braised vegetables, the buttery kind

One of the classical methods to braise vegetables (as, for example, taught by Marcella Hazan) is to put them into a wide pan with olive oil and/or butter, water to cover, and salt, and to cook them until done. At the end the water should have evaporated and the vegetables just begin to hiss in the fat. Here is a refined version of this technique.

– I prepare sticks or slices of vegetables, such as carrots, celery and fennel.
– I slowly heat one and a half tablespoon of butter up in a large frying pan.
– As soon as the butter starts to brown, I add some of the vegetables to the butter and cook them for a little while. Now I add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then the rest of the vegetables.
– While they sizzle on medium-low heat, I heat some water in the water cooker. I add enough boiling water to the pan to cover the veggies.
– I add salt and pepper.
– When everything is bubbling nicely, I add a cup of dry white wine.
This can cook on until everything is soft but still slightly firm to the bite. At the end, the water/wine should be gone. If the liquid evaporates too soon, I just add more water. If there is any liquid left at the end I quickly reduce it with the vegetables still in the pan.

I found it to be an advantage for this method to heat and slightly brown the butter at the beginning. It (and hence everything) has more flavor that way. Cooking the veggies in the butter and oil before the braising begins, makes that they pick up some of that flavor. The dry wine adds more sophistication to the whole than, for instance, lemon juice.

A perfectly crisp and green batch of broccoli the other day that became rubbery when boiled and afterwards tasted like shrimp peels boiled in vinegar (or something) urges me to repeat what everyone else always says, but what is true nevertheless. The true and real quality of the vegetables makes all the difference for the success of this method. This goes beyond good looks (which are, as everyone knows, only skin deep) Vegetables belong to the things in modern life that frustrate the Pavlovian mechanisms in us. Even after, by trial and error, learning that the browned and wilted ones aren’t good, the remaining ones can still be anything from heavenly to inedible.

Someplace on the web, Robin found this sentence: ‘something that doesn’t rot cannot be edible’. Think this, when you find a forgotten green bell pepper in your fridge that is perfectly gleaming after a month, or a floret of broccoli that still looks green after lying in a corner for a week. These things are bewitched; you cannot eat them.

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