crunchy veggie horrors

During the 1992 opera rehearsals in the beautifully situated Swedish castle Läckö we, that is the singers, the musicians and the people who talk with their hands in their pockets (we call them producers) got mass lunch in the castle’s cozy restaurant Fataburen. As soon as the performances began, I was suddenly the only one who stayed out at the castle (the rest of the gang traveled from elsewhere) – in the most fantastic weather on the camping site nearby – and still needed lunch. They gave me a special price, and during those three weeks I tried their whole menu up and down again. This is long ago – nevertheless I should recommend their kitchen wholeheartedly even today.

…or at least almost wholeheartedly.

There was a problem with the vegetables. Boy, how some chefs lose their inspiration when it comes to vegetables. I remember a no-cheap restaurant in Amsterdam where they served boiled endives as an aside. No butter, no bacon, no anything, just boiled. The Fataburen chef had at the time a special preference for broccoli and cauliflower. It came with fish, pork, beef and fowl, and it was invariably under-salted, under-cooked and entirely un-oiled or -buttered. Lots of vitamins to be sure, but also a crisp signal for the carnivores to seek consolation with the sausages further down the hill.

I always believed that this broccoli al dente was a clumsy pre-stage of the Mediterranean cooking vogue that hit Sweden at the end of the nineties. But it must have lived on in some creepy corner. Today I found a recipe for “delicious spring stew” with lamb steak and spring vegetables in the newspaper that recommends all of the following: boil 2 small potatoes for ten minutes (ten minutes! No amount of genetic manipulation makes this ‘two small boiled potatoes’). Boil cauliflower and broccoli a few minutes “so that their rawness subsides but no more.” Quickly blanch a bunch of green asparagus in slightly salted water. Cut a red onion into wedges, a squash into cubes and a few spring onions into rings. Make a red wine sauce using red wine, water, veal fond and corn starch or use instant wine sauce. Cube the steak and fry the cubes in butter and olive oil, add salt, white pepper and rosemary. Fry the potatoes for some time in olive oil and butter (how many pots and pans have we used until now? I lost count). Mix everything, add parsley and serve. No cooking of squash and onions, as far as I can see, but this might be a mistake; they’re probably boiled as well, or fried separately in butter and olive oil – but we’ll never know for sure.

The person who wrote this has missed every point there is to miss. No idea about how to serve raw veggies to their advantage. No idea about stir frying (which, with a bit of crafty cutting and slicing, would have been an interesting way to treat these ingredients, and the only way to present crunchy half-cooked veggies without a shudder); no idea about the hidden wonders of cubed fried steak, or about alternative tasty ways of preparing lamb steak; no idea about how the aromas actually need time to blend (granted, also I would cook the broccoli and cauliflower separately. But they are the ones that need tampering and butter frying afterwards!), if we want to call it a stew at all; no idea of combinations of ingredients: what in the world is green asparagus doing here at the side of the cabbages? Rosemary is great with lamb, potatoes and onions but not with broccoli and the rest – the same could be said about red wine (which is pretty horrible together with broccoli, as opposed to white wine). And where is the garlic? Finally, apparently no idea or no concern about the fact that the addition of corn starch to the sauce would weaken all the flavors.

It is true, if you boil your vegetables into mushy gray submission, you’re committing something of a crime. But what we see here is no cooking at all, it is just plain incompetence.

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