ingredients, especially onions, carrots, peppers and the like, I actualy make do double-duty: I divide them into two separate portions: the (fine-chopped or grated) ones that go into the long-cooked broth, and the ones that go in later in the role of featured vegetables... best of both worlds. I've never seen this idea in the cookbooks (which I only occasionally look at).

And as far as not throwing the vegetable water out: I even save the water from blanching: I either save it for soup or other reuse, or add it to the proportionator to apply it in the greenhouse as a "fertilizer."

Long-cooking destroys some nutrients (ascorbate comes to mind), but not others. The water leaches some out, but they are still there, and I hate to waste them.

And then there are things like beans and bitter/toxic vegetables (and Poke Sallet for the US Southern Region): what to do with THAT water? They say the bean-water contains a significant portion of the farty oligosaccharides (like inulin), but I hate to just discard it with all the minerals and phenols it apparently contains. Usually I don't drain it, and just commit myself to being unsociably "windy" the next day. Would the pill-form of Aspergillus enzymes ("Beano") work on that broth to "detoxify" it? (Sort of like traditional Kava, but with less of a squick-factor.)

By OrchidGrowinMan (not verified) on 03 Oct 2011 #permalink

I'm not a very well-rounded cook; walking the fine line between what I don't like to eat and what Husband doesn't like to eat, I've acquired a list of a dozen or so dishes, cooked more-or-less in rotation, that we eat (and that generally produce leftovers that keep us going an extra night or two). But one of the entries on the list is soup.

I make Italian-flavored soup, Mexican-flavored soup, and Fish Soup all basically in the same way: brown meat (includes chicken) if I'm using raw meat, saute the onions, add the root veggies and the broth and seasonings, meat, and cook until the veggies are soft and mellow and the meat is tender. How long that is depends on the veggies and how big I decided to cut them (as well as on the meat). If I've used baking potatoes because that's what I had on hand, they might break apart and thicken the soup. It's better that way! Sometimes I even add spinach, chard, or cabbage. They'll be cooked to nothing by the time the root veggies are done, but their essence will be in the broth.

If I'm adding pasta to the soup, I wait until the veggies are done, bulk up the broth if necessary, and add the pasta. Cook according to pasta box directions.

At the end I add quick-cooking or precooked ingredients: fish, canned chicken or chicken stripped from the carcass, canned beans, or whatever. But the key to good soup is to let the bulk of the veggies mellow together with the seasonings.

Also, it's ALWAYS better the next day.

My southern Momma divided all of the veggies into thirds and cooked one third until it was caramelized, the second was put into the dish raw at the same time as the meat and the third was put into the dish 30-45 minutes before serving so that it would be tender-crisp and taste fresh. 3 flavors and textures (and vitamin & mineral content) from the same veggies.

I agree that long-cooked vegetables go well with meat. But what if someday meat goes out of style?

Giant radishes would be an interesting alternative for the meat-like ingredient.

Colin -- we roast vegetables in the oven without meat on a bed of fat (butter, oil, etc.) and onions and garlic and eat them with rice, tortillas, mixed with cooked pasta, by themselves, etc. In the summer we roast them separately on the grill and eat them hot/cold in various salads and other forms. I don't see how meat going out of style would reduce their appeal.
Same with stews -- of multiple and single vegetables.

Sharon-- having grown up in house of mushy overcooked vegetables a la 60's america and remember experiencing al dente broccoli as a sort of revelation -- I am a reluctant convert to slowly cooked brocoli rabe. grown locally around here, with onions and peppers. The resulting mushy vegetables are great on a sandwich and in other uses.

By Susan in NJ (not verified) on 04 Oct 2011 #permalink

Hi Sharon, a lurker here finally coming out to say something! I love fall and winter cooking with my crockpot. Cooking a roast with onions, cabbage and carrots all day and then making gravy with the veggies and broth-Yummy!!!! I also love to roast all the root veggies in the oven until carmelized. Oh yeah-carrots, squash, brussel sprouts, peppers and onions-so good! Some veggies are best quick cooked and others just love to be slow cooked. In the end as long as you eat the veggies it is all good!

By karen from CT (not verified) on 04 Oct 2011 #permalink