What’s a Vegetable?

rhubarb

 

Even the most hapless of cooks can take comfort in their ability to distinguish vegetables from fruits. Or can they? Maybe they already know about the tomato, the most famous crossover produce item. But we’re not sure if they’d correctly label eggplant (botanically classified as a fruit), rhubarb (a vegetable), or corn (every individual kernel, a fruit!). Even in this kale-cultivar-fluent era, our basic crisper-drawer taxonomy is still pretty out of whack.

 

What makes a vegetable a vegetable? There’s no hard and fast rule, but fruits are easier to define. The giveaway is seeds: botanists say that seeds are ripened ovules (i.e., eggs), which nest in ovaries that ripen into fruit. Cucumbers, bell peppers, avocados—all fruit.

 

Of course, the field guide should never dictate the fate of flavor. (Salty rhubarb? No thanks.) In the kitchen, good taste always rules.

 

 

About the author: Anna Mowry is senior editor at the James... Read more >

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Valuing Vegetables

The James Beard Foundation reports on the rise of vegetable cookery


No longer sidelined, produce is having its moment.

 

“Pretty disheartening” is how Amanda Cohen described the limp, bland roasted vegetables placed in front of her at some of New York City’s top tables in the early aughts. Though at the time farmers’ markets and Whole Foods were busy making kohlrabi and rainbow chard mainstream, most restaurants had yet to embrace plant-centered cooking.

 

“If someone was a vegetarian,” recalls New York–based food critic Ryan Sutton, who was a waiter during this same period, “you either gave them pasta or the chef put together a couple of side dishes, called it a main course, and charged $18.”

 

Fast-forward directly to 2014 and vegetable menus aren’t just for vegetarians anymore. Among adventurous epicures, cauliflower steaks are as much in demand as aged rib-eyes, and you can blow your paycheck on a vegetable tasting menu at any number of the country’s top... Read more >

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Recipe: Roasted Baby Root Vegetables with Grilled Bread, Fall Greens, and Bagna Cauda Dressing

Roasted Baby Root Vegetables with Grilled Bread, Fall Greens, and Bagna Cauda Dressing

 

Like many chefs, Kate Ladoulis, who cooks at Django's in Crested Butte, is a victim of a particular seasonal disorder: the persistent struggle to churn out new and inventive dishes during the year's bleaker months for produce.

 

When faced with autumn's first baby root vegetables, Ladoulis made a mental connection with bagna cauda, Italy's garlicky, buttery, and briny version of fondue. She got to work on a spin: chopped white anchovies and garlic were gently simmered in olive oil to make a lighter but still powerful dressing, which she tossed with those vegetables and some hardy greens. After piling it all on a slab of grilled bread, Ladoulis had an inspired salad for her menu—at least until next season.

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Recipes from the Best of the Best: Jeremiah Tower's Mixed Vegetable Ragoût

Jeremiah Tower's recipe for mixed vegetable ragoût

 

Now that the food world is abuzz with reports of ramp sightings at farmers' markets, we know it won't be long before the rest of the season's bounty arrives, and when it does, we'll be making JBF Award winner Jeremiah Tower's vegetable medley, which sings with pure garden flavors. When preparing the dish, chef Tower uses a technique that he learned from Richard Olney: he methodically boils the ingredients separately, then progressively adds them to a simmering stock that's flavored with pearl onions and herbs, ensuring that every vegetable is cooked only for as long as it needs to be. Get the recipe here.

 

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JBF has recently released The James... Read more >

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Recipe: Brown Butter Cauliflower

brown butter cauliflower

When JBF Award winner Charlie Palmer decided to open his first steakhouse concept, Charlie Palmer at the Joule, he installed longtime protégé Scott Romano to head up the kitchen. It didn't take long for the young chef (who has since moved on to pursue other projects) to prove to Dallas diners that he had absorbed his mentor's deft touch with vegetables. To wit: this nutty and lightly crispy cauliflower dish, which Romano serves with arctic char. Tiny florets are swiftly sautéed in brown butter, then finished with a fistful of chives, creating a light but full-flavored side that shines next to even the most muscular entrées.

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