Vegetables for all tastes

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to love vegetables. All you have to do is to love essential, splendid flavours, enjoy flamboyant shapes and colours, and look on vegetable cooking as one component of the kitchen craft which is forever changing and surprising.

Vegetables are remarkable for their ability to provide so many different textures, for so many different roles, at such affordable prices. The humble potato will support a book, so numerous are the opportunities to cook with it. Broccoli is wonderful straight from the garden, delicious blanched to pick up a fruity, full- bodied dip, doubtless based on some vegetable; gorgeous when cooked until just tender, then covered with a cheese sauce; and super duper whizzed with chicken stock, spices and herbs to make for a bright and beautiful soup.

Spinach can act as a salad, a soup, a sauce, an accompaniment; or it can paint pasta. Zucchini provides colour, texture and flavour to a vegetable stew like ratatouille, pizzazz to pasta when grated like spaghetti; and the flowers are the most delicious containers for all sorts of stuffings.

Vegetables can be taken raw, or baked, steamed, fried, or boiled; they are happy as bridesmaids to meat and fish, chicken and pork, and happier still as the bride and groom; some of them even make for splendid desserts.

The only thing wrong with vegetables is vegetarianism; vegetarians would often have you believe that they are more wholesome than meat eaters, better people because they are making a sacrifice by eschewing meat. Don’t believe them. Vegetarians have the best of all worlds, with access to vats of colour and crunch and limitless flavour variations.

The latest data on eating suggests the best diet is a pyramid, with bread, grains and legumes the foundation, vegetables and fruit next. As the pyramid gets tighter and tighter we run into chicken and meat and fish. And scorned, at the top of the pile, are nasties like fats and oils.

I keep on reading such things and making resolutions, and then breaking them. But perhaps subconsciously, 1 have already enveloped vegetables as my flavour base. Thus the

long list of pasta and rice dishes up front, and now some down-to-earth, basic, yet enthusiastic flavours.

You know something: the more I think of it, the more attractive vegetarianism is – if it wasn’t such a social nightmare.

What you’ll need


The personality to take hold of vegetables with an enthusiasm the crop has not seen before. Don’t look at vegetables as accompaniments. Make it your life’s aim to make at least one more meal a week based on vegetables.


As ever, you need an excellent rapport with your fruiterer. Excellent relationships take on a new twist at the fruit shop. My favourite fruiterer is one who won’t faint when I pick up a pea from the pile, pod it, and toss the little green orbs down the hatch. There are so many times in the year when produce is less than perfect; and other times when it’s perfect when you believed it couldn’t be. And the infuriating thing is, you can’t tell a perfect pea from its pod. The only way to know is to try and see. i‘m not suggesting you should munch an apple and put it back, or poke an avocado, or crunch the celery, or snap the asparagus. But you should believe that if a test is necessary, then you’re in the right shop to do it.


The curiosity to try something different with an old favourite.

This is the essence of all cooking, but it is particularly appropriate with ve- gies. So, just because cauliflower is great with white sauce, why not try it baked with onions and garlic, or tossed in a wok with soy and chilli, or steamed and sprinkled with garam masala, or whatever you think of next?


And definitely a microwave.

You haven’t tasted a pumpkin until you’ve cooked it in the microwave; how else would you ‘roast’ garlic cloves in under a minute? Is there any other way to cook eggplant? And tomatoes, and chutneys and sauces. The microwave is the key to vegetable-cooking stardom.

The recipes

Mashed spuds, the world’s greatest dish 98

Irish potatoes 99

A curry of new potatoes with tomatoes 100

Raclette, the cheese 101

Baba ghanoush, via the microwave 102

Ratatouille 103

Eggplant and cheese souffle 104

Hummus, the hip dip 105

Stuffing zucchini flowers 107

Zucchini omelette 108

A sharp tomato soup 109

Pumpkin, quickly 110

Pea shoot salad with Ligurian olives and hard

goat’s cheese 111

Radicchio braised with blue cheese, compliments of

Stephanie’s 112

Sorrell soup 113

Aaah, asparagus 114

A colourful pastry; a French routine with Greek flavours 116

Cauliflower with onions and garlic 117

Pine mushrooms, colourful pals 118

Antipasto 118

Mashed spuds, the world’s greatest dish

My favourite dish as a child was mashed potatoes on thickly buttered white bread. Later (not so long ago) I added fresh herbs and cut down on the butter on the bread, but not in the potatoes. It is still my favourite.

I can’t think of anything more acceptable to eat at any time, at any place. No matter how far up the market you go, you’ll find potatoes, and classy chefs working their whisks off to do something just a little different, just a little better than the joint down the road.

At Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris, I remember the combination of finely sliced potatoes and truffles as a true classic. Finely sliced potatoes with a touch of mash to hold them together and shaves of fresh, very expensive truffle in between.

Flash restaurants do flash things with mashed potatoes too. Restaurant Robuchon in Paris is rated one of the best in the world; I haven’t been there, after being turned away at the front door one forlorn day, but those who have don’t talk about the crayfish, or truffles, or lamb, or pheasant – they hold forth about the mashed potatoes.

Greg Brown at Melbourne’s Browns restaurant helped me out with his recipe for something similar. It’s hardly the simple mash of my mum: it’s made up of one-third mashed potatoes, one-third cream, and one-third butter, and seasoning. Yikes! There’s more. You add the cream to the mashed potatoes in a pan, then finish the dish with the butter. And then you pass the whole lot through the finest of sieves four times before serving. Yabba dabba doo!

That sort of labour is one of the reasons you pay big money to eat at flash restaurants. Mashed potatoes at home are not like that, but they must be more than just well-cooked potatoes, given a bit of life with butter and squashed. They should be filled with all sorts of surprise flavours. They don’t have be whizzed to a puree, but are lovely with a little chunkiness, letting you know there’s still a little bit of the rustic in our lives.