Getting The Most From Aromatic Vegetables

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How To Make An Italian Battuto

Aromatic vegetables such as onions, leeks, garlic, and shallots, can add remarkable depth and finish to savory dishes. Interestingly, the amount and even the kind of flavor aromatics will bring to a dish can be influenced significantly by the way you cut them. Slow cooking caramelizes all of them to some degree, whether done on the stove top or in a roasting pan. Grilling works well with small to medium sized onions or young, tender leeks. Chop garlic too fine and it tastes bitter and burns quickly. Big, coarse chunks of onion cook unevenly, while the greenest parts of leeks can have the mouth feel of bamboo (not the tender shoots, but the stuff you might make flooring with).

Italian cooks bring out the fullest flavor of aromatic vegetables by chopping them into a very fine paste called a battuto. In Perugia, where I learned to cook, a battuto always included onion and celery, both the stalks and the greens, and might also involve a bit of carrot, some parsley, or fresh basil. Many cooks include a piece of salt pork or pancetta in their battuto when the dish will include fowl or meal. For seafood, the fat is often replaced by chopped olives or olive oil.

Use a large, heavy knife to help you chop your ingredients finely. Don’t use a food processor–somehow the mechanical grinding does not give the right quality to the mixture, which should be a bit rougher than a processed puree. Don’t worry if your battuto is not uniform or perfectly chopped; you should still be able to visually identify the various ingredients.

Sumptuous Shrimp In A Heavenly Cream Sauce

The silky, sumptuous sauce in the recipe below is based on the heavenly heavy cream from the Fresh Breeze dairy in Lynden, Washington. This small organic dairy was originally homesteaded by a Dutch couple in 1901 and has been run by five successive generations using techniques that would be recognized as organic today. The present owners, Shawn and Clarissa Langley, decided to formalize their program and are now a fully certified organic dairy, running about 180 cows on 400 acres.

Fresh  Breeze is the only organic dairy in Washington that bottles their own milk and cream. Both are used by many Washington chefs, who recognize their outstanding quality and flavor. The first time I gave my husband Bud a glass of Fresh Breeze milk, he got teary eyed and said “This tastes like milk I drank as a child.”  That full, rich flavor comes from grass; Fresh Breeze cows are pastured from April through October, and you really can taste the difference.

Local Cream Makes Good

The cream is so thick that it whips in a flash; you have to be careful not to make butter (though if you do, be ready for a total treat–it’s just as silky and flavorful as the cream, of course!). That gorgeous, clean, fresh-tasting cream was showcased in our dinner tonight, which consisted of the last fresh corn from a friend’s farm in the Skagit, fresh salad from the deck garden, and a shrimp dish inspired by an Italian cookbook. The original recipe called for a stick of butter and a cup of cream, but the luscious Fresh Breeze cream is so rich, half that amount was plenty (and I only used a tablespoon of butter). See what you think!

Shrimp With Basil Cream

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream (organic tastes best)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 white onion, halved and sliced
2 stalks celery, with greens
2 red Gypsy peppers, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes
1 pound shelled, deveined shrimp
1 satsuma or tangerine, juiced (with pulp)
1/4 cup coarsely grated parmesan cheese (or any hard cheese)

With an immersion blender or food processor, puree basil, heavy cream, and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (don’t whip it, though), set aside. Chop together 1 tablespoon each of onion, celery, celery greens, and peppers to a fine paste (this is what Italians call a battuto). In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil, butter, celery seed and pepper flakes over medium high heat for 1 minute. Add the battuto and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden (4-6 minutes). Add remaining vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender -crisp (5-7 minutes). Add shrimp in a single layer, cook for 2 minutes, flip and cook for 2 minutes. Add satsuma juice and bring to a simmer. Add cream, cover pan, reduce heat to lowest position and simmer for 3 minutes. Serve hot over Citrus Garlic Rice, garnished with grated cheese. Serves 2-4.

Rice With Character

Rice can be a bland backdrop for a spirited sauce, but a few simple additions make any kind of rice more memorable. Citrus peel and/or juice, savory seeds, toasted nuts, or a few drops of sesame oil give plain rice a higher profile in any meal. In the recipe below, plump cloves of garlic cook along with the rice. The soft, cooked garlic is mashed and combined with fresh citrus juice, then tossed with the hot rice. It’s spunky right away and even better the next day, when the flavors have time to marry. Use any extra rice in an omelet, add it to soup, or reheat it gently with a bit of broth or water and top it with a zippy sauce and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Citrus Garlic Rice

1 cup short grain brown rice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2 satsumas or tangerines, juiced (2/3 cup, with pulp)

In a rice cooker, combine rice, salt, and whole peeled garlic with 2 cups water and cook until done. Remove garlic, fluff rice with a fork, mash garlic and add to citrus juice, then drizzle over rice and fluff again. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes before serving to develop flavor. Serves 4.

Basil and Tomatoes In The Sunporch

The big pots of basil I brought indoors to our unheated sunporch in September are still going strong. I pinch them back every time I need a bit of fresh basil, and the plants are still big and bushy. Even though the porch is not heated, it gets enough sun to keep the tomatoes growing nicely as well. Next year, though, I’ll bring in some cherry tomatoes rather than big guys like the Brandywines. Cherry tomatoes are more productive indoors, even as the weather cools off. Still, a tomato a week and all the fresh basil I can use in exchange for a little floor space is a pretty sweet deal.

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One Response to Getting The Most From Aromatic Vegetables

  1. lajeld says:

    Thanks for that awesome posting. It saved MUCH time 🙂

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