While raw and roasted vegetables certainly have their place, braising is a great technique for cooking even the most delicate vegetables.
You may think braising would turn verdant spring vegetables drab and watery but, in fact, braising can maximize their freshness and make them taste more like themselves.
To turn early season produce into a warm side dish, we started by softening a minced shallot in olive oil with additional aromatics for a savory base. To build a flavorful braising liquid, we poured in water and lemon and orange zest and dropped in a bay leaf.
Adding the vegetables in stages ensured that each cooked at its own rate and maintained a crisp texture. Peppery radishes, which turned soft and sweet with cooking, were nicely complemented by the more vegetal notes of asparagus and peas (frozen peas were reliably sweet, and adding them off the heat prevented overcooking).
In no time at all, we had a simple side of radiant vegetables in an invigorating, complex broth - proof positive that braising can bring out the best in even the most delicate flavors. A toss of chopped fresh tarragon gave a final nod to spring. Look for asparagus spears no thicker than 1/2 inch.
BRAISED SPRING VEGETABLES WITH TARRAGON
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, sliced into thin rounds
2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Pinch red pepper flakes
10 radishes, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
1 1/4 cups water
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 cups frozen peas
4 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
Cook oil, shallot, garlic, thyme sprigs and pepper flakes in Dutch oven over medium heat until shallot is just softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in radishes, water, lemon zest, orange zest, bay leaf and 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until radishes can be easily pierced with tip of paring knife, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in asparagus, cover and cook until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
Off heat, stir in peas, cover, and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Stir in tarragon and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 162 calories; 81 calories from fat; 9 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 433 mg sodium; 16 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 5 g protein.
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