The Italians know a thing or two about cooking vegetables. While I ordinarily opt to cook my veggies as little as possible to preserve their flavour and freshness, a popular Italian approach is to cook them twice and it produces some amazing results. I remember early on in my Erasmus year in Italy seeing a massive plate of soggy looking courgettes at the local self-service restaurant and thinking ‘how could they ruin something so lovely?’. Ruefully I added a spoonful to my dish of contorni (sides) and was surprised by how delicious they were. They had been cooked to the point of collapse, simmered then fried, but were beautifully golden and had delicate crispy edges. Being cooked so long had concentrated their sweetness and they were a delight to eat. I kept my eye out for those courgettes and made sure to load up a plate every time they were on the menu.
This twice cooking malarkey isn’t all that difficult, it adds a little extra time to your dinner prep and maybe an extra pan but if I can be bothered to do it in the middle of a heat wave and while only having one hob, it really is worth a shot! The first step usually takes off the raw edge, steaming, boiling or blanching, during the second step you add flavour often frying the cooked veggies to turn them golden and get a caramelized, toasty flavour and adding extra ingredients such as herbs, nuts, onion or pancetta. I would say that what you lose in texture you gain in flavour but honestly, sometimes ‘overcooked’ vegetables can be a really good thing.
When the order form for my vegetable box turned up boasting the first of the season’s broad beans – still tiny and sweet – as well as bundles of tender asparagus and snappy shelling peas I knew it was time to make a primavera (springtime) sauté. My young spring veg only took a few minutes simmering to cook through before I threw them into a bowl of ice water to keep them bright green while I fried smokey pancetta, a finely sliced shallot and slender batons of courgette until golden. In went my broad beans, peas and asparagus which I tossed in the rendered bacon fat and cooked until they were tinged brown. A squeeze of lemon juice and a grind of black pepper freshened up the flavours and a sprinkling of parsley certainly wouldn’t go amiss (mine’s been savaged by the bunnies). This primavera sauté would go brilliantly well with griddled chicken or tossed through gnocchi but I just topped mine with a poached egg and tucked right in.
Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main
- 500g broad beans (weight in pods)
- 200g peas (weight in pods)
- 150g asparagus
- 1 small courgette
- 1 shallot
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 100g pancetta cubes
- Juice of half a lemon
- Black pepper
Shell the beans and peas and rinse the asparagus and courgette. Snap off the woody asparagus stalks and cut into 3cm lengths. Cut the courgette into similar-sized batons. Slice the shallot.
Heat a large pan with about 3cm of water and a pinch of salt. Fill a bowl with iced water. Bring the water in the pan to a simmer and add the broad beans, peas and asparagus. Simmer for 4-5 minutes until tender. Strain and place in the ice water. Once cool, strain and pat dry.
In a large frying pan heat the olive oil then fry the pancetta until the fat renders out and it turns golden. Turn the heat down and add the shallot and courgette. Continue to cook for a few more minutes until the courgette is soft and the shallot translucent.
Add the beans, peas and asparagus to the frying pan and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the veg starts to brown. Squeeze over lemon juice to taste and season with black pepper before serving. I find the pancetta is salty enough to season the veg.