YOU Magazine - March 2009 - Spring Veggies, Part 2 A Minimalistís Approach Revisited By Kirk Leins
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Spring Veggies, Part 2
A Minimalistís Approach Revisited
By Kirk Leins

Spring Veggies, Part 2 - A Minimalistís Approach Revisited - By Kirk Leins

Old school YOU readers may remember a promise I made a couple of years ago. In an article written on the subject of spring vegetables (April 2007), I vowed to put forth a sequel the following spring. Let it be known that while I may not be punctual, I always make good on my promises.

A quick review
I don't want to recap part one in its entirety, but I would like to reiterate a few of the major points. First on the list is the idea that spring vegetables are more than just veggies. They represent a true changing of the guard. As the frost of winter turns to springtime dew, the vegetables that begin to arrive are a far cry from what we see during the colder months.

Craggy and deformed looking roots and tubers are replaced with smaller and more delicate forms of vegetation. Earthiness is exchanged for sweetness and the result is a long-awaited culinary change of seasons. When you really think about it, spring vegetables are the perfect metaphor for spring itself.

This brings me to the second point that needs repeating. Due to their delicate construction and boosted sweetness, spring vegetables should be dealt with much differently than their fall/winter counterparts. Generally speaking, they require simpler and more clean tasting preparations, as well as less cooking time. Understanding this notion from the get-go will put you in the proper mindset for doing justice to these most awesome ingredients.

Without wasting any more words, let's explore four more of my favorite spring veggies.

Also known as "rocket", farm fresh arugula is at its absolute best in the spring. For those unfamiliar, arugula is a leafy green that can act as a lettuce, or even an herb. It is earthy and peppery, and brings a garden-like brightness to any dish.

The good news with springtime arugula is that you don't have to do much to make it taste fantastic. The most basic use would be to incorporate it into any type of salad. Grab a handful of arugula, combine it with two or three handfuls of any other salad green, toss with a simple vinaigrette, and garnish however you desire. The result is sure to be great.

Another one of my favorite ways to use arugula is as a bed for grilled meats. A classic dish that invokes arugula for this very purpose is the classic Tuscan steak dish known as Bisteca alla Fiorentina. For a great recipe, see my article titled, Salt, in the October 2008 issue of YOU Magazine. But, if Porterhouse steak cooked rare isn't your thing, feel free to create an alternate version using either chicken or fish. The peppery flavor of the arugula really works well with any type of charred protein.

Lastly, arugula makes for a great addition to soups, especially any broth-based soup such as vegetable or minestrone. Simply prepare your soup according to the recipe. Once it has finished cooking, turn off the heat and add a couple handfuls of spring arugula. Stir the soup until the arugula begins to wilt. Its addition will lend flavor, as well as a brightness not normally associated with a bowl of soup.

Fennel is truly one of my favorite vegetables, mostly because of the flavor diversity between its raw and cooked states. When left raw, fennel has a very anise-like taste. It's crisp and cool, and works perfectly in salads and slaws. When cooked, however, the licorice effect diminishes and it takes on a sweet and nutty quality.

Fennel and Orange Slaw (serves 4 as a side dish)

  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • 1 naval orange, peeled and cut into 1-inch segments
  • 1.5 tbsp white wine or champagne vinegar
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the delicate fronds off the end of the fennel bulb and reserve. Slice the fennel bulb in half lengthwise and using a pairing knife, remove the majority of the solid core located at the bottom end of the bulb.

Using a mandolin, vegetable slicer, or very sharp knife, cut the fennel lengthwise into very thin slices and reserve in a bowl. Add orange segments, vinegar and oil, and season with salt and pepper. Mix well and allow the slaw to sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Garnish with reserved fennel fronds and serve.

When it comes to cooking fennel, there are several methods that work really well. My favorite is braising. For those unfamiliar, braising is a cooking technique that begins with browning the ingredient of choice. The item finishes cooking by simmering in a small amount of liquid.

The following is a great recipe for braised fennel with its perfect accompaniment – scrambled eggs.

Braised Fennel with Scrambled Eggs (serves 4)

  • 1 large fennel bulb, cut into pieces two-inches long and 1/2-inch wide, fronds reserved
  • 1/2 C dry white wine
  • 8 to 10 large eggs
  • 1 ½ tbsp heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a skillet placed over a high flame, heat olive oil until very hot. Add fennel and season with salt and pepper. Wait 30 seconds to ensure proper caramelizing on one side of the fennel pieces. Stir the fennel and cook for another minute. Add wine and bring to a simmer. Allow the wine to reduce completely. Remove braised fennel to a plate and reserve.

In a bowl, combine eggs and cream and season well with salt. Beat well with a whisk.

In a non-stick skillet, heat butter until melted. Add eggs and cook. When the eggs are halfway scrambled, add braised fennel and stir to combine. Serve the eggs family style or on individual plates.

Garnish the eggs with reserved fennel fronds. For a real treat, add Parmesan curls or crumbled goat cheese, and a few drops of truffle oil right before serving.

Broccoli Rabe
If you've never had broccoli rabe, this recipe is for you. Aside from broccoli rabe being one of my favorites in terms of bitter greens, it is unbelievably versatile. The quintessential pairing is grilled Italian sausages, but don't be afraid to serve it alongside any grilled meat, fish, or pasta dish. It's also great in soup, as a room temperature salad, or as an addition to any pizza, panini, or burrito – yes, burrito.

It's important to know that broccoli rabe doesn't taste so great when eaten raw. It's overly bitter and chewy to be exact. The following dish is a great method for cooking it. What you do with it afterward is completely up to you.

Rapini alla Pepperoncini (serves 4 as a side dish)

  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe, rinsed and dried
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped small
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim a 1/4 inch of the root ends of the broccoli rabe. Line up the greens uniformly and cut in half crosswise.

Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil and season well with kosher salt. Add the broccoli rabe and blanch for one and a half minutes. Drain well in a colander and reserve.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over a medium flame. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add crushed red pepper and blanched broccoli rabe, and season with salt and pepper. Mix well and sauté for a minute or so, or until the broccoli rabe is heated through and every piece has been coated with olive oil. Remove to a plate, garnish with an extra drizzle of olive oil and serve.

Spring Beets
Beets get a bad rap and it's a total shame. Not only are they sweet and earthy at the same time, they are highly nutritious and fairly inexpensive.

You may not know that beets can be eaten raw. To do so, peel the spring beets and slice them paper thin using either a mandolin or vegetable slicer. Transfer the beets to a bowl and toss with a touch of lemon juice, a drizzle of truffle oil and a healthy pinch of salt. You now have the perfect base for a delicious salad. Plate your raw beets and top with any delicate greens that have been tossed in vinaigrette.

For those of you who'd rather cook your beets, I'd suggest roasting them in the oven. Individually wrap the beets (skin on) in aluminum foil. Place them inside a baking dish and roast in a 400 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until there is no crunchy resistance when pierced with a knife. Allow the beets to cool to room temperature. Remove the aluminum foil and using a small pairing knife slip off the skins. Your beets are now ready to be sliced or chopped, and incorporated into any salad.

One of my favorite techniques is to toss the sliced beets in a little champagne vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and honey. Season well with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the beets on a bed of lightly dressed salad greens and garnish with crumbled feta or goat cheese and toasted nuts.

Okay, so I fulfilled my promise of bringing you four more great spring veggies. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to prepare them. Failing to do so not only means turning your back on some delicious eats, it also means ignoring the true meaning of springtime.

Kirk Leins has been cooking his entire life. No stranger to professional kitchens, he currently devotes most of his time to cooking instruction, food writing, and producing television. Kirk also provides his services as a personal chef in and around the Los Angeles area. He has made several TV appearances on both the national and local level, and is the Executive Chef for YOU Magazine. Sign up for Kirkís free newsletter and cooking blog at

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