Warm Vegetable Stew

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I first tasted this most glorious dish in the south of France with Richard Olney, who taught me the technique of the progression of vegetables as they go into the cooking pan. No better description of the dish and the philosophy behind it, no better appreciation of vegetables, can be found than in his book Simple French Food. The combination here is only one of many, though I never use more than seven vegetables, and never use tomatoes unless they are cherry tomatoes. The addition of chopped garlic and herbs just before you bring the stew to the table causes a burst of rich fragrance which perfects the dish. I prefer water to chicken stock for a cooking liquid—the resulting sauce has a much fresher and purer vegetable taste—and I use either butter or olive oil to finish the dish.

Ingredients

  • 16 small pearl onions, peeled
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh tarragon
  • 24 baby carrots, trimmed and peeled
  • ½ small cauliflower, cut into flowerettes
  • ½ small broccoli, cut into flowerettes
  • 6 pattypan squash, halved crosswise
  • 4 small zucchini, halved lengthwise
  • 4 small yellow zucchini, halved lengthwise
  • 8 fresh ears baby corn
  • 24 small French green beans
  • 24 fresh squash blossoms
  • 1 tablespoon mixed fresh herbs, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ pound butter, cut into ½-ounce pieces
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Method

Bring a pot of salted water to boiling and maintain it at a steady boil while adding the succession of vegetables.

Put the onions, thyme, and tarragon, 1 cup of water, and a pinch of salt in a sauté pan. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Put the carrots into the boiling water for 1 minute, then lift them out and add to the onions. Simmer covered while you cook the cauliflower and broccoli in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Then lift these out and add them to the onions and carrots with another ½ cup water. Cover and continue cooking, tossing the vegetables together every few minutes.

Meanwhile, put the squash and zucchini into the boiling water for 3 minutes and then add them to the other vegetables. Toss together again. Cook the corn and beans in the boiling water for 1 minute and add to the other vegetables. Toss, cover, and cook 5 minutes. Make sure there is about 1 cup of liquid in the vegetable pan.

Uncover the pan. Add the squash blossoms, herbs, garlic, and butter. Turn the heat to high and toss together until the butter is melted and the sauce thickens a little. Season and serve immediately.

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