Category Archives: Vegetables

Braised Greens with Garlic & Chili Flakes

Turnip greens can be hard to find. When I happened upon a bunch of turnips, their leaves and stems intact, perky and green, I was so excited. I knew just what I wanted to do: the turnips would get blanched before baking with milk, caraway, and Parmigiano (so soothing on a cold day), and the greens and stems get treated to that typical Italian slow-cook that renders them meltingly tender, unctuous, just shy of bitter. If you can’t find turnip greens, broccoli raab works very well. You can also serve these greens as a pasta sauce, with short, concave pasta like orecchiette; just add freshly grated Pecorino when serving.

Serves 2

  • 1/2 pound turnip greens and stems, washed thoroughly and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
  • water as needed

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the turnip greens and stems and 2 tablespoons of the salt. Cover and cook 5 minutes, or until tender. Drain and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking, then shake dry.

Place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, and chili in a 2-quart saucepan. Set over a medium-low heat and cook until just fragrant, about 2 minutes. Before the garlic takes on any color, add the greens and stems. Stir well, season with the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring often, about 20 minutes. You may need to add a splash of water now and again, to prevent the greens from sticking to the pan. There should always be some liquid in the pan; a few tablespoons is right.

When the greens are silky-soft, remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.


Roasted Chinese Eggplants with Olive & Tomato Salsa

I have never understood how someone could dislike eggplants. They are, to my mind, one of the most amazing vegetables (though they are technically a fruit) around: creamy when fried or slow-cooked, chewy when grilled, meaty when roasted… And the flavor itself is nothing short of miraculous in the summer, when the markets are filled with eggplants in every shade of purple and white, some plain, others streaked zebra or graffiti. I adore eggplants, and I believe anyone who says they don’t like them has never tasted a truly good specimen.

Here is one of the simplest ways to enjoy eggplant. I borrowed the flavors for the salsa from one I tasted in Liguria, but made mine bolder by adding raw onions and a touch of chili. If you favor more delicate flavors, top the eggplant with the salsa halfway through baking so it loses its direct potency, and finish with tiny dice of fresh Mozzarella when serving.

Chinese eggplants (and Japanese eggplants, which are quite similar) are slender and long, with few seeds and a sweet flavor. They have a thin skin, cook through faster than Western varieties, and are a good starter eggplant for anyone with a timid palate. Japanese eggplants are darker in hue than Chinese, and will work just as well in this recipe; use whatever variety looks good at the market.


Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish

For the eggplants:

  • 4 Chinese (or Japanese) eggplants, halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

For the salsa:

  • 1 large ripe beefsteak tomato, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1/2 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 8 black olives, pitted and minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • 12 basil leaves, very thinly sliced

Make the eggplants: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (preferably set on convection bake). Lay the eggplant halves, cut side up, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Cut a cross-hatch pattern into each eggplant half, barely scoring the flesh. Brush with the olive oil and season with the salt. Roast in the preheated oven 30 minutes, or until tender and creamy when pierced with a knife; the eggplants should still hold their shape. If using western eggplant varieties, the cooking time will be longer.

Make the salsa: In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients and taste for salt. Adjust as needed.

To serve: Spoon the salsa over the warm eggplants and serve.



Fuji Apple & Avocado Salad with Pecans

My mom made this refreshing salad often when I was growing up; I’m not sure where she got the inspiration, because the ingredients are hardly typical of Italian cooking, but it was one of my favorites as a child. It takes just a few minutes of work (mostly scooping the avocado out of its skin) and delivers surprising flavor: the sweet, juicy apple plays off the rich, creamy avocado beautifully, and the pecans tie the two elements together.

Serve the salad within an hour of tossing it, or else the avocado will darken and the flavors meld rather than remain distinct. If you have any leftovers (doubtful), lay a piece of plastic wrap directly over the salad to prevent darkening.

Serves 2

  • 1 Fuji apple, peel on, quartered and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 avocado, pitted and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 garlic clove, grated on a Microplane
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

In a large bowl, gently mix all the ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Refrigerate up to 1 hour prior to serving.


Silky Squash Blossoms with Pine Nuts, Garlic, & Marjoram

The season for squash blossoms is almost over: we may have another few days or so to enjoy these colorful flowers. In Italy, squash blossoms are often deep-fried, sometimes stuffed with fresh cheese and anchovies, enrobed in a light batter before they crisp to golden perfection in hot olive oil. But they are also stirred into pasta sauces, added to frittate, dragged in a hot pan with aromatics as a side dish, or baked under a dusting of grated Parmigiano. I love squash blossoms every which way; their delicate floral sweetness is haunting, the romance of eating a flower only part of the pleasure.

Here is the way I prepared squash blossoms last week, after a trip to a nearby farmer’s market. We grow marjoram on our deck, but basil or parsley would be equally delicious if marjoram is hard to find. To stretch the pleasure, serve the blossoms with fresh tagliatelle you’ve boiled and tossed with olive oil and grated Parmigiano: delicious.

One word of advice: squash blossoms are very delicate, so buy them the day you plan to cook them.

Serves 2

  • 16 squash blossoms
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the blossoms thoroughly under a thin, light spray of cool water, gently opening out the leaves and running your fingers inside each blossom to remove any small insects.

Using your fingers, remove the hard long stem inside each blossom. It is bitter and must be removed.


Remove the thin thorn-like filaments running up from the bottom of each blossom, just above where the stem ends.

Cut off the stem at the bottom of each blossom, just where it meets the bud (be careful not to cut it too high or you will make a hole in the base of the blossom).

Blot the blossoms dry on paper towels.

Place the olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and marjoram in a 12-inch skillet. Set over medium heat and cook until the aroma begins to rise, about 2 minutes, watching that the pine nuts do not burn and stirring as needed.

Raise the heat under the skillet to high. Add the blossoms and cook 3 minutes, or until they wilt to a soft, tangled mass and any liquid has evaporated. Season with the salt and pepper, taste for seasoning, and serve hot.


Pan-Seared Okra with Two Peppers & Minty Yogurt Dip

I love okra. I grew up eating it slow-cooked with tomatoes, onions, lemon juice, and a pinch of sugar, the way my Turkish Nonna Eva made it. When braised, okra comes out somewhat slippery, and my husband (one of the many people who object to okra’s potentially mucilaginous texture) doesn’t like it prepared this way. So at home, when I crave okra, I serve it pan-seared or roasted. Roasted okra, while delicious, has a tendency to dry out if left in the oven just a few minutes too long. Pan-searing is far faster and yields delectably crisp-on-the-outside, soft-within okra.

Look for okra that is firm, unblemished, and heavy for its size. Rinse thoroughly, then cut off the pointed end at the top. Cut in half lengthwise, and lay on paper towels with the cut side facing down; the drier the okra is before cooking, the more easily it will brown in the pan. Serve this spicy okra with a cooling yogurt sauce for dipping.

Serves 2 as an appetizer or 4 as a side dish

For the dip:

  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried mint
  • 1 garlic clove, grated on a Microplane
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt

For the okra:

  • 1/2 pound fresh okra, washed, trimmed, and halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus extra to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make the dip: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and taste for seasoning; adjust as needed, then refrigerate for 30 minutes to 24 hours.


Make the okra: Place the okra on a double layer of absorbent paper towels, cut side down, and let rest at room temperature 30 minutes to drain off excess water. Place in a large bowl and add the olive oil, salt, cayenne, and black pepper. Toss well to coat evenly with the spices.

Place the okra, cut side down, in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. It should all fit in a single layer, but if it does not, then cook it in 2 batches to avoid stacking the okra. Set the skillet over medium heat and cook, undisturbed, until browned on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook until the other side is also browned, about 3 more minutes. Adjust the seasoning if needed and serve hot or at room temperature, with the dip.


Silky Purslane with Garlic

We shop at Farms View in Wayne, NJ, a farm close to our home, from spring through fall. We always find amazing produce, and this week, we happened upon purslane. The leaves looked succulent and juicy; the stems were a bright rose. I grabbed a bunch and for lunch today, we cooked some of the tender leaves with just a bit of garlic and olive oil. They were sweet, a cross between spinach and cucumber in flavor, which may sound odd, but is really quite delicious.

Had I known the purslane would wilt down so much, I would have cooked the entire bunch. You’ll need about 1 pound to serve two people a healthy side dish, because by the time you strip the leaves off the stems and account for shrinkage in the pan, you will have very little.

Preparing purslane is very easy: trim off the roots; soak the leaves and stems in several changes of cool water to get rid of grit; strip the leaves from the stems (tender stems can be kept, as they soften when cooked); wash again; and drain thoroughly before cooking. My husband planted the roots in soil to see if they will grow. After all, purslane is a weed, so hopefully it will thrive as most weeds do!

With the remaining purslane, I am planning a filling for ravioli. Or maybe a chilled summer soup with a bit of yogurt, scallions, and dill. Either way, I’ll briefly boil the purslane to soften. I’ll keep you posted!

Serves 2 as a side dish

  • 1 pound purslane (1 large bunch), trimmed and prepared (see introductory note)
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Wash the purslane thoroughly after getting rid of stems and roots, then dry it thoroughly.

Place the olive oil and garlic in a 12-inch skillet set over medium heat. When the garlic begins to release its aroma, add the purslane.


Cook 2 minutes, tossing with tongs or stirring with a spoon, until wilted. Season with the salt, adjust the seasoning if needed, and serve hot or at room temperature.


Agretti (aka Friar’s Beard) with Olive Oil

You may be lucky enough to run across this vegetable at a farmers’ market in late spring or early summer, and if you do, grab it! Agretti tastes a lot like spinach, but with a slight saline tang to it, and a more chewy, resilient, slippery texture. It is absolutely delicious. I always loved agretti on my trips to Italy, but never found it here until we went to the the Ramsey, NJ Farmers’ Market this week. To my surprise, Blooming Hill Farm had some (along with a huge array of other greens) so I snapped up a bunch and cooked it for lunch.

In Italy, agretti also go by the name barbe di frate (friar’s beard), and they grow abundantly in central Italy. They’re usually just boiled or steamed, and served with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, though some people also drizzle them with lemon juice. I find the lemon juice superfluous as it masks the natural brightness of agretti. When preparing agretti for cooking, take the thin, delicate leaves off the thicker central stems, then wash thoroughly in several changes of cool water.

On a historical note, agretti’s Latin name is Salsola soda, and in ancient times, the plant (which grows across the Mediterranean and can even be irrigated with saltwater) was an important source of soda ash. Soda ash is one of the alkali substances crucial to glassmaking and soapmaking, and apparently, it was the key ingredient that ensured the famous clarity of glass from Murano and Venice.

Serves 2

  • 1 bunch agretti (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Wash the agretti in several changes of cool water. Strip off the thin, delicate leaves from the thick central stems. Discard the thick stems and wash the tender leaves again in several changes of cool water until the water runs clear.

Bring 1 quart of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Boil the agretti for 3 minutes, or until just crisp-tender. Drain and cool under running water. Squeeze dry gently with your hands (a little moisture is ok, but if the agretti is water-logged, the flavor will be diluted).

Place in a bowl and add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, the olive oil, and the pepper. Toss well, taste for seasoning, and adjust as needed. Serve at room temperature.


Fresh Fava Beans with Mint, Scallions, and Lettuce

Have you ever tasted fresh fava beans? They are nothing like their frozen counterparts, which are usually mealy and not very sweet. And they are nothing like dried fava beans, which, although delicious and earthy in flavor, are neither vibrant in color (they turn a delicate yellow-ochre when dried) nor flavor (they mellow and become far more “beany” when dried).

This is the season to taste fresh fava beans, and my husband and I have been gorging on them since April. We love them plain, boiled briefly and seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper; sautéed with bacon and onions as a simple sauce for pasta; transformed into a soothing, creamy soup with a sprinkling of dill upon serving; or, as below, slow-cooked with scallions, mint, and lettuce. The latter is a technique you can also use with fresh shucked peas, which are just coming into season.

Look for fresh fava beans with unblemished, stiff, heavy pods. The brighter colored pods indicate sweeter beans. Try to buy them the day you plan to cook them, as they will be even sweeter if they never see the inside of the refrigerator. If you are feeling particularly industrious, you can shell, boil, and shuck fava beans in large quantities for freezing; place in freezer-safe plastic bags and freeze for up to 1 year, and your frozen fava beans are sure to be endlessly better than store-bought frozen fava beans.


Serves 2 as a side dish

  • 1 and 1/2 pounds fresh fava beans
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 mint leaves
  • 4 leaves Boston lettuce, washed, dried, and cut into slivers

Shell the beans and rinse them thoroughly. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Boil the beans for 3 minutes, or until they look wrinkly and have softened a bit. Don’t be alarmed if the boiling water looks a bit dark, as this is completely normal. Drain and rinse under cool running water to stop the cooking, then drain again. Slip off the thick papery skin from each bean (this is shucking, and is necessary for the beans to be edible, as the skins are very fibrous).

Place the olive oil, scallions, and garlic in a 10-inch sauté pan. Warm over medium heat until the scallions soften, about 5 minutes, stirring as needed. Stir in the shucked fava beans, pour in 1/2 cup of water, and cover. Cook over medium heat 10 minutes, stirring once in a while and adding a bit of water as needed to maintain a bit of moisture in the pan. The fava beans should never dry out completely. If the beans are still crunchy, cook a little longer, covered; they should be crisp-tender, not hard, when done.

Uncover the pan and stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Add the mint and lettuce, stir well, and cook 1 minute, or until the lettuce wilts. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.


Salt and Pepper Ramps

I first tasted ramps five years ago. I had heard of them and read about them, but never managed to find them at the market when I searched for them. Then one spring day at the Union Square Market in New York City, shortly after we moved to an apartment in Gramercy, I spotted a table full of what appeared at first glance to be hairy purplish scallions. Bearded, gritty, and topped by long, tender green leaves, they looked like spring itself. I picked up two bunches, headed back to our kitchen, and washed (and washed) them. A brief toss with olive oil in a hot skillet, and we had an amazing side dish. I make sautéed ramps twice a week now, whenever the season is upon us. I have tried ramps in soups, sandwiches, pesto, and more… but my favorite way remains the simplest, as with most foods. I urge you to head to your local farmers’ market while you still can this year and get a fat bunch of ramps to sauté and savor.

Serves 2 as a side dish

  • 1 bunch ramps
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Wash the ramps several times under cool running water, using your fingers to dislodge any grit between the leaves and on the bulbs. Cut off the thin, hairy beards at the bottom of each bulb. Keep the pretty green leaves attached.

Blot the ramps dry on paper towels.

Toss the ramps with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place in a 12-inch nonstick skillet and set over medium-high heat. Sauté 5 minutes, tossing with tongs to cook evenly, or until the ramps are softened and browned in spots. Serve hot or at room temperature.


Fresh Chickpea Salad

Spring brings several pleasures: the lifting of the cold weather, the burgeoning leaves on the trees, the colorful flower bushes lining country roads. But in many ways, for me, the greatest pleasure of spring is the food: ramps, asparagus, fresh fava beans, fresh chickpeas, baby lettuces…. If you’ve never tried fresh chickpeas, don’t wait too long: May is the peak season. Their flavor is gentle and green, just barely reminiscent of dried or canned chickpeas. After shucking the chickpeas, I rinse them, boil them briefly, and dress them with fruity extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper for a simple, sweet taste of spring.


Serves 2

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 pound fresh chickpeas, shucked
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of the salt and drop in the chickpeas. Cook for 2 minutes, drain, and rinse under cool water. Drain again. Toss with the olive oil, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon the salt, and the pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve at room temperature.